“I drove past a murder yesterday.”
That’s not what I expected my husband to say first thing this morning. He did, in fact, drive past a dead body covered in a sheet as well as a guy being escorted to a squad car in cuffs. How do these things happen?
Except we all know they happen all the time.
Last year, when my sister and niece were visiting, we were walking to a museum when an altercation occurred on the street. A man trying to board a city bus was pulled out of the doorway by a couple of guys. Before we knew it, the man was screaming, and now three guys were slowly putting him on the ground. My niece stopped, horrified. She thought they were robbing him. I did too for a second, but quickly realized these were policemen or detectives dressed in plain clothes. Their movements were too controlled and calculated to be thugs. (Russ saw their badges as well). Realizing we were right in the middle of a bad situation, we picked up speed trying to get out of Dodge before it really escalated. After we passed, I said to my niece, “Welcome to D.C.!”
I’m sure it was an experience she is unlikely to forget.
I recently listened to a podcast about fear. It said a vast majority of the time we, especially women, don’t listen to our fear when it’s necessary, and we end up endangering our lives as a result.
Over a year ago, I was running in a very residential neighborhood of D.C. It was a gorgeous morning, during the work week, and even though business hours had already started, there were still a lot of people coming and going from their houses. I ran past a tall man walking in street clothes and wearing a backpack. Pretty soon, I heard him jogging behind me. I didn’t think, I just reacted. I stopped short and turned around.
Shaking my head slowly with my arms up in the air, exasperated, I said, “What are you doing?”
Maybe this wasn’t the smartest plan, since I didn’t really have a plan, but it surprised him, and he mumbled an apology. I’d venture to guess he was high on something. He hung back after that and I took off.
This is precisely why I never, ever wear earbuds in D.C. Not ever. Not walking, running, or riding.
Wearing earbuds is a whole other conversation. When I’m feeling less generous, I refer to this phenomenon as “natural selection.” I don’t want to tell you how many times I’ve seen a pedestrian cross the road when they don’t have the right of way, completely oblivious to the oncoming car, because they are lost in whatever they are listening to. This goes for people riding scooters, in traffic, as well as bikers, runners, and everyone and everything in between.
It blows my mind.
These days, spatial awareness is a relic of the past.
As far as fear goes, I have been truly scared three times, and I can remember each situation like it was yesterday. The first time I was probably five or six. I was at my cousin’s house and we got into her mother’s shoe collection. My aunt was tiny and even though her shoes didn’t fit our feet, they weren’t that far off, and she had a fabulous collection of high heels. So we “borrowed” a couple pairs and wore them over to the lot next door. It was empty, save for a flat, cement pad used by the utility or electric company. We were having a great time tromping around in our high heels on the cement slab when a white (yes, it was white) van pulled up and the side door slid open as a man and a woman climbed out. My cousin and I didn’t even look at each other or say a word. We took off as fast as we could back to the house, barefoot.
Even as kids, we just knew.
The second time I was maybe thirteen. One of my parents arrived to pick me up from the barn. I was walking to the car as another family was walking to their car. The daughter who rode was a lot younger than me. She and her mother spent a lot of time at the barn together after school. The girl’s father had come to pick the both of them up. We were all walking to our respective cars when the father put his hand on my back and rubbed it softly.
I jumped out of my skin. This is the thing when you’re still growing up—you may not understand what is happening, but you know it makes you feel bad. The dad gave me the heebie jeebies. I can’t help but think, even now, that his intentions weren’t completely innocent because it was so out of left field.
Yep, he was a normal guy, a dad, a husband, and in that one instance, he was also a creeper.
I gave him a wide berth after that.
The last scary incident was a few years ago. A man came out to refill the propane tank at the farm. He got out of his white van (yep, a white van again) and walks right up to me, about two inches from my face, and towering over me, starts to discipline me for letting the tank go dry. I could see the hardness in his eyes. They had no bottom.
I immediately felt sick.
This guy was a predator and I knew it.
He started asking me all kinds of questions.
Was I married? Where was my husband? Did I live here alone? Who else lived here?
I lied, but he was taking inventory. And you know what?
I lived on a farm at the end of a long gravel road, by myself, with no neighbors in earshot…and he knew it, and I knew that he knew it.
I didn’t sleep for a week, and kept every light on, waiting for an old, white van to slowly roll down the driveway.
The next time the propane tank needed to be filled, one of the guys who worked on the farm met him. When he reported back after the visit, this is what he said:
“The guy got out of his van and asked where the girl was. I said, ‘She’s not here.’ The guy asked who I was. I told him I was your husband. He wanted to know if I lived here, too. I said, ‘It’s none of your business.’”
The man then went into the barn apartment to make sure the propane was working inside. He did this the last time too, when it was just me. I had stayed close to the door and didn’t let him stand between me and the doorway.
What that meant at that time is he got a good look at my apartment, feeling brazen enough to comment on my photos and art hanging on the walls. I was as vague as possible, but was also thinking, “Don’t poke the bear.”
When he went into the apartment the second time to check the propane, looking around, he said to my imaginary husband, “Well, I only see women’s clothes in here.” He was challenging him. Sternly, he told the man to do his job and leave.
Does this happen to men, too??
I can’t answer that question, but I feel confident had I been a guy, at the very least the dude wearing the backpack wouldn’t have decided to jog after me on my run.
When I run in the city, I go where the other runners go, and I run when it’s light out, period. One weekend I ran through Georgetown very early and there was not another soul to be seen. Honestly, it was creepy. I made a mental note to never do that again.
Safety in numbers.
Do men think like this and plan their runs accordingly?
I’m going to take a wild guess that most women think about it and most women have had at least one, if not several, creepy (or worse) situations just like me.
Like it or not, it is what it is. Everything in life is a calculated risk and some are at risk more than others. Leaving your earbuds at home is a good start to improving your odds….