Tonight after class, I was walking home from the bus stop. This is about a two block or so stretch along the river. It’s normally not so bad; the view is pretty and there are usually the occasional stragglers around walking dogs. I went to cross from the Hudson side of the road to my side, and heard people yelling. A quick pivot revealed a man a woman arguing on the corner about something in a book they were looking at. I turned back around to hit the button for the traffic signal, and there was a man directly in my face. He grabbed my arm, and told me how attractive I looked. (Trust me, I have worked all day. And then school. I am sweaty, I’m sure my makeup has melted off, and I am in no way attractive at this point in the day.) I had the pepper spray out before he could get out another word. Had he not let go, I would have kneed him. The plan was in my head without me making a conscious decision to create it. I crossed the street outside of the crosswalk, not bothering with the signal button. Walked up my steps after making sure he was not behind me, and then locked myself in the house. All is well and fine.
I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before, quite honestly. One night when I was coming home from work, walking down 6th Avenue, a man jumped out a doorway and tried to “ask me for directions.” I kept walking. Another time, a weird man came up to me when I was in line for the bus, but he walked away when I ignored him. There have been creepy things like that before, but I’ve never been touched, let alone grabbed. And I was, legit, with a few steps of my house.
One of my greatest fears in coming to the city was things like this happening. What surprises me most about it is that I really wasn’t afraid when it did. I don’t remember grabbing my pepper spray, or clicking off the safety. But I did it. PTSD be damned. I’m sitting on my bed now with tea and my cat replaying the entire brief encounter. Part of me wonders if he really did have good intentions, if he just wanted to introduce himself. In the dark. In not fantastic clothes. With crazy eyes. Smart me knows this probably wasn’t the case, though I still wonder if I overreacted. Had I not had pepper spray, would I still be on my bed right now with my cat?
My brain has programmed me to think differently. To be suspicious of the things in the shadows, to bolt when someone approaches me in the dark, especially when they’re unannounced. And for a while there, I forgot that I am naturally suspicious. I forgot that I am a white girl in a neighborhood where NO ONE else is white. (Minus the nice elderly lady next door.) I forgot that I used to be afraid. Of everything. But now I know that I’m not afraid anymore; and I know that there’s a different between fear and preparedness.
I think what I learned tonight is that I am stronger than I give myself credit for, a lesson that needs to be driven home for me again and again and again on repeat. I’m not going to fall apart anymore just because something happened. I, more than anyone, know this could have turned out incredibly differently. My life has prepared me to be on alert in a society that has forced me to be. Fuck this world that tells a man it’s okay to come to a strange woman after dark. Fuck this world that treats women like they are objects that can be touched by anyone. Fuck this culture that tells women we have to be afraid. I’m not going to be afraid. I’m going to kick ass.
I like this me much better.