Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Daylight and "safety in numbers" are not guarantees.

I've walked around this city for slightly over six months now, at all hours of the day and night, without ever once feeling concerned about my personal safety. A friend of RG's was shocked to learn that I didn't carry mace on my person, and gave me a pink keychain-sized can of it to keep in my purse in the fall. I laughed her off, but kept it in my bag, as sort of a well-since-I-have-this-I-might-as-well-make-it-useful thing. I've never felt the need to use it.

But now twice in the past two days, I've had my personal space or my physical person intruded upon by a man I did not know. 

The first incident happened in broad daylight, around 4pm on Sunday as I walked to my house from the metro station after a trip to Target. There was a man walking in the opposite direction of the way I was walking, coming towards me, and from the way he was sort of half-stumbling, I knew that he wasn't in a normal mental state. Maybe he was drunk, maybe he had a disorder of some sort--I didn't know. I just knew that I wanted to get past him and continue on my merry way home so that I could make my bus to go to yoga. I decide to give him some major leeway and veer to the right, walking along the curb on the other side of a sign post to pass him, and he veers in the same direction, coming to stand less than a foot from me on the other side of the sign. I freeze. I am carrying too many things from Target to dig for my mace if I wanted it, but up close I can see that he seems to have some sort of disorder and that he doesn't seem malicious, so I try just saying, "Excuse me." He smiles absently and waves his hand in my face and says, "Hi." I say hi back, and he moves out of my way. 

Nothing happened, but it was so easy to see how something could have.  I didn't really have time to process it, though, because I had to rush home to get on my bus to go to yoga, and yoga makes my mind and body better places to be.

I had kind of forgotten how shaken up I was about it until last night. After we all brought in the New Year at a club in Adams Morgan, RG, CO, and CO's cousin decided to hit up a hookah bar. I can't be around tobacco smoke--yay asthma!--so BC and I went to McDonalds to split a 10 piece chicken nugget meal. When we were making our way down the incredibly crowded street when all the bars closed at 2 to meet the others, a Latino-appearing man in a group that was approaching us, in one very fast and fluid move, bent down and leaned over towards me and grabbed my thighs. One minute I'm walking down the street next to BC trying to find this hookah bar, and the next, some man's hands are on the bare skin of my thighs just below the hem of my dress. He probably only touched me for a few seconds, but as soon as I'd processed what had just happened, I spun around and yelled something to the effect of, "Don't you fucking touch me, nigga! Who the fuck do you think you are? We don't play that shit, nuh-uh!" People kind of cleared a wide berth around me, and a white guy who was passing by had his hands up in the air and said, "I'm sorry he touched you. I'm not going to touch you," as he passed. 

My mom and dad both told me to be safe. My dad added on, "There will be a lot of crazy people out tonight. There's crazy people out every night, but especially tonight." I told them I would be safe. That I would be with BC and/or RG all night, names that comfort my mother. That nothing would happen to me. But I was with someone and this guy still felt that he had a right to put his hands on my body. 

Again, what happened was pretty tame, but it was too easy to envision it having been a lot worse. To his credit, when I told RG about it once we met up, he wanted to go find the guy and beat the shit out of him. I appreciate his protectiveness, but there was nothing to do by that point. I can't think of anything to have done in the moment either, besides have had a fast enough reaction time to knee him in the face or something. A short dress is an invitation to nothing, and all the fault for this encounter lies with that random guy. I know that. I have no doubts or questions about that. 

But what does that mean I'm supposed to do? Because few things that have happened to my physical person have scared me like that. The entire encounter was maybe 15 seconds of my night, but it will probably be my most vivid memory of NYE 2012. We were walking back to CO's car and RG put his arm around my shoulders and I pushed him away--I didn't want anyone to touch me. After I sent him to bed on my couch last night, I just curled up in the middle of my bed and cried. If I can't walk down a crowded street filled with policemen on the busiest night of the year with another person and be guaranteed my personal space, what am I supposed to do?

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