A week's worth of interactions, reflections, and realities of a woman walking alone.
I see myself walking, eyes straight ahead. On the way to the bus stop, I see a man turn a polite greeting into an appraisal. I see the formerly polite "hello" chased by "beautiful" or "sexy". I see his confusion as he takes in my corresponding expression; failing to see how his eyes trolling over my legs is the furthest thing from a compliment. I see a flicker of anger as he is denied the response he felt he deserved. He wanted a beautiful object, powerless, thankful, and waiting to be acted upon. I will settle for personhood and walk on. He responds by staring as I pass and follows me a few steps, just enough to make me uncomfortable. I know I have won when he shouts something after me, an attempt to save face.
I see two men wave out from a restaurant window, laughing to each other as they try and get a response. I see how I'm a momentary form of entertainment and I keep looking forward. More walking.
I'll stand by the sign rather than sit on the bench as I wait for the bus. Sitting on benches invites conversation. It can be lonely here and sometimes I love the human interaction but sometimes I love the silence too. I see the way he looks as he walks over and I know he'll want to talk. Once he sits, even the open book will not be a clue. I'll have to tell him I like the silence, at which point I'll be perceived as a bitch. Easier to read standing.
I think about the latent fear that accompanies ignoring a man in need of attention. I see the gamble of speaking up, asking to be left alone. If I'm near my house, I'll say nothing. Better he not see where I live. Yesterday, a man on a bike was riding beside me, chatting at me about the way I was "put together", making the m-mmm sounds that should be reserved for food. I lost composure and told him where to go. It was just too much to take. Maybe sudden rejection would give him the hint that silence didn't. Instead I was followed for blocks, berated, and threatened. I remained calm, explained how harassment is pathetic and that by merely walking, I wasn't asking for "compliments". But didn't I know what he could do to me? I couldn't even handle him. Why would he want a skinny bitch like me? His manhood "would break me in half". This treatment is what I deserve for "disrespecting" him. All hail the weaponized phallus. Somehow, it only hurt when he replied, "you evil bitch, you got the devil in you. If you had just been nice, none of this would be happening to you. You got the devil in you." It stirs up a painful violence in my heart to hear that passivity is the only measure of my goodness. I'd rather be brave.
I look down to the hand in my pocket and think about the keys beside my fingers. Instinct. I take stock of my thoughts and see a mind trained to make escape routes, remembering all the defensive strategies planted by older, wiser, women who knew that someday I might need to fight back. Instead I duck down a different street once he is a little ahead, changing my route home.
I remember one day my mother telling me that if I ever found myself inside a trunk to punch out the tail light and wave my arm through the hole. Why should I worry about the inside of trunks? I never forgot.
The sun is bright and I blink back to the present moment. I'm almost home. The last bus runs at 7:45 so I end my days earlier than I would like. I would love to stay late at the climbing gym but it's a 30 minute walk home in the dark and I haven't had the best of luck with the daylight. A man I met climbing offered me a ride home so I could stay later. He seems nice. I want to accept. Shit. I just can't. I don't know his last name and no one is waiting for me to get home tonight. I awkwardly declined and he awkwardly knew why.
My eyes see many generous and thoughtful men, confused by the hypervigilance of women and frustrated when their genuine kindness receives a mistrustful expression. What they don't know is that the closer I get to 30, I begin to learn of more women in my life who have been raped or sexually assaulted. The well-intentioned man doesn't know that many of us, touched or not, have been made to feel terrified by a man.
I see the hurt eyes of men who have offered me help and felt emasculated when I completed the task on my own. I hear their complaints about how women are destroying chivalry and feel the anger in my heart as I try to explain that I like doing things myself. They don't understand that when you grow up with 2 older brothers, it matters not to be less-than. I'd rather just be capable.
I feel the tiredness behind my eyes when I explain the difference between kindness and the assumption of weakness. I don't mind when a door is held for me. I hold doors for people all the time. I mind it being turned into a grand gesture in need of applause. I mind being blamed for ruining chivalry. I didn't set the precedent that kindness comes with a high-interest return.
I see a history of mistrust that built slowly.
I look back to 15 and remember the confusion. My name appeared on a list of girls that the grade 12 boys would try to screw before the end of the year. Nice.
I look further back and it's grade 8: science class. One of the guys is asking me in front of his friends if I have a landing strip or a soul patch and if the curtains match the drapes.
I'm 13 and my friend's older brother just tried to put his hand up my shirt. We grew up together. I thought he was my brother too. I guess not. I walked away.
I always seem to be walking.
I change direction and head around the corner. I look across the street and see a remarkable group of men. They have enriched my life with their capacity for love, sacrifice, intelligence, and empathy. They are not diminished when they lift others up, their integrity is not contingent upon those around them, and they have always respected me fully. As we start down the street we are joined by a host of women who are unafraid of their voices. They are smart, ambitious, relentless, and maintain kindness without weakness. They overcome because they don't know any other way. They have taught me what grace looks like. I become deeply aware that not all women have had these people.
We reach the door of my house together, I say goodnight, and they settle back into my mind, beside other things worthy of chasing along the sidewalk in a breeze.
The yard grows dark and I lock the door.