It happened on a lovely Spring afternoon when I was 22 years old, a day much like today; sunny, warm but not too hot, flowers starting to bloom, birds singing in the trees. So I actually didn’t mind that I would had to walk to pay my rent because my piece-of-junk-car was broken down yet again; it would be nice getting outside after studying for several hours straight.
The walk to the landlord’s office was only a few blocks away on a peaceful, tree-lined street in the quaint Southern college town.
As I was locking my apartment, a sudden sense of dread came over me for no apparent reason. I looked around, startled, trying to see if there was anything (or anybody) dangerous lurking nearby. I anxiously scanned the yard and the quiet street beyond, but all I could see was the usual: a couple of cars going by, a plethora of squirrels scurrying around, a few students walking along the sidewalk on the way back from class.
The sense of foreboding was so strong I almost went back inside, but my rent was due, so I told myself to snap out of it and stop being so silly.
I shook the bad feeling off as best I could, and started walking toward the rental office.
I had only walked about 2 blocks when I saw him coming toward me on the sidewalk.
Something primal and instinctive deep inside of me told me to cross the street immediately to avoid being in close proximity to him. It was all I could do not to turn and run away…yet, once again, my “logical” mind overruled my intuition.
I told myself I was just being silly, and plus, I didn’t want to appear to be prejudiced by crossing the street. I wanted to be “nice”. So, I kept walking ~ against my own intuition, which was screaming desperately.
As we passed on the sidewalk, he let me get one step past him before grabbing my arm, spinning me around, and pulling with such force that I half-stumbled, half-got-dragged for several steps toward a shrubbery-surrounded parking lot. He was talking; I don’t remember everything he said, but I do clearly remember him saying to keep quiet if I wanted to live. He smelled of sweat and something vaguely chemical, and he was a head taller than me and much stronger.
Time seemed to warp, moving both fast and slow at the same time; somehow, in the midst of the chaos and fear, I felt myself become very still and clear.
There were only a few yards left before I would be behind that shrubbery with him, and I didn’t know whether he intended to rape/kill me right there, or whether he planned to get me into one of the cars parked there.
I just knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would rather die right there on the sidewalk than to find out what he had planned.
I heard myself saying aloud, as if from a great distance, “Okay, okay, okay…but ease up, you’re really hurting my arm”, and I remember he said, “That’s better”, thinking I was acquiescing.
He did not let go of my arm, but he did loosen his grip ever-so-slightly, and in the split-second instant that I felt his grip loosen, I spun away quickly, wrenching my arm away with everything I had in me, barely feeling it as my shoulder dislocated, and sprinted directly into the 4-lane street, without even looking to see if a car was coming.
Luckily, there wasn’t a car in my path, and I ran at full speed across the street and into an insurance office, not even turning to see if I was being chased. I slammed the door behind me, flipping the deadbolt, gasping for breath.
I was stunned to see a man in a navy-blue suit and striped tie, standing in the window calmly, doing absolutely nothing, apparently having been watching what was happening to me as if it were an afternoon TV special.
“That man just tried to attack me…did you call the police?!”, I asked him, breathless, puzzled at how anyone could be so passive. The man in the blue suit just looked at me, silent, shocked, blinking. I yelled, “WHY WERE YOU JUST STANDING THERE? THAT MAN TRIED TO DRAG ME AWAY!” He shrugged and finally said after a moment’s hesitation, “I thought it was just a domestic situation.”
All my anger and stress and frustration and pain and adrenaline boiled over at that point. I remember screaming that he was a idiot, and asking what the #$@!^& was wrong with him to stand by and watch any woman get attacked for any reason, domestic or otherwise, while not even bothering to call the police?
The insurance guy started to look a little afraid of me after about a minute of my tirade, and he skittered off to a back office call the police.
The next few hours were a blur. I gave my statement to the police, and later was released from the ER with a prescription for pain pills after being told repeatedly how lucky I was to get away.
The few people I have told since that day have universally agreed that I was lucky to get away.
And: yes, I do know I am, in fact, incredibly lucky that I got away. Many, many women do not get away before being raped, sodomized, beaten, tortured, murdered. In fact, unimaginable horrors are happening to women at this very minute, even as I type these words.
But here’s the thing: I can’t help but wince at the word “lucky”, even though I do understand and agree with the intent behind saying it.
Somehow, it doesn’t seem “lucky” to me that I could not even walk several blocks in broad daylight on a lovely street without having to fight for my life. It doesn’t seem “lucky” that the man was never caught and has undoubtedly hurt other women. It doesn’t seem “lucky” that, even many years later, I still cannot even go to Target alone without receiving unwanted male attention. I don’t feel “lucky” that men have leered at me, followed me, stalked me, harassed me, ogled me, and propositioned me since I was 11 years old. I don’t feel “lucky” that I have to constantly scan my surroundings, just in case some guy is lurking about. And I certainly don’t feel “lucky” that men get turned on when they find out I am a lesbian, instead of respecting the obvious and simple fact that lesbians do not want men…period.
What would seem “lucky” to me is a world where all women could feel safe at any time of day or night; a world where all women could go about their lives unfettered by constant unwanted male intrusion; a world that offered equality, dignity, independence, security, and peace to all women everywhere.
Photo © Vitalina Rybakova (Used under license from Shutterstock.com)