He didn’t touch me. He didn’t argue when I cut him off. He stopped when I told him to and left me alone.
But he followed me for about ten minutes. From getting off the bus, walking to the corner store and waiting for me to leave, then trying to block my access to the sidewalk, it didn’t dawn on me that he was following me until a long block later, when we were just steps from my house, and I realized his truck was idling at my walking pace.
I live in a hilly area, and it’s not uncommon for cars and trucks to move slowly when going uphill. Narrow streets and horrible drivers are hazards. Additionally, most of the stores have regulars and we mostly all know each other by face if not by name.
I do not know his name. I could describe his face and truck but it’s useless because he looks like most other adult males in my neighborhood, and he didn’t step out of the vehicle so I can’t accurately guess his height or weight.
But I do know that he alluded to having seen me before.
“Last time I saw you…”
I cut him off then, screeching to leave me alone and to stop talking to strange women and not to follow me. My mind reverted to safety: getting home, inside, ensuring someone else was in the house that I could check-in with. My house is wrapped by a privacy fence but the foundation it rests on stands above and so my face was visible when I entered. Moreover, it stands on the corner of a sleepy street and busy avenue; there was no way to disguise exactly which house I headed to. By the time I understood what was happening, I couldn’t double-back and fake him out.
I raced inside and hugged my dog, never letting the terror in my voice rise. I inhaled his familiar scent and fed him his dinner. I was calm, I felt ok, but my voice wavered.
Before I moved to Los Angeles, I had been a lifeguard instructor (and comedy club manager, and amusement park rides supervisor…the stories will come out in time). I wasn’t the kind of “flatwater” guard that sort of remembered loose CPR protocol if I really thought hard about it; I worked and taught in the Wisconsin Dells…the waterpark capital of the world. I taught a new class almost every single week for a full year. I ran audits, tested guards in every way I could think of and wrote detailed in-service plans. When something went wrong and I was on the clock, I responded.
Even before then, I had dealt with emergencies and life-threatening situations. I’ve had people die on-site at my place of work. I’ve had PnB’s (“pulseless non-breathers”) and resuscitated them. I’ve responded to all manner of urgent calls. Lost children. Spinal injuries. Choking toddlers. All of it.
In those experiences, I learned that my fight-or-flight response is calm. I don’t get excited, I simply assess and respond to the situation. Later, when everything is said and done, I fold like a lawn chair or house of cards and succumb to the stress I couldn’t feel at the time. I cry, I vent, I drink more than I should, I listen to sad songs and my muscles hurt.
So in this instance, I’m hyper-aware that no one else at my address could give a flying fuck whether I lived or died, so long as the dog didn’t shit in the house. I live entirely with males; I am the only woman resident on the property, and most men I live with are of color so things can be tense on occasion. So the curvy white girl was followed home? Who gives a fuck.
So, after I arrived home and took care of business-as-usual, I set the kettle on the stove to steep some tea. I needed something to comfort me, even if I didn’t quite feel it yet.
It had been about three minutes that I’d been in the house, away from windows and in late-afternoon shadows, when I saw the familiar silver pickup cruise by my house, the same street I raced up away from it.
My heart stopped. He was watching the house and had seen me enter it. My mind raced to the five words he’d uttered, that he’d seen me before and I didn’t remember him, until I recalled a number of incidents.
Of catcalls at 6:30am when I had to make an early dog walk in the springtime.
Of headlights blinding me as I kissed a date goodnight last summer.
Of someone trying to pick me up when I walked to the nearest bus terminal.
Of all the cars that slow down at night when I let the dog out for one last poop, convincing myself that the last thing they’re thinking of is me.
He didn’t do anything illegal. The corner store owner only caught the truck but not his face or plate number on cameras. He didn’t threaten me. He didn’t even touch me.
But now I am shopping for pepper spray, shuffling my entire schedule to ensure I am safe and snug by nightfall, foregoing very expensive YMCA classes that only occur in the dark evenings until I know I have the proper tools on hand.
I don’t have the cash to move. There’s no report to file and nothing the police could or would do; he was just a guy driving down the street and wanted to talk to me and backed off when I told him to.
But now I’m scanning every single vehicle around me, checking for his green high-visibility vest, wondering what he’d look like if he shaved. I’m recounting the past four years I’ve spent in this city; fearless and handling it with one hand tied behind my back even when I had every reason to be terrified, realizing that there is no way to alter my schedule to throw his scent.
He did nothing “wrong.”