Several time in my life, I felt unsafe. I’m doing my best to recall some of them as I write this, but a recent dream comes to mind.
It came about the night before last, and was the last bit of a flurry of mundane scenarios. An apartment building my grandmother lived in before she passed on has 2 parking lots, one underneath the other and closer to the main entrance. In the dream, I was walking through the lower level, seemingly to visit someone there. As I was walking out and towards the main entrance, there was a man, disheveled and dirty, coming into the lower level lot.
I managed to get past him without much notice on his part, but within seconds, he started calling after me. He asked where I was coming from, what I was doing, where I was headed. When I looked back, he turned to walk towards me, but his movements were slow, like a zombie. While walking past him earlier, I noticed he had something red smeared around his mouth.
Instead of going through the main entrance, I kept going towards the courtyard, where there’s plenty of other ways of leaving the property. But coming towards me was another man, also disheveled and dirty, with red stuff smeared around his mouth. It occurred to me they were vultures of some kind; I woke myself up, blinking as to not fall back into the scenario.
After a few moments, I thought about the dream and equated it to street harassment, considering my experience with it. I realized then being harassed or cat-called on the street is like wearing red — red shirt, red dress, red coats, red shoes, red headband, something red — unintentionally becoming a matador in the pen with a bull (or more), the person(s) doing the harassing. You cannot predict what’s going to happen, how whatever happens will happen, or how it’s going to affect your life.
There’s no need for anyone to be afraid of another human being. No one deserves to live in fear. Unfortunately, there are scary people in the world, and me being a Black woman, I deal with that fear a lot. I may be a big girl in size, but I’m not immune to being overpowered and attacked by someone. I’m only comfortable around men when they’re in small numbers and the focus isn’t on me in terms of attraction. When that happens, that’s when I need to leave.
I’ve dealt with and witnessed street harassment. Once I was at a train station with my mother, and a guy was giving his schpiel to a young lady who clearly wasn’t interested. Taking offense, the guy then yelled at her, got in her face, and called her out of her name. It scared the life out of me. While I was glad I wasn’t in her shoes, I felt horrible for the young woman, because I could’ve helped her. I didn’t know what to do, other than mind my own business.
It eventually happened to me sometime after that incident. I’d just gotten to a bus stop after shopping at Target, and I was tired and sweaty. Some dude sees me and starts talking to me, making his move. I just didn’t want to be bothered, so I let him down nicely. Sadly, he wasn’t taking no for an answer, no matter how kind I was being. He kept pressing me for my number, but I didn’t give it to him. Finally, I’d had enough, and with a stern “NO!” I told him I wasn’t giving him my number and could he leave me alone. Like what happened with the girl at the train station, I was alone on this, even with plenty of people within earshot. They did the same thing I did with her: minded their own business.
I learned then being assertive was more effective, even if it meant the other party using means of embarrassment to break you and make you feel bad. He started yelling at me, saying I ought to be glad he was even talking to me, that other women would be happy to be with him. Of course, he’s delusional, but I let him ramble on. I’m grateful that 1) he didn’t get violent with me/in my face and 2) he didn’t call me out of my name, although I’m sure he mumbled it under his breath.
Until I started writing this, I thought my experience was karma for not acting at the train station. But it’s something I needed to experience, I feel, because I now know what to do in the event it happens again, to me or anyone else around me, whether a stranger or friend/relative. It’s definitely not a pleasant experience, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. I hope to have the courage of stopping it the next time it happens to me or anyone else, and the person who falls victim should be aware that they’re not alone.