The other night I stopped at the drug store to pick up some touch-up hair dye. This is an inauspicious and silly beginning to a story but it ties in because I am writing here about what it’s like for me to be a girl. Not that I have any thing to compare it to…as far as you know. But you’ll see my point I think.
So, I stopped at the drugstore and the kind of parking spot I usually look for at night (directly under a light, as close to the door as possible and not blocked by other cars) was not available. No, I’m not really that lazy. During the daylight or when I am out and about with a partner, I park in the last spot available and get some walking in. But when alone…I try to be smart. But in this case, no optimal spots were available so I took the open spot. What the heck? It’s not a neighborhood I feel particularly uncomfortable in, so why worry, eh? When I came out of the store and walked to my car, I realized that vans had parked on either side of me. Big vans. Effectively blocking anyone’s view of my tiny car. Effectively making me…uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing, I am not paranoid. But I am aware of what is going on around me and I think that, for the most part, I am practical and sensible. I am often alone when I go out. And sometimes when I am home. So I take care to do what I can to keep myself safe. I park under lights, I lock my doors as soon as I get in the car, I check the backseat and under the car as I walk towards it, not in a freaking out kind of way but just in a noticing what’s around me sort of way. When someone acts in a manner I find unnerving, I leave the area. I don’t use the ATMs in dark little streets, I drive to the well lit ones (and I also have a habit of looking directly into the camera, just in case). I lock the door to my apartment as soon as I close it. I carry my keys in my hand and my cell phone in my pocket. I just try to be smart about things.
I used to have a friend who lived in a very nice neighborhood with very bad parking and I would often park several blocks away. When I would walk back to my car in the dead of night (OK, well, after dark anyway, on poorly lit streets) I never felt “unsafe” or “threatened” until the one night when a man stepped out from behind some bushes about 20 feet ahead of me. I immediately picked up my phone and pretended to talk to a friend. “Oh, I’m on my way to the car, I am parked on Elm and Broad but I am just now walking down Pine. And OH! Gee, a man just startled me.” I wanted the guy to think that someone knew exactly where I was and that I had seen him. A few seconds later, his little dog stepped out from behind the bushes too. The poor guy was just taking the pup for a stroll before bed. I felt silly. But then I realized that he didn’t need to know that. All he needed to know was that I knew he was there.
It’s not something I really think all that deeply about. I don’t really worry that I am going to get mugged when I leave my house. I don’t think I will be murdered in my bed. But when I get up in the morning and I find that my husband neglected to lock the door behind him, I get upset. And I notice when he parks in the darkest, deepest part of the parking garage and I think, “Gee, if I were alone, I don’t think I would park here.” I don’t think, as a big guy, he really worries about these things. But he probably should. We probably all should. Not worry, just pay attention.
So, when I saw those two vans on either side of my car, I took pause. I looked around, didn’t see anyone in the vans, got my keys ready and got in the car, locking the door as quickly as I could. I didn’t hyperventilate. I didn’t panic. But I did think for a moment. And then I thought about all the other times I thought for a moment. And I realized that although I don’t like defining it this way, this is what it is like to be a girl.
ADDENDUM: I wasn't sure that I wanted to post this as it makes me sound a little crazier than I am. But I reiterate: Not paranoid, just practical. And I hope, if you are not, this will remind you to be aware of your surroundings.