It was gorgeous outside yesterday, sun peeking through the clouds, blue sky that went on forever, temperatures in the high 60s. And after a little debacle involving work, I needed to clear my head. Lunch time run, indeed.
Chris was in meetings all day, teaching class that evening. I strapped on my Road ID and decided to follow a different route — three miles that were more scenic… and more remote. I queued up the “Katrina’s Running Tunes” playlist on my iPhone, adjusted my ear buds, tied my house key into my right running shoe, texted my plan to Chris, and left.
There was very little traffic on my route, occasionally a car would speed by and I’d venture off into the shoulder. Guster was blaring in my ears, and all my worries about work and life were washing away in my sweat.
Then I saw him. He was heading toward me on the other side of the road. A very large man on a very small bike. I didn’t have my contacts in, so I couldn’t see his face clearly, kept my eyes on the road ahead. As we passed, I gave him my little, friendly runner’s acknowledgment wave and continued on. But as we passed, I also noticed him slowing down… and my hot sweat morphed into a cold one.
I paused my music so I’d be alert to whatever came next.
“Hey, Baby!” he yelled with an obnoxious sneer on his face. “Why are you out here all alone?”
I fumbled with my phone, began entering the code that would give me access to all my friends and family. My fingers were shaking as I punched in the damn numbers required by my company’s data policy. It was a lifetime before I got them right.
“You wanna ride?” Chuckle. Chuckle.
And he began circling me like a shark. Up one side of the road, down the other. Back and forth, weaving from left to right. Smiling.
I went to my most recent calls and punched Chris’s name with my sweaty finger. The phone rang, rang, rang, and went to voice mail. Next came Jenny. She answered quickly.
“Stay on the phone with me, okay?” I said immediately, gasping for breath, picking up my pace. “I’m on Old West Point Road. Do whatever you need to do, just don’t hang up, okay?”
“Of course,” she said, confusion in her voice. “What’s going on?”
“I’m running. There’s a man on a bike. He’s following. Just let me talk so he knows you’re there.”
Realization began to hit her. “How far are you from home?”
“About a half a mile.”
“Keep running, Honey. Keep going. Breathe. Breathe. I’m right here.”
And so we talked. We chatted with Brooklyn. I ran faster, fueled by my sky-high adrenaline. I babbled, my mind swimming. As I approached a place more closely resembling civilization, as more cars made appearances, he allowed the distance between us to grow. When I turned a corner and he was momentarily out of sight, I quickly untied my house key from my shoe and lodged it between my forefinger and my middle finger. I’d learned that in a long-ago self-defense class. Go for the eyes.
By the time I hit home, he was out of sight. Shuddering, sweating, gasping for breath, I quickly let myself in and locked the door behind me.
“I’m home, Jenny. I’m locked in. I’ll call you soon. Love you. Thank you.”
And then I let the dogs out into the fenced back yard.
“Go bark, puppies,” I instructed. “Bark loudly. Bark mean. Go!”
And they did. My protectors.
Once my breathing slowed, my legs gave way to Jell-O. I sat down on the ottoman, burst into tears, and became angry. ANGRY.
I’d been to that rodeo before — the one in which stranger male takes female by force with knife. I was not going back. I was NOT.
Scary Dude Who Just Got His Kicks Scaring the Shit Out of Me, I don’t know what your intentions were. Perhaps you get your rocks off scaring vulnerable-looking women. Perhaps you had something more sinister in mind. It doesn’t matter. Here’s what matters: YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED.
You are not allowed to call me “Baby.” You’re not allowed to make veiled threats behind a creepy half-smile. You’re not allowed to accompany me on my run, the one that’s making me stronger by the minute. You’re not allowed to proposition me. And you’re certainly not the fuck allowed to put your hands on me. EVER.
And Dear Sister Friends Who Run Through this World with Your Strong Hearts and Legs, here’s what you need to do: Get mace. Get a Road ID. Get a runner’s whistle. Get a big dog. Get mad. And get prepared. Don’t let him win. Don’t let any of the “hims” win, the ones who choose to oppress and hurt and frighten instead of holding, honoring, loving, lifting. This world is big and beautiful and here to be explored, and they don’t get to take that from us. Get strong. Get going.
I’m angry today. Downright pissed off. This war on women? It’s got to stop. For us, for our daughters, for our sons. For humanity.
On February 14th, 2013, I’ll be dancing in the streets in celebration of Eve Ensler’s V-Day. Do what you can. Do what you must.
And whatever you choose to do, DO IT STRONG.