Maggie’s recent post on Trolls reminded me of a weird little period of time I had not quite a year ago. I considered writing about the incidents then but opted not to. I didn’t forget them but I wasn’t in the frame of mind to dwell on it by blogging. It was soon after the man I knew killed himself and I felt like the universe was piling on, as in “I really don’t need this now.”
Things are different at this point and I can write from a more comfortable distance. I had three weird incidents with men, strangers, in the span of a few weeks, all during the daytime. I live in a moderately small community which is part of a much larger metropolitan area. The immediate area is a walking, sociable town where you often see the same people or at the very least, assume for the most part the people you see are your fellow townspeople. I assure you this is not though, to some people’s disappointment, any kind of crimeless Utopia. There is crime as well as distinctly odd people who live here, but mostly, so far as the latter anyway, it becomes clear who they are and you can act accordingly.
On this day in March, it was still cold and overcast. I was headed for the library and left my house on foot in a long coat, hat, scarf and gloves. As I walked down a street about half-way to the library, an off-white SUV pulled up alongside me going the same direction. At first I expected someone wanted directions since I am stopped very regularly by people who are looking for an address or how to get out of the neighborhood. A man I didn’t know, possibly Indian, was alone in the vehicle. He didn’t smile or offer a friendly greeting but kind of looked at me in a peculiar way and asked if I wanted a ride. I thought it was odd but replied “no thanks, I like to walk” in a friendly fashion. Do understand – I had ZERO intention of taking a ride. He drove off.
The incident left me with a vague unease. It wasn’t that a stranger had offered me a ride. It was something about the man and the interaction itself that didn’t sit right.
I continued to the library and then the store. A few hours passed before I headed home. And again as I was about half-way to home, what did I see but an off-white SUV pulling onto the street on which I am walking. Now I was alarmed. The man, this time going in the opposite direction from me again stopped. I stayed where I was but bent a little to look at him across the passenger seat. He muttered something I didn’t understand. As before, there was no smile or sense that things were on the up and up. Now I was irritated. “I don’t know what you want,” I said. Then he did a strange thing. He made the hand gesture for money, where you rub the ends of your fingers together. Was he offering me money? Did he want money? I have no idea but I’d had enough. I was pissed and I was done.
Remember, hours had passed since I’d first seen him. What was he doing all that time? Did he live in the neighborhood? Did he drive around for hours? Had he bothered anybody else or was he looking for me? “You need to leave me alone!” I said emphatically, no trace of friendliness in my voice. That was enough to send him away. I was rattled and not quick enough to get the full of his license plate as he drove off.
I didn’t report this to the police, in part because I didn’t have a license plate but also because I haven’t had good experiences with the local police, particularly with incidents of harassment. I don’t have confidence in them. A friend did encourage me to report it anyway because there is an elementary school in the neighborhood. I stuck with my decision not to bother; I wasn’t in the frame of mind to have anyone make it worse.
Another day not long after, I was walking on the sidewalk down a long hill in the neighborhood when a truck slowed down beside me for no apparent reason. Any time a vehicle slows or stops near me I pay attention. As I say, usually the person just wants directions but not always and in any event, I am very mindful (even direction-asking can be a ruse). This time after slowing the truck suddenly picked up speed and as I watched it race ahead the vehicle inexplicably drove up onto the curb before righting itself and returning to the street.
Now I’m not going to tell you I’m unattractive, but people don’t drive off the road when they see me. I was still stopped in my tracks watching as another car, which had been behind the first, pulled alongside me. It happened to be a woman I know. “What was THAT?!” she exclaimed. Her reaction confirmed how strange what we’d just witnessed was. I told her I’d been having some weird incidents lately. She definitely thought it had something to do with me and wanted to know if I’d be okay. I assured her I was going to leave the street and take a walking path in case the truck came back.
The third incident was milder than the first two and not one I’d even consider worth mentioning but for the fact it occurred so close in time to the others. Again, I was out walking on the sidewalk adjacent to a busy road. A middle-aged man I didn’t know stopped his car in the road, despite other cars being around, and stared at me. Instead of the expected friendly smile or “Hey, howya doing today?” or even “Need a ride?” he basically grunted at me loudly. What the hell? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE???? I just looked away and kept on walking. I’m not 12. I’m not 25. I’m not 30. I am a grown up lady person minding her own business. What do you think you’re doing???
After these three back-to-back incidents, I was feeling rattled and a bit paranoid. I studied every white SUV I saw for quite some time since that was the creepiest encounter. I didn’t see one with the right suggestion of cream in the coloring. Only recently did I throw out the small scrap paper I’d kept that had part of the vehicle’s license plate. I don’t think about these particular incidents much now but I haven’t forgotten either. And other weird things have happened in the not-quite-year since – one in particular stands out in my mind where a younger man came on with me pretty aggressively – but they seem like grist for the mill. That is, I don’t feel paranoid or singled out in some icky way.
I think most women have incidents like these, ones that feel like near-misses. Where she has to use her smarts and intuition to stay ahead of a potential threat or predator. It’s not like I think living in a friendly, sociable community is an automatic protection from all potential harm. I believe I need to look out for myself and not count on anyone else. I tell you I’m pissed that I still have to deal with this crap. But at least I am more confident and resourceful than I was when I was younger. I don’t worry about hurting people’s feelings or not being a nice girl. I think: stay the hell away from me. If you show me you mean trouble, I will send you packing.
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