Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When I walk in the dark

When I was 22, I used to walk and run at night in the dark, my awesome chunky yellow Sports Walkman in hand, headphones on.

Usually during the week I'd go to the gym after work, then walk from M Street up to our apartment in Mt. Pleasant, back when it was a marginal neighborhood. I'd do this in the winter at 8 or 9 at night, and not think anything of it. Alone, music on, pitch dark.

I walked everywhere, not thinking about time or...actually, let's just say not thinking.

Once Maude, Lyrae, and I were mincing home at 2 am on a Saturday, and a policeman pulled over and asked where we were going. And then he gave us a ride home.

So I got home around 9:30 last night.

I was working as an extra on a TV show being filmed way up in Maryland (yes, my life is glam when I'm not wiping up food or poop, and I'll totally let you know if a single ear or elbow or strand of hair of mine makes it in a single scene). I knew beforehand that we'd be parking in a big, open lot that we'd be shuttled to, and that we likely wouldn't leave before nightfall.

As it turned out, I was in a group that was let go earlier, so left just before 7 pm, in the light. Nick said 95 traffic would still be horrible, and so I used the opportunity for a little guilt-free browsing at a suburban Target.

So last night, right before Nick was going to take over circling for parking for me, I found a spot pretty close to our house. He called and I told him I'd just parked and would be home in a few minutes.

I was near a shortcut between buildings that leads into our alley. I could've gone through it, down the alley, and into our back door, which would've been a lot shorter. In the daytime I do this. But I walked around.

Our alley is dark, and my friend Becky, whose parking space used to be on the adjoining alley, was mugged there several years ago. At 8 pm, in the late summer light. He took her wallet and her phone and told her get into his car but she convinced him to let her keep her head down and walk away.

She was so smart. "Take the phone, take the money, and I will turn around and walk away right now."

And he let her, thank God.

The alley has been repaved and is less sketchy now, and we all happily note that we no longer see human feces in it, but it's still an alley. In DC.

I got home and Nick was waiting for me, and as we were chatting, he asked why I thought I wasn't chosen to stay for the second scene. I should totally have worn the shirt he'd suggested. I shrugged. And then he noticed I didn't have my wedding ring on. Huh. Why didn't I wear my rings?

And this is what I said: As a man, and a large one who is unlikely to ever be a target, he and I live very different lives.

I didn't want to stay on set. Yes, it would be cool to be in another scene, but I was glad to be let go. Because the parking lot was big, and I was relieved to get there in the light. There were a lot of us, and I didn't expect that they would take us each to our respective cars.

Yes, I could maybe ask someone to walk me to my car, but I didn't know any of the other extras beforehand, and getting walked to one's car is not a certainty.

I deliberately didn't wear my rings because I was anticipating walking through a parking lot in the dark way the hell out somewhere I do not know, and I didn't want to be wearing something sparkly. I suppose I could've worn the wedding ring, but I wear them together.

And in our neighborhood, which I feel comfortable in, even though I was carrying a bunch of heavy bags and it would've been much more expedient to take a shortcut through buildings and the alley, I walked around several blocks. If I'd been farther away, or on a darker street, I'd have stayed in the car and called him to come get me.

"You," I said, "you never have to think about these things. Never."

I was mugged once, years ago.

I was with two guy friends at pitch-dark 4:00 am, in the not-great bus station part of Quito. Our bus came in way earlier than it was supposed to, because the highway from the coast that had been closed had been cleared of a mudslide.  So we were unexpectedly hours early, in the dark. Inky, dimly-lit if lit at all, extremely poor, bad part of town dark.

We started walking to catch a local bus into town. We rounded a dark corner and headed down an even darker street, and suddenly and quietly a big group of guys surrounded us. I think only one of them had a knife, but we were so outnumbered, and had cumbersome backpacks. They threw the three of us to the ground. They grabbed our bags.

I will tell you that from the moment that we realized we were surrounded and that one of them had a knife, I started to scream. And I couldn't stop.

You know how you sometimes dream that something terrible is happening and you can't make a sound? And you never actually know if you can until you're in a situation that calls for it? Turns out I can holler. Holy hell do I have lungs.

They asked me to stop. They told me to stop. They tried to shush me.

I could not. I screamed and screamed and screamed. I was hysterical, and I was loud.They pulled up my shirt, and I screamed some more. The rapist that attacked Maude in our apartment the year prior was fresh in my mind.

They were only looking for a money belt, which I was wearing, and which they took, and then let go of me. I was so relieved.

A taxi pulled up out of nowhere and they ran towards it. My friends got up and chased them, me holding up the rear, shrieking like a banshee. The driver was going to take the guys, he later told us, and then he looked down the road, and saw one white person, a women alone, yelling her head off.

The attackers jumped out and ran. They somehow left my backpack in the back seat.

My forearms and knees wound up massively skinned, which I didn't realize for hours. They healed in weeks, although I think I might still have faint scars on a knee. For years, however, my heart would pound if I had to walk alone at dusk or later. The sound of a footstep nearby made me start.

And ever since then I am careful, oh so careful, when I walk in the dark.


  1. I have had these conversations with male friends more times than I can count. Not just about walking in the dark, but about being approached in a bar (is he distracting me and putting something in my drink? If I reject someone's advances, will he follow me out to my car later? If I start running before it gets light out, I stick to sidewalks in a residential area, because someone is more likely to hear me scream than if I'm on the trail.

    And sometimes the male friends, they will look at me like I'm crazy, until I explained that these things have actually happened to me. That these are things that happen, and that they will never have to worry about.

    I'm glad you got home safely, and I'm glad you didn't walk in the alley. *hugs*

    1. And you shouldn't have to explain that these things have happened to you. And these things shouldn't have happened to you in the first place. I hate that they have. Giant hugs. Yes, these are things that happen, that are common, and we have to worry about them.

      As for running, whenever I see a woman alone on a trail in the evening I am shocked. More so if she's wearing headphones. Yes, sadly, it's only smart, if you're running in the dark, to run where someone can hear you scream, where you can run to someone for help. I don't run on trails at all if there aren't lots of other people around, even if it's daytime. I'm a big chicken.


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