Initially I couldn’t really find the words to give this post a title because I cannot really find the words to explain the experience I am about to attempt to describe. This is a story of sexual harassment, though not the first, as the few years between the time I legally became an adult and turning 25 have left me with countless stories of disrespect, disregard, and mistreatment at the hands of men. But this experience perhaps is the one that will have the most impact on me because this was the first time ever that someone took a stand for me in a situation like this.
A stranger. A woman. A hero.
The day started off better than most. I got my son off to school, made myself pancakes from scratch and enjoyed them with a fruit salad, and then I decided to go for a walk before my work day began. Barely 9 am, I set out my front door and along my usual quiet route throughout a neighborhood I’ve known since I was 16 years old. I encountered the usual people on their porches or walking their dogs and greeted everyone with a kind hello, gentle nod, or a slight smile. And as I approached a corner I saw a new face. A face I had not before seen. A face that I never hope to see again. But a face I’ll not soon forget.
His stride was slow and sloppy. He was walking without purpose. He was walking without intention. He was looking for an opportunity, and as I turned that corner I became that opportunity. We made eye contact. My brain began processing. He is 4 feet away. His pace quickens. He is 3 feet away. His movements are more purposeful. He is 2 feet away. His gaze has not shifted from me. He is 1 foot away. He is going to approach. 11 inches away. He is a threat. 10 inches away. He speaks. “You know good and damn well you shouldn’t be out here looking as good as that. You’re going to make someone want you.” I walk past giving him a weak smile hoping that will appease him. But I know what he wants. He knows what he wants. He does an about face and begins to follow.
I need to make it to the next block. If I can make it to the next block, the old man on the porch who speaks to me every day will be there. He will see. He will help. I quicken my pace, my pursuer close behind me. He continues to talk. “You know girls like you are just asking for trouble.” I’m panicking now, but I refuse to show it. He needs to see I am not intimidated. He needs to see I am not threatened. Only I am. I know “this guy”. The one who blames the woman for his actions. The one who gives a woman the magical power to force him against his will or better judgement to do something bad to her. The one who will shame her and discredit her afterwards. The one who will claim she wanted it. The one I’ve unfortunately lost to before. The one I need to escape now.
I see the old man. I speak and make it a point to get close to his home. I remove my sunglasses. My eyes are tearing up. My heart is racing. The man behind me curses and tells me not to walk away from him. The old man hears this. He watches this man in the street approach me and grab my arm. He looks at both of us and tells me to be safe and have a good day. He goes in his house. I hear the door lock. I’m defeated. I’m in trouble.
I snatch my arm away. Loudly, I tell him my mom is waiting at home and if I don’t make it back at my usual time she will worry and call for help. I tell him I’ll call the police right now. I reach for my phone- it’s dead. Please don’t let him call me on my bluff. He tells me to “go the fuck on” before I have to reveal that weakness to him. I think it’s over, but once I am 2 feet away he continues to follow. I cannot go home. He cannot know where I live. I detour.
“Let me love you girl!” “Let me make you feel good girl!” “Let me give you something you have never had before girl!” Only I have had it before. Against my will. When I was not conscious enough to make rational decisions. When I was not conscious enough to walk on my own. When I was not conscious enough to say no. When I was not conscious enough to fight. It happened. I didn’t want it then. I don’t want it now.
I walk towards a convenience store. If I can get to a public place I can ask for help. He is still in pursuit with no intent to stop. I walk past a home with two young men smoking cigarettes. The man’s chants escalate from “let me” to “I’m gonna” and the list of things he was gonna do was vulgar. The men laugh. “Looks like you’ve attracted a buddy” one says as I pass. A buddy? I can’t rely on them. They are part of the problem.
Just a few more feet to the convenience store. The store owners know me well. They will help. The man walks faster until he is an arms length behind me, but he doesn’t reach out. Rather he continues to shout all the profane things he wants to do to me. And then I hear it. Help.
Unknown to me a woman on a bike had been following us. Observing. “I want you to know I have summoned an officer to this location, I have several pictures of you on my phone, and I have recorded virtually your entire exchange with this young lady. What I am going to do next is stand here with her until the officer arrives. What you do next is up to you.”
He looks at her. He looks at me. He has lost his position of power. He has been defeated. And the panic I once felt now transfers to him as he tries to think of what his next move is. He is looking for an escape. “It was a misunderstanding,” he says. “It was a joke,” he explains. “They were song lyrics.” “No harm was intended.” He takes off in the opposite direction.
The woman grabs my hand and we stand there for several minutes until this man is completely out of sight. No words exchanged, just the energy that travels between two women when one woman understands because she has been where you currently are. The energy that makes one woman a defender of other women because no one came to her defense at some point in time.
No officer was en route. As it turns out she had forgotten her phone that day. But I felt safer with her than I had ever felt with any officer. She was in my neighborhood by chance, taking an alternate route as a challenge to herself to see if she could go a longer distance than usual. A sheer matter of happenstance. A divine intervention. After many thanks and a brief hug I watched this woman ride off into the sun like a hero in those old cowboy films.
She is a hero.
She saw. She analyzed. She acted quickly. She stood with me. She stood for me. She was for me what someone failed to be for her. Because of her, I hope to be that for someone else one day.
With sincerest thanks to the woman on the bicycle.
Every day I pray for the man I’ll one day marry.
I pray for his health. His strength.
I pray that he finds the desires of his heart. That he goes on to accomplish things far bigger than his mind could ever wrap itself around.
I pray for his happiness. His peace of mind.
I pray for his protection. His ability to overcome societal oppression.
I pray for his heart. His relationship with God.
And I pray that God takes all the time he needs to mold me into someone who can help him become the man God destined him to be.
I have no clue who that man might turn out to be. I may have already met him. He may be someone I’ve yet to cross paths with.
But how incredibly beautiful to be able to stand at the altar across from that man and tell him, “I’ve prayed for you long before I even knew who you were.”
To all of you…
You who tried to reduce my potential because you felt unsure about your own,
You who attempted to blur my ability to see my own beauty because you couldn’t see your own,
You who made it a point to diminish the value of my accomplishments because you feared your own were not significant enough,
You who failed to be present for me in my time of need because you never knew what reliability or dependability looked like,
You who robbed me of my power and sense of security as a means to make yourselves feel more powerful,
You who took advantage of my generosity as a means of furthering your own position in the world,
You who professed your unconditional love only to take it away when you weren’t getting what you wanted –
YOU underestimated my ability to rise from the ashes. My ability to take all the broken pieces of my life, my heart, my mentality…and to reconfigure myself into someone better, stronger…
Someone capable of seeing the greatness within herself. Someone no longer needing outside approval or input to thrive. Someone who understands the power she holds, the beauty she possesses, the asset she is to all within her presence.
You tried. You failed. I stand. I rise.
Come to the realization of who you are and what you are capable of.
Once you do, it becomes easy to refuse those who treat you less than what you know yourself to be and try to diminish what you know you are capable of.
What chances would you take if you knew you couldn’t fail?
Take those chances.
A failure to take them is currently the only reason you aren’t succeeding.