Early autumn mornings are made for running. 5:00 AM is temperate and cool, dark (no sunscreen needed), the right time to see wild animals, and populated with very few people. My neighborhood does not have street lights, so the darkness is all encompassing. I see plenty of stars each morning, and I have practiced the same route over and over again so I know where to step so I don’t trip. (Okay, so I still trip on occasion.) I run alone – just me, my thoughts, and my daily meditative experience – and I love it.
About five years ago during one of these morning runs, a vehicle followed behind me for quite a distance, then pulled up next to me and kept pace, passed me by a bit, and then slowed down and rolled down the window. At that point, panic took over, I broke into a full-out sprint, and I didn’t calm down until I was back in my house with the door locked. I genuinely feared for my safety and it took me a long time to work up the courage to get back out there again.
I told this story to a few male friends at the time and each scolded me for running by myself, for risking rape and kidnapping and death. They mansplained that the threat of attack was ever present, and that I shouldn’t ever go out alone like that again.
Right, like being alone would protect me. Sexual assault happens all the time. I was 10 years old the first time someone grabbed my breasts and tried to stick his hands down my pants. We were in a roomful of people. When I was 14, some random guy patted my butt as I entered the hospital to volunteer. My dad and brother were less than 10 feet away. When I was 21, a guy walked up to me at a busy intersection, grabbed my breasts, smiled, and walked away. During my 20’s, I went to bars and clubs knowing that guys would play the game of grab-ass as well. (I started going to lesbian clubs because then I could dance without much fear of, literally, being manhandled.) Sexual assault happens, it happens all the time, and being with other people is not protection.
I refuse to live my life in fear of assault.
This week I had another unusual and scary experience on my morning run. A truck tailed me, u-turned, u-turned again, followed me down my street, passed me, parked, and then 2 minutes later came back down my street. My panic level increased, I mentally began thinking of ways to protect and defend myself, and I did not stop running until I had reached my house. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason for what the driver did – maybe they forgot something, maybe they were picking someone else up, maybe they were playing Pokemon Go – and it is unlikely that I was a target. I cannot let this type of fear stop me from living my life the way I want to.
I got back out there the next morning. It was hard emotionally but I did it. My solo night run was much worse because there are more cars and people out at night. I repeated “these are my neighbors and they don’t want to hurt me” over and over again. I couldn’t get into a groove because my attention kept being pulled towards panicky feelings. And then a little dog ran right up to me, stopped, licked my ankles, and flopped over to expose his belly. It was such a gesture of trust and, I won’t lie, it mended my heart a lot. The little guy was lost, needed my help, and recognized that I was a neighbor who wouldn’t hurt him. I spent the next five minutes tracking down his owner and, in the end, I felt really good about recognizing the humanity in others.
I opened a fortune cookie today and it had one word for me: Run. And that’s what I’m choosing to do.