Ugh. I hate my car. It’s been sort of working for the last two months, up until three weeks ago when it decided to really, truly, official quit. It’s a fuel pump thing, it’s a 1994, and I’m too cheap to pay to fix something that old, especially when it means I’d have to buy new winter tires for it just to make it through the year.
But it has been making me think about the human experience – those things that we all share. When I laid underneath my car in the McDonald’s parking lot two weeks ago with a rubber mallet to bash at my gas tank, I felt like I had finally joined that elite romantic club of people who’s cars die on the side of the road and their true love pulls over to fix it. I was already with my fiancé, so I guess I had that part figured out ahead of time. Full of frustration and annoyance, looking up at the rusting underside of my car, I realized that this was my worst fear about owning a car, and it’s not so bad.
Until I started back on my regular shift at work, and have to walk home after dark. It starts to get dark here by 8pm, and at full black at 9. My walk is only twenty minutes or so, and most of it is lit. There is a five minute stretch, though, that freaks me out a bit. And this is another human experience – though maybe it’s only mostly true for the female experience. On one side of the road there is a large gravel parking lot for overflow parking for the local soccer fields, unlit, 2/3 of the way surrounded by trees and bush. On the other side is a small forested area with trails for runners, dog-walkers, and birdwatchers, and being a birdwatcher, I know I’ve seen more than a few homeless camps in there. I’m not nervous about homeless people, and I know they are generally harmless, and that its the “normal” looking people with weird anger issues and twisted ideas about women, sex, and power that I should be worried about.
Automatically, almost, my pace quickened when I reached this part of the road, when the night seems darker than I thought, and trees look like horror movies. I arrived home fine, and did not think too much about it until I was at a work a week later. As I was telling the story of my poor wretched car, in more fine detail and with more expletives, she asked how I was getting home. I told her I was walking, and said it was mostly fine, except for that one patch where I trip on the gravel ’cause I can’t see but don’t want a flashlight ’cause I don’t want people to see me. She said, “Yeah, that’s the part where you start running.”
Nonchalantly. Like it was nothing to think any further about. I’m a woman. I’m alone at night, and there’s no artificial light. The correct, inborn reaction, it seems, is to run. Then I thought, well how inborn is that reaction really? Where are we learning it from? Why is the mass experience of women in N.America (and I’ve come to learn a lot of other places too), this? It’s frustrating, because I know the chances are slim but that fear is still there. Fear that I can’t protect myself, even when I really want to. Fear of all men I might meet, ignoring the possibility that they too might just be walking home from work. Fear that those stories we are told so much might happen to me, even though I know the majority of attacks are by people the victims know, not random strangers.
This week I’ve been able to scrounge up some rides home, and I hate that I am believing the lie that all men go evil after dark, and that all women out alone at night need to have a prey mindset. I want to walk home confidently, not feel my heart rate jump when I hear the trees creaking, and not be suspicious of every car that drives by. So I’m challenging myself, to walk home tonight. And keep the pace even whether the path is lit, or unlit. And see if I can’t control those feelings, change my mind, and enjoy the stars while I cross my fingers for Northern Lights because I can as my fist is not busy holding my keys like a weapon. Maybe, if we train ourselves out of this sort of negative thinking, we will be less victimized, and more in control of how we view the world, and our interactions with each other.