1. A man is heading in my direction, weaving slightly. I can’t make out his features. He’s wearing a parka, hood up. The street is dark and quiet. He weaves closer. I can hear him mumbling to himself but I can’t make out any words. “Move quickly,” I tell myself, but not soon enough, and he has me cornered, my back against a utility pole, his body blocking my way. Maybe I should be scared, but instead I’m angry. I am about to push past him and then I see he is reaching one hand into his jacket. I stop being angry and start being scared. He pulls out a piece of hard candy in a green foil wrapper. “Take a piece of candy,” he says. I don’t make eye contact. I don’t say anything. He waves the candy under my nose. I keep my gaze cast down but I sidestep him, continue on my way, only faster.
2. A man crosses the street toward me. I see him out of the corner of my eye. He’s tall, young, strong-looking, carrying a black plastic bag. He’s wearing a parka, too. We all are. It’s winter. I can feel myself tensing, and hoping. Maybe he’s getting into one of the cars parked along the curb. Maybe he’s detouring up the silent residential street I just passed. “Hey pretty baby,” he hisses. “Hey pretty. Hey. You’re gorgeous. What’s wrong with you? It’s a compliment.” I am wearing my thick winter jacket that comes down to my knees, my floppy knit hat, jeans, flat boots. This would make me laugh, if it were funny. He follows me for the rest of the block, getting a little too close, hissing and making kissing sounds. I am lucky: there is a restaurant on the corner, full of light and people. I stop and pretend to read the menu, and some people walk past, and he disappears.
3. A little girl, maybe five, comes careering around a corner. She is wearing a long pink coat and mittens and a pink backpack with a large fabric daisy attached to it. She laughs like this: “Ahh haha hahahahaha hahahahaha haha HA!” Her mother is trudging a few paces behind, weary, a grocery bag and an oversized purse in her arms. The little girl nearly runs smack into me. She looks up at me and grins. She knows her mother can’t stop her, and neither can I. She takes off down the block, hopping and dodging.
4. I think about instinct and how we interpret it, how much is nature and how much is nurture, or environment. My nature is not to look down or away. My nature is never to run. My instinct tells me to fight, to dig in, to make the other person blink first. It takes a tremendous amount of willpower to refrain from flipping the bird and unleashing a string of profanities. Willpower, actually, doesn’t even work. It is only the knowledge that the man might have a violent streak, or a knife, or worse yet a gun, that restrains me. I think about this and these words, willpower and restraint, and why they apply to me in the first place. I am just walking. I am so caught up in these thoughts that I don’t notice the man in the doorway until I am upon him; I have been unconsciously sticking close to the buildings. I see his face under his hooded jacket. I see him notice me. There is no one else in sight. My body does that thing where it feels like I have dry ice in my veins instead of blood. In an instant, I am more animal than human. He knows, I think, panicking. He knows he caught me. The man smiles and inclines his chin, a casual how-do, pedestrian. I rearrange my face so it looks less stricken. How-do, man in doorway. Me? Oh, I’m fine. You just startled me, that’s all. You just took me by surprise.
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