I realized I was out of gas as I headed back from the doctor last week. I was out in the suburbs, too far from home to wait until I could go to my usual gas station, so I pulled into a random one on a side street. I got out, paid for my gas and waited for my tank to fill. In the interim, I washed my windshield.
Behind me, a man whistled. I ignored it, mostly because I was alone and in a hurry to get back to my kids. Then I heard the same guy yelling, “hey you, excuse me, excuse me,” so I turned around.
He was standing a few feet from me, near the bathrooms. He held the bathroom key up and said, “do you want to come into the bathroom with me?”
I tried to ignore him. In an attempt to get my attention, I assume, he made a suggestive gesture. “What, are you ignoring me?” he said, and I saw out of the corner of my eye that he was slowly edging towards me.
My car was still filling up with gas. No one was really around. I decided to treat him like a foolish child in the hopes of scaring him off, or at least embarrassing him enough to get him to go away. “You can’t seriously think I’m going to go have sex with you in that bathroom? Are you insane? Stop harassing me!” I said forcefully. I hoped it was loud and embarrassing enough for the people inside the store to hear.
“What? I like you! You should come here,” he said, and then he really started moving towards me with the key waving above his head.
I ran into my car and started it. I quickly realized I needed to stop filling my tank, so I ran around the side, spilled a bit of gas in my haste and threw on the cap. Then I high-tailed it out of there.
I drove all the way home before realizing that I was crying.
I let myself in my house and tried to figure out what gas station I had visited. Of course, I didn’t have a receipt or any idea what street I’d pulled off on. I wanted to call the gas station and tell them about the spilled bit of gas and the creep at the bathroom. But an hour of searching the internet revealed nothing.
I should have called the police. (Claire, if you are reading this as a teenager, you need to call the police. Do not follow your mom’s example.) He was harassing me at best and maybe actually threatening me with real violence. I should have at least reported him to the manager. I should have taken his photo or gotten his name.
But I didn’t do any of those things because I was scared.
In my previous life, I might have been more proactive. I know this because I was harassed before Shawn died. Of course I was – it’s part of being a woman in America! (As a side note, I don’t blame all men for this. It’s a small, small percentage of men who do these things. But every single woman I know has a story like this.)
When Shawn was alive and someone whistled at me, I’d point to my wedding ring and say something like, “You do not want my husband hearing that you just whistled at me!” It was usually pretty effective.
But it’s not just that I can’t truthfully say something like this anymore. It’s that I am acutely aware that there’s no one protecting me from these specific situations.
I can handle most harassment, because I’ve had a decent amount of practice (again, see “being a woman in America.”) But when this situation turned threatening, I found myself really scared. And once I got home, I realized I was crying not just because I was scared but also because I was acutely missing my husband. I was missing the feeling of being protected by him, even though he wasn’t with me 100% of the time when he was alive. I was missing the sound of his voice when I’d tell him about getting harassed – he was always so livid.
Moreover, I want to feel like I did when Shawn was alive. I want to feel trust in the world around me. I want to feel reassured by the fact that I can call the police, scream for help, or at minimum really scream at the perpetrator.
But I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I fled. I let my newfound fear take over and I got the hell out of that gas station.
I’m not sure what I’ll do if and when this happens again. I hope I’ll call the police. I hope I’ll say something much harsher. I hope I’ll act less out of fear and more out of trust of the many people out there who can help.
But maybe I’ll flee. Because the one person who can’t help me anymore is Shawn, and that knowledge makes me a lot more nervous when I hear someone whistling at me.