The Man at the Gas Station

Gas pump like that used by DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley

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.

10 Replies to “The Man at the Gas Station”

  1. What a hideous experience. Especially since your first retort didn’t drive him off. Sometimes “flight” is the best and safest recourse. There are always woulda/coulda/shouldas, but please don’t beat uourself up for what you did. ❤

    1. I mean, I think it was probably the best thing I could have done, given my current mind frame. But ugh!

  2. I agree with Mary. With a guy like that, you really don’t know what he is capable of doing so getting out of there as fast as you can was the wise choice. It’s bad enough that you have to be subjected to something like that but it hurts even more now without Shawn to talk to about it. You did the right thing. That guy makes my blood boil. Grrrr….

    1. I know. I didn’t realize how ANGRY I was until I got home and stopped crying!

  3. I am so sorry that this happened to you and I can only imagine how frightened you must have been. I don’t blame you for leaving right away. I would have done the same. I emphasize with your loss of feeling protected. I often feel the same. I feel alone, even when friends or family members are around. I don’t have my own intact family unit anymore. The other day, my son said to me that he no longer feels protected. I asked him what he meant by that statement. He said “Mom, I know you take care of me. You go to work and make money, you feed and clothe me and you make sure I go to school and my activities. But, Daddy made me feel safe and protected. I feel good being around you, but not as protected as I felt with Daddy.” My heart broke all over again…..

    1. Oh, that’s heartbreaking. It’s so hard to deal with our own emotions about being protected, but when it involves our kids it’s even worse. Ugh.

  4. You absolutely did the right thing. Well done for keeping yourself safe. I share your anger and indignation. It is so hard when you need to make sense of something unfair or scary and the one person that you want to tell isn’t there.
    My husband died 17 months ago of late stage bowel cancer and I wanted you to know that your blog has helped me feel less alone. I know what it is like to hide your anger or sadness because you don’t want to damage your kids.
    Sending love xxx

    1. Yep. I think about all the things I do constantly to manage my children’s emotions – and I’m very open with them! But I do think they don’t need to see everything, and thus I find myself really managing my emotions at times. It’s a LOT!

  5. Hi Marjorie,

    Thanks for sharing this. It is a terrifying feeling to lost your protector. I too feel very scared and alone in this world that now seems bigger and scarier. I had a situation recently while walking my Rottweiler. There was a man who walked past me and turned around and walked in my direction. I was immediately alerted by this so I made sure to let my dog sniff everything and let the man pass me, but he seemed to have waited at the block I love on. I made a few turns and he shortly made the same turns. Long story short I eventually asked him why it seems that he was following me and of course he denied it and told me that I had a dog with me as if I was crazy. It didn’t mean that he wasn’t waiting to see where I went. I realized after how dangerous it is to confront the person. My dog didn’t seem on high alert, so I figured I would alert him by speaking up. We don’t make the best choices when scared and our worlds are shaken. All this to say, don’t beat yourself up to much. Thankfully you got to safety. It’s called fight or flight. You fled. By the way, I got through my first wedding anniversary. Thanks for helping me feel that I could.

    1. Yikes. What a story! I think many widows have similar stories, unfortunately. And yes, I was talking to a friend last night and she mentioned this “fight or flight” idea and I think it’s probably what happened in my case. We are all just trying to protect ourselves – which is harder to do when our person is gone.

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