Trigger warning for general safety issues. I can’t say if it’ll trigger emotions for you, but I’d absolutely prefer it if you protected yourself.
This weekend was… okay, let me explain.
Last Thursday, The Mister took off for a forever-day excursion to Las Vegas, mumbling something about a bachelor’s party. Personally, all I heard was “mumble… mumblemumblebootyglittermumble… mumblemumbletequilamumble… mumblemumblepenthousesuitemumble… mumblemumbledontspendallthemoneyupattheshoestoremumble,” because I was beyond annoyed. I, quite frankly, didn’t want to be left alone.
I’ve admitted before that I’d been having difficulty with going out alone, simply because I don’t know the area very well and had, ahem, been made uncomfortable before. Since I’d written that post, a lot has happened… enough so that the Mister could take a forever-day excursion to Vegas all in the name of booty glitter and $5 bottles of water.
That blog post – the one where I talked about my discomfort with big city livin’ and the sexual harassment that comes with it – was cross-posted on Racialicious, where one of the commenters had the brilliant (yes, that’s sarcasm) observation of “I don’t think NYC – or any large city – is right for you.”
I actually gave it some thought. Maybe I’m not cut out for a city this fast paced. Maybe I’m not cut out for being around so many people in such tight quarters. Maybe I need a space where I can keep my eye on everyone and everything.
But, if I were completely real with myself, I’d have to admit – that’s not possible. It might potentially be about the fact that I have to get acclimated to living in such a tightly-packed city; it might be about the fact that sexual harassment, in a patriarchal society, goes unchecked. It may be both. It may be neither, and the person was right – I need to leave. (They’re not.)
Either way, if there’s one thing I’ve learned the hard way, it’s that I can only focus on the things I can change, and I can change my approach to sexual harassment as well as creating and enforcing boundaries for myself as well as my child, whenever we’re out alone.
I mean, that’s what I’ve learned most of this is about, for me – understanding boundaries and identifying when someone is encroaching upon crossing mine. It’s one thing for someone to say “Hey, pretty lady” or “Good afternoon, lady” as I pass them on the street. It’s another thing, entirely, to follow me up the street talking about my “gap.”
When we tell people who are walking down the street to be “observant,” we’re implying that we need to watch for people who appear to be crossing an imaginary line that we set for ourselves. You can only follow me around so many corners before I “stop to send a text message,” BKA “snap a photo of you just in case.” You can only say so much to me, from behind, before I just all-out cross the street on you.
I had a very long talk with my mentor about this safety issue. I told her how this felt like it was encompassing my entire life – I felt unable to function because I couldn’t figure out how to get beyond it, and that’s when she brought the second piece of the puzzle to me: you set boundaries, sure, but how do you enforce them? How do you defend and protect yourself? If, by the sheer numbers of potentially coming in contact with a thousand people in a single day in comparison to the less than 100 a day I encountered in Miami, the likelihood of me having to go toe to toe with someone came up, what happens then?
I, apparently, needed to be prepared to use the guns. And I’m not talking’ .38 caliber. I’m talking’ about those Michelle Obama arms. Apparently, I needed to enroll in Ass Whipping 101.
She shared with me the story of how a dear friend of hers was attacked on her way home, but she whipped his ass… to the point where, when the police arrived, she had her foot on his neck trying to explain how she wasn’t the criminal, here. I, apparently, needed to become that girl.
Luckily for me, the Mister could help with that. Him, being a man whose primary concern for safety meant “being robbed,” actually was pretty fluent in Ass Kicking. Ever since I showed him that post to read, we’ve been low-key battling it out every couple of days, close to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, similar to Fiona and Michael. No matter where I go, self-preservation will always be an issue and I have to prepare. If I can prepare for the zombies, I can prepare for this.
The day that my mentor shared her story with me, as I was leaving the gym, I told the Mister what we talked about. I told him that I felt relieved – literally, weight off my shoulders-relieved – that this wasn’t something that was solely attributed to my emotional recovery and dependent upon my ability to heal. He apparently took that as a hint…
…because I came home to “a gift” of a 15-pack of Ass Kicking 101 classes. I’m pretty sure this means no more World War III in the living room with him, but I think I’m okay with that.
There’s also the issue of “getting to know the city.” Where am I going? What am I doing? This all became far easier after I got this little beauty…
…which, after that whole “Oh, I forgot how to ride a bike” business, was quite fun. What started out as a very suggestive Mother’s Day gift (yes, Erika, you too can explore the city all on your own!) turned into my saving grace. I need something from the grocery store? I can hop on my bike and get there almost as quick as taking the train. Running late to get the kiddo? I can hop on my bike and zoom faster than a harasser can yell. The bike has actually restored some of that feeling I’d lost, but in a different way. I feel the curiosity that originally brought me to New York in the first place; not because the bike made it interesting again, but because it has helped me find new routes, new places that were interesting enough to overpower the anxiety.
Sounds like a lot has happened in six weeks. Feels overwhelming to write about it.
But here it was – the weekend of the godforsaken party that was going to take my best friend away from me for several days, and I was going to have to find something else to do with my time. My goodness, with him not around, what the hell was I supposed to do? Be productive? Enjoy myself? Pardon me while I scoff.
I have to admit.. I’m so proud of myself.
After I wrapped up some much-needed work (and found out that I’d won a pretty epic contest, OMG?) I packed up Mini-me, hit the gym… and then headed west.
The Brooklyn Flea…it was calling my name. I like unique, eclectic, vintage, hippie junk and felt like I’d be right at home. Of course I was, but that’s beside the point.
The next day… that is when the greatness happened.
One of the primary reasons why I’d left Indiana for Miami in the first place was because I needed to see something less… beige. I needed sky, I needed sand, I needed sea. Living there helped me appreciate culture, and the intrinsic value of learning about someone else’s culture. Going to school with Jamaicans, Trinis, Bajans, Haitians… living on a street where you can hear four different languages/patois/kreyol and ebonics… you just develop a love of appreciating the little things that make people who they are. That’s what made it so easy to move to New York. There’s a little bit of everything here, and I love being able to soak that up.
Enter… The Dance Africa Bazaar. Hosted by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, there were soooo many people there sporting gorgeous head wraps, loss, afros (y’all know I’m partial to the afro), braids, weaves, wigs and curls (it was humid and those relaxers and presses were strugglin’ out there.)… wrap skirts and kente cloth robes and the longest of maxi dresses and the shortest of shorts… little girls (and us big ones, too) in the middle of the street playing with hula hoops and riding horses – yes, yes y’all… horses – all shades of skin tones from the faintest of pink to the deepest of brown. I just soaked it all up like fresh sunlight… took it all in.
If you know me, you know I love culture. It’s what made living in Miami so much fun. Being able to appreciate the nuances of other cultures was what brought me to a place where I could appreciate my own and what it contributes to who I am. I loved being in Indiana because of the education I received, but there’s so much more to life than that.
Being holed up in my house all this time… I couldn’t thrive emotionally or physically, but I also couldn’t thrive culturally, either… and I realize that’s a huge part of me. Being at the Bazaar – not so much the vendors, though there were some amazing ones there, but the people who were there alongside me – felt like a re-awakening of a part of me that I’d lost during my time of being fearful. I took a chance, stepped out, and felt like I was starting to win again. No matter how fearful I am, I still have to take that first step. I’ve always hated standing still, anyway… metaphorically or otherwise.
To put it plainly, I had to make a compromise with myself. I had to accept that I’d always have an issue with safety no matter where I went, and would have to do what I could to prepare to defend myself and my space. I’d have to create a sensible and respectable understanding of what counts as “my space,” and I’d have to enforce that. At the same time… the city is nowhere near what I thought it was, and in any other case we’d tell ourselves to not let the bad outweigh the good, especially when the good allows for beautiful things like this to happen.
So… I’ve called a truce. I’m learning to set new boundaries, but I’m also not going to blame the city for the bad behavior of a few. Annnnnnd, to show The Mister that I’m coming around, I got the quintessential “buy-it-but-don’t-you-dare-wear-it-when-we’re-out-together” shirt:
…and I’m gonna judo chop him one good time, too. Just because I can, now.