“You don’t like to be touched, do you?”
The question made me recoil in suspicion, like when a street psychic knows something too personal to have guessed it.
“No, I don’t. How could you tell?”
She had sat across from my desk for five months, but I assumed most people in the office paid attention to the job, not each other. I had assumed they were like me.
“When Emily went to touch your necklace, you held it out for her, as far away from your body as you could get it so she wouldn’t come any closer.”
“Ha, yeah. Good observation.”
I averted my eyes, feeling naked and vulnerable.
This past week, two attempted kidnappings of young women were reported in Santa Monica, both in broad daylight, both on my walk to work. I haven’t had a car since I was a senior in high school. My parents sold it because it would never make the drive to my university, some 600 miles away. Ten years later, I am the only living girl in Los Angeles without a car. I walk two-point-nothing miles to work. It’s not a long walk to a New Yorker. It’s unfathomable to the people who live along that walk. And of all the lovely places to walk in LA, Santa Monica is maybe one of the loveliest. But I have a vagina. Walking is dangerous.
Feeling robbed of the time I used for amble and thought, I stopped walking and started riding my bike to work, knowing speed would favor my safety. I own a bike that is made to go fast. I wear a helmet because I was made to go fast and I have felt the impact of the ground. Biking in LA is dangerous. But I would rather be hit by a car than raped. And yet, in all black, helmet and sunglasses on, face obscured, blonde hair tucked away, I am in danger. A car purposefully swerves in and out of my path, a man leans out the window and yells something lewd at me. Two blocks further, several men yell from the corner. Do not turn your head, do not slow down, do not check to see if they are following you, show no fear, show no fear, show no fear.
But fear is built in when you have to decide if you would rather be thrown to the ground by a car or a man.
My faith in the common person comes across as arrogance when I opt to walk home alone. I’ll be fine. People are good. Nothing will happen. I have already been sexually assaulted by a stranger on the ground in the night. I think it won’t hit me again. Or that if it did, I would survive it, again. It’s not arrogance, or ignorance, it’s pride. I am not the one who should have to change. I am not the one who should have to tuck myself away, wrapped in things to hide me, to protect me. And when I do, when I’ve clenched my fists tight, when I don’t make eye contact or smile, when my face is frozen in anger, I am not the one who should be told to open up, to be vulnerable, to let down her walls because you made me build them. I will not tear them down on your command. Vulnerable is something people have asked me to feel. They have asked me to, as the saying goes, open up. Like women do. Open up your heart, open up your arms, open up your legs. But I am not open. I am not a shop you can idle through and steal from. I am not goods and I am not space for taking. I am not open.
The next time you’re tempted to ask a girl to put her walls down, instead, consider what wasn’t asked that made her put those walls up. Give pause when she flinches and consider from where pride is grown. They raised us soft and delicate, slender and clean, un-calloused and shiny, small and sucked in. We were raised to be eaten alive, and fear is something we feel even in the waking hours of the sunniest days. But if we are prey, mind you we are clever. And if you are Goliath, mind you we are David.