I sashayed out the door like I own the place and headed downtown to enjoy the weather, maybe pop in and say hello to Hilary, return some books, perhaps hit the bakery. To enjoy a rare stretch of time with obligations to just be outside and do some ambling. The days that I can do this seem to fall few and far between now. I have too much work to do to leave the house at all, or I can’t leave for long stretches because something might happen, or because I spend the whole time fretting because I am convinced that there is something I am forgetting, an obligation, a responsibility, a something.
It started out so well. It was a lovely, sunny day, the kind of day that comes to mind when you think about summer, and what summer is, and what it should be. Warm enough to feel comfortable, but not hot, with a hint of a breeze coming off the ocean. The tide is high, so it just smells fresh and clean and salty, not dirty and bitter and sour. Not like rotting dead things, like it sometimes does in the summer as the seaweed bakes above the high tide line.
And I was thinking about nothing in particular and swinging my arms and perhaps muttering to myself, as one does, and seeing how the neighborhood gardens were growing. I was wholly in myself and enjoying the moment, the day, the fresh air, the sense that nothing is hanging over me. Everything was so beautiful, you see.
And then I passed the construction site. I tried to ignore it, at first, I really did, but they were so very loud and their voices rang so very clearly down the street and I shrank into myself and felt very small and alone. The middle of the day, no one is around but me and the construction workers, commenting on my body. The whistling. The hooting. The words I can’t bring myself to repeat because, really, you’ve heard them. You can imagine.
You know how it is, as you debate whether to speed up, or to keep your pace and pretend that nothing is happening. As you ask yourself if you should retort back crisply, or say nothing as well. As you clench your fists by your sides and try not to let the rage, the frustration, show. You know how it is because it happens everywhere and it happens all the time and sometimes it seems like it will never end. You know what they said because they’ve probably said it to you or you’ve heard it said. Those words are like barbs sinking into your skin.
People say that this is flattering. I don’t understand why. This is not a celebration of my body, the cataloging of its parts and exactly what people want to do with them, the leering. The moving towards me in ways that I do not read as friendly. I read them as statements of power and control and ownership. People say that this is a compliment, to be shouted at by people who want to make their opinions about you known. As though, what, you are so very tempting that even though you are a stranger, they want to make sure that you are aware of your temptingness? How is this a compliment?
They say, too, that if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t dress so provocatively. (Jeans and a scoopneck tee, if you’re curious.) That it’s no big deal, really, they don’t mean anything by it. They must mean something by it, if they do it, because otherwise why would they? I think they mean exactly what I think they mean, which is that they view me as something not human. An object, perhaps. A piece of meat. Something to be used up and thrown away.
They want to exert their power but they don’t have time because they are busy busy with the construction so instead they will shout at me, make me feel unsafe on my own street, remind me that at any time, at any place, the threats will always be present.
Can you run? I think not.
They say that it’s harmless, but when I reached the end of the block, I was trembling and covered in a cold sweat and my heart was racing and I was feeling that warning flutter that says everything is out of synch. And it was a bright, bold, sunny, beautiful day, but I felt like the sky darkened. As though a pall had been pulled over my head, and suddenly I didn’t want to do any of the things I had thought I would do downtown.
I shuffled to the library, head down, and I dropped my books off at the counter and I didn’t even have the energy to look at the new arrivals shelf or get my holds, I just turned around and left, slunk home along the back streets so that I wouldn’t pass the construction again, and I stripped off my clothes and wrapped myself in boxer shorts and an undershirt and sat and stared at my four safe walls for a while. My beautiful prison.