I need to say this out loud, because if I don't, I'd feel like part of the machine that unknowingly perpetuates encounters like the one that scared me shitless last night.
I went for a jog in the neighborhood I've called home for over a year. I was in good spirits. All of the right songs were coming up on shuffle. I passed a Corgi. The Corgi was also in good spirits. If the Nike Run app were to have asked, "How do you feel at this point in your run, Alex?" I would have selected the open-mouthed smile option. Rare.
But the warm and fuzzy feelings faded abruptly.
I turned to take the last stretch up the alley to my house when I heard a shout. Behind me sat a van at the stoplight. A door opened, and a man's frame jogged towards me swiftly. I stepped back as he reached for the lanyard dangling around his neck and raised it in the air letting his gesture say, "Be cool, this rectangular piece of paper is proof of my legitimacy as a decent citizen and upright human being." I did not recognize him.
He paused and said he "...just wants to say something". I paused to listen.
He says he saw me a few blocks ago. He says I'm beautiful. He starts asking questions about my body. I dodge. He moves onto questions about my ethnicity. His eyes drift from my face. A knot wells up in my chest and adrenaline kicks in. I mutter "Thanks," and "I need to go, it's going to rain any minute," but he asks more questions. I no longer register his words because another yell, and another man, emerge from the same van idling on the street.
At this point my internal homeland security team changed the threat level from Orange to Red as I yelled "BYE!" and moved my body as close to Dunn Bros Coffee as I possibly could, crossing my fingers that someone was still inside or that I could successfully *pretend* someone was still inside. I saw a woman sweeping and waved her down.
The men ran off and I heard the van pull away as I started to catch my heavy breath. I stared at a spot in the pavement until I felt safe to turn my back and go home. My head knew I was very, very lucky, but it took my body much longer to register the message.
This encounter was extremely unsettling, but there are many more people who've had the worst-case scenario version come true.
That is not okay.
No one should be forced into fight-or-flight mode just because they wanted a little fresh air.
I put a lot of faith in strangers. I trust my gut. I pride myself on being independent. I travel alone, perform on stages and sell stuff on Craiglist. An hour earlier, I was engrossed in conversation with my cab driver about how great living in Minneapolis is. And you know what? It's still really great, but I'm mad as hell at these men for trying to rob me of that peaceful feeling.
So, my only hope is this: That you keep sharing stories about the creeps who cross your path—that you remember their faces, words and mannerisms. I hope you tell everyone you'd never marry/date/raise someone who'd treat or approach a a person like that. Stories have strength, and these narratives should always be brought to the surface because I refuse to accept that pepper spray, weapons or surprise ninja-like self-defense moves need to be along for every jog.