Fear

June 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

There’s a lot I love about adulthood, about growing up. I love providing for myself and having the freedom to make my life what I want it to be. I like buying frivolous things without feeling like I have to justify it to anyone, and I like how it feels to be able to pay my bills, buy my groceries, spend that little extra on new treats for the dog. I like growing up to realize that there’s no special manual for how to be an adult, that people aren’t really all that different from when they were kids. Adulthood just happens, but not in the way that you would expect. There’s no real miracle moment of “Aha! I’m an adult now!” It’s just a gradual process of learning and living, but you never really “get there” because adulthood, in the sense that it’s this magical place of security, clarity, and consistency, doesn’t really exist. That’s important to realize because you can understand better that people won’t meet your expectations a lot of times because they’re still children in some ways, they’re still growing and learning and living life. 

My least favorite part of adulthood is realizing that the world is a terrifying place. People do terrible things to each other, the stuff of nightmares, and so often their victims are completely innocent, having done no wrong to their attacker. 

We walk around in this complete facade of safety that society has to buy into in order to function. Most of us follow the rules because we assume everyone else is going to, and we just want to go about our lives pursuing our own goals and happy endings. But it’s all a lie. We are completely vulnerable 100% of the time. And there are people out there who will take full advantage of that. 

People keep telling me how brave I am to be moving to Dallas alone. 

I thought this was the strangest thing the first few times I heard it. “Brave? Why? This was the only job offer I got. I have to take it.” Some of the most exciting times in my life were going to new places where I’d never been and didn’t know anyone. What is so exciting about Dallas is that I’ve never moved to a brand new place where I didn’t know anyone. My first real time in DC, my internship at the Smithsonian, I felt very alone in a brand new place. I’d been there once before, sometime in middle school, with my family, but I didn’t remember much about it. Some of Alec’s family was there, but I didn’t really know them well, certainly not well enough to feel comfortable calling them if I needed something, so I might as well have been on my own. It was exciting! And definitely a learning experience. Figuring out the metro on my own was a challenge, but I learned by watching others (and by making mistakes). The first time I went to Massachusetts was for my 9 week museum studies program. There was a girl from Emory there, but I didn’t know her prior to the trip beyond seeing her in one of my classes. I didn’t really explore that much of Mass because I didn’t have a car, but it was still refreshing to be in a new town with new architecture, landscapes, people types, and weather (cold. rainy. foggy. not the Alabama summer I was expecting). 

So I’m super excited about Dallas because I’ve come a long way since my first solo flight to DC. When I would travel for my old job, I went to new places all the time, drove around new towns and cities, met complete strangers (and tried to convince them to give me their information). It was a whirlwind usually, but still exciting in many ways. And a growing experience. Adulthood is about figuring things out for yourself the best way you can, and I’m so looking forward to figuring out Dallas. 

I’ve got big plans for it too. When I went off to Atlanta for college, I didn’t really commit to the city. I didn’t care about exploring it or finding what was unique about it, I just wanted to graduate and move on. When I got to DC, I was held back in many ways by Alec because he didn’t like the little boutique restaurants I did and dragging him to a museum was almost always a regret. He just wasn’t interested in the same kind of exploring that I was, so we only explored the things in the middle ground, which left me feeling somewhat dissatisfied when I left the city. I felt like I’d only scratched the surface. I don’t want that with Dallas.

I’m planning on going to all the museums between Dallas and Fort Worth (I think there are 7) at least twice before the end of my internship. I’ve made a list of a number of local Dallas restaurants and bars that I want to go to, so I can really see what “true” Dallas feels (and tastes!) like. I want to actually go to community functions like jazz in the park and late nights at the museum and lecture series, etc. I want to be involved! I want to meet people and maybe make some friends. I want to actually invite people over to my apartment without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. My next apartment won’t be huge, but I’d like to make it more of a home than I have in the past. I’ve gotten into such a bad habit of seeing everything as temporary, from apartments to people, so I don’t get really invested in them. I really want to see if Dallas can be a home. 

Do I feel brave? No. I don’t see how moving to Texas is particularly brave. Unexpected, knowing me, for sure, but brave? No. Brave people move someplace completely foreign. Brave people abandon everything they know. Brave people go where I dare not. 

I’ve thought for so many years about doing Peace Corp. My mom wanted to do it way back in the day, but my dad didn’t want to, so she never did it. I got so close when I was in DC, after I decided Alec and I were over. I had signed up to go to a recruitment session and had even filled out the application, but I hadn’t sent it in. Then one of those petitions came into my email inbox, blowing the lid of the truth about the Peace Corp. The rape statistics are outrageous, on par with college campuses and the military. And, just like college campuses and the military, most of the cases are dropped because the victim is blamed and shamed into keeping her mouth shut. The lack of protection for women and the lack of justice when they are victimized is outrageous and is simply a threat I cannot bring myself to risk. Fear. 

I also had a brief stint recently where I thought about joining the National Guard because I wanted to be among the first responders when natural disasters hit in our country. I thought that would be a good opportunity for me to feel like what I do matters, to really help people. But the rape statistics in the military are too high and too terrifying. Fear. 

Hell, I’m even afraid to travel to certain countries because of their rape statistics. As a woman, I am hated. As an American, I am hated. As a white person, I am hated. So often I feel like I’m walking around with a target on my back, and the target only gets bigger the more I stand out from the crowd. Fear. 

I am paralyzed by fear because I am a woman in a world that has a long, long history of being cruel to women. I keep wanting to think it’s getting better, that men’s barbaric tendencies are fading into an evolutionary history, but I read the news. The stuff of nightmares. Just in the last five years, the horrible stories I’ve read have scarred me for life. My suicidal thoughts tend to increase when I am incapable of preventing myself from dwelling on these stories of women being brutalized — how can I stand to live in a world with people like that walking around? How can I bring myself to leave my house, to sleep at night, to be kind to strangers, knowing the horrors that exist? These aren’t some inventions of a morbid fantasy designed to remind people of how much worse life could be. These are real stories about real people. I would much rather someone try to murder me than rape me. There are things worse than death. Fear.

This is the first time I’ve really lived alone. Technically, I lived alone in my last Atlanta apartment, but I lived in the basement of a house, so there were two people right above me who would hear me scream if I ever was made to. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep at night because I’m convinced there are men outside my window, men at my door, men trying to sneak in through the back. It’s silly because my apartment is so old and my doors are so creaky, that if someone did manage to open them, I would be alerted to it immediately, so there’s no real reason to jump at the smallest noises. But my imagination reminds me that I am helpless and vulnerable. I have no weapons, nor do I have the knowledge or strength to properly use them if I did. What could one small woman do to even one large man? Nothing. I am helpless and that’s just a fact that I have to deal with. Animals do it all the time within that massive web of the food chain. Animals are cautious, animals evolve on the defensive, but enough animals are caught to keep the food chain going. I am living on a constant prayer that no harm will come to me or any of the women that I know. Due to my overwhelming fears and constant reminders of the threats in the world to women, I’ve been second-guessing whether I even want to have kids anymore. How can I bring life into this world knowing the harm that could come to it? How could I raise a daughter to be smart and safe without terrifying her? 

And what have I learned? My parents raised me to be smart and careful, but I’m just like every other girl when faced with a significant male threat — I freeze up, I shut down. It’s shocking, it’s honestly shocking to me that I, of all people, the feisty feminist who isn’t intimidated by anyone, could completely freeze up when a man starts handling her in a way she doesn’t like. When I was 18, I learned that about myself. I fought back at first, but when I realized he had no problem hurting me, I froze. I stopped fighting. I escaped only because his roommate came in, and not because his roommate helped me. Bros before hos, isn’t that right. 

In retrospect, I excused that as being young and naive, as it was my first real negative physical altercation with someone. I really thought I’d learned the lesson, that I’d grown into someone who would be able to take care of herself, to predict those situations and prevent herself from getting in them. I thought I was someone who had the balls to keep myself safe. I thought that was true until just last year, I went on a date that went bad. At 24, just like 18, I froze. Pushing him away didn’t work, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was in a public place, I could have easily screamed or walked away, hid in the bathroom, done something. But I just froze. Fear. 

I was able to text for help, and a large male friend of mine showed up, giving me some feeling of safety though I was still very much so frozen, afraid to do or say anything to stop the situation. Fear. 

What I most hate about being a woman is how men stare. Even just walking my dog around the block, in baggy old teeshirts with my hair in a bun, men stare. They yell at me from their cars, they oggle me out of windows, they turn around to watch me as I walk past. And there is nothing I can do. No confrontation of the male gaze is successful. They don’t care if you look at back and catch them staring. They don’t care if you flip them off or yell a hearty “FUCK YOU” at them. They think confrontation is funny, because what could I do? I can’t prevent them from looking at me, and they know I couldn’t prevent them from taking me if they wanted to. Every day I am reminded of how, simply because I am a woman, I am nothing more than an object for their taking. And I am helpless to protect myself from them. Fear.

I will be alone in Dallas. I won’t have anyone to call if I need help. I will finally have to take care of myself. I will have to be smarter. I will have to be more suspicious of other people, more paranoid. I will have to be more vigilant about not buying into the facade that we are all safe, that we are all safe in our homes behind locked doors, that we are safe in public areas with security cameras, that we are safe with people we think we know, that we are safe because others will hear our cries for help and step in to save us. I will be alone and I have to grow and evolve to ensure my survival. 

I suppose, in facing that fear, I am a little brave. 

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