Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Like People Do: On Crossing the Street

When I moved to this area 3.5 years ago, I was at once thrilled to be out of graduate school and back on the East Coast, and also deeply unhappy that I was in this particular city.  You see, although I had lived for 4 years in the Midwest, and although much of the difficulty of those years was tied to that location, there was also something much more far reaching. 

Namely, the man responsible for my sexual assault was not from Ohio.  He lived in Baltimore.

So a year and a half later, when I applied to internships everywhere from New Hampshire to Tennessee, from Ohio to North Carolina, my ultimate placement at my top choice was bittersweet.  Rather than leaving it all behind, it felt as though I was walking into something new.  I knew the chances of seeing him were slim to the point of being unrealistic, but it didn't stop my fear.  My anxiety about walking alone, going places alone, and being in the city was intense.  Through daily exposure, after several months I could handle driving to work, taking the shuttle to where I needed to be, and walking up and down the few blocks between buildings with minimal anxiety.  However, walking around with friends, going out to dinner and walking back to my car, attending a street fair...this was where panic loomed.  It's hard to describe the intense fear I felt and worked through so frequently.  Just walking the couple blocks to the Whole Foods, or the CVS, or around the corner to my friend's apartment complex was enough to make me nauseous, make my whole body shake, and completely exhaust me.  It was, in a word, awful.


As I wrapped up my day at work this evening, I realized I had several things I needed to pick up from the drugstore.  I considered several options of how to make this happen, and quickly realized that walking the couple blocks to the CVS around the corner was going to be the most time-effective way to complete this errand. 

So you know what I did?  I put on my coat without a second thought and I walked to that CVS.

When I was about halfway there, I had this moment where I realized: I'm not scared. 

I wasn't surprised that I wasn't scared, per se, but it was an affirming moment. 

I'm not scared.  

Perhaps it's silly, but I felt brave.  And powerful, perhaps.  Maybe even a little badass.  Realizing growth and change, however small, is always badassery, I think.  As I stood on the street corner, waiting for the light to tell me to walk, I pictured myself standing on that same corner two years ago.  It was similarly bitter cold, but two years ago, I felt unsafe in my skin.  I was shaky, and nauseous, and hyperaware, and I didn't know what to do with my body.  I was counting my breaths, just to give myself something to focus on so I could get to my car. 

Tonight?  I was standing on the street corner, waiting for the walk light, like people do.  I was thinking about how damn cold it was, and about what I was going to make for dinner, and about that funny thing I had to text my sister about.  I was standing on the street corner, waiting for the walk light, just like people do. 

I've had a number of these moments lately -- they're tiny, and no one else would recognize them as moments...because they're things like buying a new pair of jeans.  Getting a drink with a friend.  Crossing the street at night.  Just like people do, you know?


As I continued walking to the CVS, I noticed a woman, a little younger than myself, with a huge backpack reminiscent of Reese Witherspoon's pack in the new movie of Cheryl Strayed's "Wild."  She came towards me, and moved to wait to cross the road.  We stood for a few moments in silence.  She, looking up and around at the buildings (clearly a tourist), and me, unintentionally staring at her blue wool hat, wondering why the hell I forgot my hat and gloves in the car.  As the traffic continued and we waited, I became increasingly agitated with the cold and my lack of hat...and she smiled.  She turned and said in a beautiful Scottish accent, "it's such a gorgeous night, isn't it?"

"It's a little chilly," I said.  "I am finding myself admiring your hat."

"Oh," she laughed.  "It's beautiful here.  I am just loving Baltimore.  This is just so incredible."  She continued to look up at the buildings around us, and then looked at me and extended her hand.  "I'm Jennifer," she said. 

"Are you visiting?" I asked, stating the obvious, given the backpack and the admiration of the city I take for granted.

"Yes," she said.  "I'm from Scotland...came to the US to do a 6-month tour of the country.  I just came from New York by bus...headed south after this.  I'm staying with a man...I believe his name is Zachary...around the corner."  She flashed the map she had pulled up on her smartphone.  "I'm couch-surfing," she said. 

The light finally changed and we crossed together.  She was full of energy and passion and excitement for the new foods she was trying, and the excitement of New York, and the beauty of Baltimore, and how much money she was saving by using this "couch-surfers" website and finding people willing to host her in the cities she was visiting.  "I've met so many wonderful people," she said.  "It's just truly, truly incredible."

When our paths were about to separate, we shook hands again. 

"You are incredibly brave," I said. 
"Yes!" she nodded, simply, smiling exuberantly.  "It was so nice meeting you."

"Take care," I said.  "Be well.  Stay safe."

She continued walking down the road,  and I found myself looking up at the sky she admired, and whispering a prayer to whatever power might be out there that Jennifer be protected in her travels.


For a moment, I laughed at myself.  After all, it's funny, isn't it, that I would get to feeling badass about walking a couple blocks to the drugstore and would meet a girl visiting a foreign country, alone, for 6 months, staying on strangers' couches?

There is nothing badass about crossing the street, I thought. 

And yet...

On Saturday, I leave for a week in Haiti. 

A group of folks from my church and another local church are traveling together to Haiti to learn, and to provide some assistance, and to broaden our worldviews, and to open our hearts to people and the world just that much more. 

There is nothing badass about crossing the street.

And yet, somehow, each of those actions has brought me here.  Even the ones where I was trembling.  Even the times I had to count my breath.  Each of those actions has still, somehow, brought me here, and something in that feels maybe, a little bit, badass. 

Maybe a little bit powerful. 

And maybe a little bit brave.

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