It’s about a half-mile walk from my office at Office Job to my car at a parking structure a couple of blocks away. Typically when I walk through any parking lot, I make it a point to keep my eyes up, and stop fussing with my phone, or stick my head in my purse, or otherwise distract myself from… whatever.
I’ve come to realize that “whatever” really means imminent attack by some asshole who wants to steal my car/accost me, etc. I’ve never been attacked by a sober person, so this would be a new experience for me. Still, I can feel myself tense up a little when I step off the elevator to the third floor of the parking structure. I’ve finally given in to reading The Hunger Games on my Kindle, but as the doors open, my eyes slip up from the screen, and I step forward, full of caution and confidence, ready for some hidden enemy to pounce.
There have been men working to replace all the lights in the structure every day this week, and yesterday was no exception. As I walked away from them toward my car, I thought about how I could probably read my book right now instead of keeping an eye out since there are people around.
My mind goes to work. I calculate how many times I would have to scream for them to realize what they’re hearing, and how long it would take them to arrive to help me. At least one of them is overweight; he would never arrive in time, and probably wouldn’t be able to do anything useful, so I subtract him from the equation. Then I calculate how likely these men would be to help a woman being attacked by a man a) with bare fists b) with a knife c) with a gun. Anything worse than a pocket knife would probably scare them off. On the other side of the equal sign I’m left with one not-overweight maintenance worker who wouldn’t jump in front of a knife to help me, which means I shouldn’t depend on him at all. I decide I can probably trust them to ward off any attacker with merely their presence. “I’m probably safe,” I think as I slip my Kindle in my bag and pull out my keys without breaking stride or dropping my gaze. My eyes pan across the floor between cars for shadows and feet, then back across the windshields to see if anyone is lying in wait. I’ve given myself permission to relax, but I can’t stop preparing for… whatever.
Whenever I teach a women’s self-defense class, I try to calm them down: I say something like, “I just want to point out, and I don’t mean to sound callous or hurt anyone’s feelings, but you are not a special snowflake. You will probably never get attacked. I hate to break it to you, but you’re just not that special. Relax. You’re here to learn something potentially useful, not to safeguard against the inevitable.”
Where did this hyper-cautious impulse come from? Did my training make me crave an attack so I can test my skills? I could’ve sworn I had grown out of that phase. Or do I worry about an attack because I know all the ways a person can cause injury to another with their bare hands? Did the two fights I’ve been in make me like this? They turned out well, what am I worrying about? I’m no warrior, and there is no war going on. Why am I like this? What am I doing? It feels like such a huge waste of time to be this tense every day… then again, if the alternative is getting blindsided by some asshole in a ski mask, I’d rather miss twenty seconds of whatever novel I’m reading to make it to the car sans violent encounter.