It was 10:30 at night. A thick winter coat and jeans. I was sober and exhausted, walking on a well-lit street.
I knew it would happen before it did. You learn to sense these things. They yelled from a car, asked me how much I charge. Revved the engine to scare me. I was crossing to a dim-lit street so I knew I was in danger, but then, I’m in danger so much of the time.
When I worked as a barista, it was part of my job. I left one gig at midnight and started the next at 8:00 am. Exhausted and sore, my last shift of the night was the 20-minute gauntlet from shop to home, an obstacle course of cat calls and menacing leers, each less welcome than the last. I can’t say how many beautiful nights it deflated; how many hard nights it made worse.
There’s no amount of weight I can gain that will stop it. No number of layers of clothes. I’ve learned to swivel less when I walk, to broaden my shoulders, to deepen my scowl: none of it changes a thing.
It’s not flirtation; it’s oppression. It’s not admiration; it’s a warning. These men in cars and on bicycles, on bar stoops and balconies, their words may change, but the message is always the same: We own these streets. Get inside where you belong.
I’m not ashamed to say: one of the hardest parts of this break-up has been the loss of my protector. As a woman on my own, fear is a part of my daily life. When I walk in the street, when I sleep in my bed. It inhabits me. It limits me. It builds the kind of anger that gets you called a bitch.