You guys, I made this exact face the other day in all fucking seriousness. I know it's a cliched punch line now, but -- for real, for real -- "a little pee came out." Here's how it went down two miles from Chinatown.
Like a lot of semi-affordable places to live in the big city, my neighborhood is currently "in transition." But that does not bother me one bit. I grew up in equal parts Mayberry and Menace II Society. So, I know that the smartest thing to do when it comes to the semi-dangerous corner boys in any given community is to treat them with respect -- you know, like how you normally do with human beings.
They know me 'round these parts. Me and my "Men in Black" dog, Miles. We exchange civilities like "hello," "good morning," "nice night," "sure is cold" and "excuse me" on the regular.
But even though I feel safe-ish that doesn't mean I let down my safeguards. Since moving to Washington eight years ago, I've been mugged twice and both times could be blamed on the fact that I was being a tiny bit ditzy. (Oh, and also someone decided to mug me.) So these days I make sure to continually take stock of my surroundings.
I step past alleyways cautiously. I twist around to look behind me every few minutes or so. I notice shadows. When someone's running up behind me, I stop, turn and side eye. The gift of fear keeps on giving, man. Of course, none of this might save me in the face of a zombie alien ex-cop with a grudge, but they're the little things that make up my fragile sense of safety.
So, the other day. After going through my regular fake badass paces while walking my dog that evening, I stepped into my empty apartment feeling footloose and fancy free. I'd already survived the mean streets, and in your own four walls you're supposed to feel safe, right? So before even flicking on all the lights I unhooked Miles' leash, poured him some organic grub, flung my puffy coat on the kitchen table and headed down the hallway to my bedroom.
It was dark, quiet and, as far as I knew, all clear.
But as soon as I turned the corner a tall dark figure emerged silently from the bedroom, seemingly floating on shadows and saying nothing. It took my brain absolutely no time to register, "MURDER!!!!" and I screamed with the force of ten thousand horror movie actresses hooked up to an electronic titty twister torture machine. Backing away with balled up fists I was readying another alarm when my boyfriend goes, "Oh, hey."
Still in murder mode I punched him in the arm, "What the hell are you doing in the dark, Crazy Pants?!"
"I just walked in the house."
"No! NO! You were trying to scare me! Who does that? What is wrong with people! I could've killed you with my bare hands!"
"I'm serious! I have never been so scared in my life!" I gasped, still pumped to bursting with adrenaline, like how when someone throws you a fancy surprise party and you can't really enjoy it until, like, 30 minutes in because your brain still thinks you were just going to pop in the Red Lobster for some cheese biscuits.
"What are you so afraid of?" he asked, laughing.
It was a good question. What was I so afraid of. I could easily tick off a list -- rape, murder, torture, kidnapping, skinning, stabbing, shooting, zombies et al. All the things that supposedly happen to women. But mostly I was scared of feeling like I'd done something wrong. Like I should've turned on all the lights, grabbed the meat cleaver and all-cleared every room in the house before letting my inner sentry take off for the night. That, of course, is ridiculous but it's what I thought about nonetheless.
I'm not sure if it's a Helena thing, a lady thing or a citified thing, but I am always scared in a sense. Or, more accurately, I am constantly "aware." I love going to the movies alone, but I still look behind me every few scenes to make sure no one is lying low, all the better to choke me unawares before the credits roll. On the metro I'm constantly doing a Where's Waldo search for the "bomber." I even check my closet for creepers every once in a while.
I wouldn't call my behavior pathological or clinical. I'm not especially anxiety riddled. I just took a shining to Smokey the Bear more than I ever did the Care Bears. But is it just me? Or is a little spoonful of scared just the medicine for those of us society so often says are most likely to be on the wrong side of the law?