My dad raised me to be a strong and independent woman, so when I was confronted with a group of crude cat-calling guys on my evening jog, I thought nothing of telling them to knock it off.
Contrary to what I’d always been told by everyone, that street harassment is harmless albeit crude praise, about a week later, my cat-caller came after me.
I’ve jogged every morning since I was 14. I was a ballerina from the age of six and as I entered my teen years, my body was starting to change and I was desperate to keep puberty at bay for as long as humanly possible.
In addition to the three to four hours a day I spent in dance classes, I started to jog in the early morning and sometimes in the evenings before dinner.
I’d always felt safe in the neighborhood, but I was startled by how frequently men would stop their cars to ask if I needed a ride somewhere. I mean I was wearing a track suit and headphones and clipping an even pace down the road, not gesturing wildly for help in torn clothes or something.
As I got a little older, cars stopped asking if I needed a ride. Now sometimes men would pull over and ask for my number. It was annoying, but I accepted that it was just the way that men were. It wasn’t long before I stopped stopping when a man would wave me down. If he wanted the time, he could ask someone who wasn’t clearly busy.
I turned my music up louder and tuned them out.
There were occasions when I was bothered.
I was jogging by a man who was walking with his young daughter down the bike trail near my house when I was about sixteen. My headphones were in, but the music was at a lull, and as I jogged by he called out “I’ll keep you warm!”
I eyed his daughter.
“I said, ‘I’ll keep you warm’” he repeated.
I turned and kept jogging, but to this day the image of him leering at me while he held his daughter’s hand unsettles me.
Dealing with the intensity of male attention was something I learned to do, almost unconsciously, until one day I caught myself looking in the mirror before I left the house to make sure I wasn’t wearing anything that might get me hollered or leered at because I had to catch the bus that day, and waiting at a stop on the side of the street is kind of the worst.
I started to get angry. I didn’t understand why it was that I had to change the way I lived my life to avoid being harassed because some guy didn’t know how to keep his boner to himself.
Lately, when I’d been jogging my normal route, a group of teenage boys had taken to huddling around the bike trail where it ran alongside a school; they were using the basketball courts after hours to play pick-up games.
When I would jog by, they would hoot and holler at me. I ignored them, but I started to turn my music down when I passed them, to hear what they were saying about me. Something about the group just struck me the wrong way and I wanted to have all my senses about me when I crossed paths with them.
I was at the end of my rope, and the things they were saying were getting more vulgar and aggressive. I was just trying to work out.
“I’d do some shit to a blonde,” one said to the other.
“Look at that fat ass,” said another one, “I’m sweet on that.”
“Hey! Get some manners! This is my neighborhood and I’m not gonna be talked at like that.”
The guys all straightened up; they seemed startled they’d been overheard. That was kind of a relief. At least they had enough sense of decency to be ashamed.
“Ah, I’m sorry girl.”
“Why you so mad? We just trying to compliment you.”
“Just cut it out,” I said, “It’s gross. I’m just trying to run down my street.”
“Ah, it’s cool girl,” one of them said, a calm peacemaker with thick eyebrows and a weird mole over his eye. “Don’t trip, they don’t mean it.” Ah, the dudebro ambassador, I thought.
I gave up. I didn’t want to seem like an unreasonable bitch in the face of someone trying to smooth things over. He did seem embarrassed to be called out.
I put my headphones on and kept jogging.
I didn’t feel scared or nervous about what had happened, but I didn’t feel good either. I doubted that my words had done anything, but I couldn’t think of anything else to be done.
There was a police car that patrolled the area because it was near a school, but it never once occurred to me to talk to the cop and tell him that guys were congregating on the trail and menacing girls. I mean, who wants to be THAT girl?
Moreover, what would a cop care? I’d seen the guy, and he was the epitome of masculinity with his buzzed haircut, wrap around glasses, dark uniform and that fucking gun. Why would he care about how frustrating and exhausting it is to be bombarded with men’s sexual proclivities at all hours of the day from the grocery store to the doctor’s office?
The next day when I went jogging, the boys were gone. I was relieved, but I found myself over the next few days trying to time my jog so I could be sure I wouldn’t encounter the guys should they come back.
It was about a week later around seven at night that I went jogging down the trail. It was summer, so the sun was still out but the heat had come down to bearable levels and the trail was crowded with families going for their evening stroll. I passed the school and jogged onto a more secluded part of the trail. There were families far behind me and far ahead, but for a stretch it was just me and the surrounding greenery, divided on each end by busy streets that cut the trail into sections.
I was maybe half way down the quiet stretch of trail when I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. They didn’t tap me so much as pull me back; I was jogging at full speed.
I fell back, and then someone’s arms were wrapped around me. I was being picked up and carried off the trail with one hand tightly around my waist, while another was madly trying to reach down my pants and grab at whatever forbidden flesh they could grip onto.
I didn’t scream; I was too startled. Instead I punched and kicked and scratched, trying to break free, but whoever had me was much stronger and taller than me and I was off my feet.
I saw that he was trying to drag me into the dense bushes and I could feel his hard-on pressing into my back, so I had no doubt of his intentions.
I managed to turn around and the face that greeted me was young with thick eyebrows and a large mole over the left eye. His gaze was angry and intense. In a moment of clarity, I realized I recognized him. It was the dudebro ambassador that had been catcalling me before.
I punched him as hard as I could, landing a blow awkwardly against his chin and his throat, but his eyes went wide.
He dropped me and started to run toward the busy street up ahead.
At first I just stood there, watching him. I saw a family coming up behind me and knew I was safe. In a moment of rage I started to chase him.
I wasn’t sure what I thought would happen, that I would catch him before he could cross the street, that maybe I could wave down a car or get the help of one of the families on the trail, but I was chasing him.
I nearly caught him.
He made it across the street.
He stood watching me as cars hurtled down the road between us, his hand down his pants, apparently masturbating (I guess the excitement was just too much to wait).
And then he turned and disappeared onto the trail ahead.
I turned and headed home, stopping everyone on the trail to ask if they’d seen anything.
Five different people in broad daylight, and no one saw a thing. My dad was the one who insisted we call the police. I didn’t see the point. I had a vague description and no injuries and he hadn’t said a word to me. I had nothing but the feeling that he’d wanted to rape me.
Already the memory of his face was slipping into the dark of my mind like the fading footprints of every man who’d ever stopped me on the street or leaned out of his car to holler at me.
When the patrolman stopped at our house, I recounted what had happened and he listened patiently, asked me a few pertinent questions, like “What were you wearing? Were you wearing underwear under your pants? Why were you jogging so late?”
Sadly, the answers offered no clues as to the identity of my attacker.
He handed me a card with a case number on it, but nothing ever came of the complaint. For the most part I've forgotten the incident. But every time some guy leans out of his car to shout at me, I think of that brazen boy, masturbating at the site of my confusion and terror as cars whizzed by between us before disappearing back into the suburbs.