I’m in LA when I have my first scare. It’s early evening, light going from pink to darker pink, a billowing bright electric summer sky. I’m running on the edges of a neighborhood near where my then-boyfriend told me he smoked pot in high school, forgotten veins of street near the freeway.
I curve around a bend in the sidewalk, listening to Little Richard; Baby face, you got the cutest little baby face. An earplug pops out and I stop abruptly, stand for a minute, and look behind me as a yellow car comes around the bend. I see the head of a bald man inside. As he passes me, he slows down, comes to a full stop right after passing me. I’m still standing still, but my head is down, and fear is arriving in my body like a creature waking in dreamy sleep. I don’t want to look straight at him, so I don’t lift my head, just my eyes.
His hand is gesturing out the window, I can hear, in one ear, the low sound of his voice. In the other, still, Babyface, you got the cutest...
He backs up his car toward me, so immediately I back up a bit too, turn left down a street I hadn't planned to. From the corner of my eye, I see him start to drive on.
On the street I turn down, I notice all the homes I come upon are empty, unlit, car-less. I stand in a stranger’s front yard not sure which way to run, and stare at one of those little Halloween skulls people hang on strings in their windows, my body holding onto a growing fear. I realize, slow, when the skull cocks its head, that it’s actually a Bichon Frise puppy that’s popped its head between black curtains.
Just as my body hints to relax, I see his yellow car rounding the bend again from the other end, driving right toward me. I walk to the front door like it’s my house, like I am going inside. He moves closer, right up to the front lawn. His car windows are tinted so I can’t see his face. "Is that legal?" I want to scream, hands wide, a freak-shrieking banshee. But I’m mute, and I don’t know which way to move. I get closer to the door of the house realizing I can’t get inside. The Bichon is whining.
His car doesn’t stop moving. I look behind me and I see it rolling over onto grass as if cornering me against the house. I turn around again, hear the engine still on but a car door open.
You know the weight of fear, the temperature of it? Dripping down your skull, down your eyes, sitting with bulk force un-moveable in your stomach? Lighting a match to your veins so each cell is calling out with interminable speed, please no, not yet, don't let this happen, I ain't ready?
I sprint like hell. I scale a fence and jump into the next yard. A bulldog tied to a pole in the yard barks at me and I go diagonal so there is no chance he’ll know which yard I’m in, hurling over another fence and another, attempting at once to fly and keep low, eventually landing with a graceless plop on the ground and exhaling in fast, heavy beats.
I see a T-ball set and a skateboard ramp in the yard I’m in. Kids. Through the back window of the house, blue flashing TV light dances on the walls. I go to the front door, knock, and a tiny, pretty, sparrow-looking woman answers, rounding 70 and just taller than a yardstick.
She looks scared because I’m scared, asks with wide eyes, “What?” and I feel ridiculous, hot and hulking.
"I’m sorry. I was running, a car started to follow me, if I could just use your phone to call my boyfriend, he lives near here."
She’s watching "Jeopardy" and is holding a carton of berries, has a splash of juice dribbled quietly down her front.
"Sure, of course," she says, moving aside, gesturing me to come in.
There are no lights on. It's brown carpet wall to wall, and hanging on wood paneling are a collection of framed school portraits. I notice a faded one of girl with a missing front tooth, bangs and a neon shirt smiling against the popular "Autumn Leaves" background. A granddaughter about my age.
She points me to the kitchen where a corded phone is hanging on the wall, so I call my boyfriend quietly, assuming words above whisper are not often spoken here.
When I return to the living room, she clicks on a yellow glass lamp. We sit on her corduroy couch with "Jeopardy" muted.
"A welcome change from the nightly routine," I joke, and she nods, doesn’t speak. Her hands are on her knees and her feet barely touch the floor. I’m heaving, sweating, and wondering if she can hear my heart, which has not stopped banging hard and loud, has not stopped striking itself sharp against my ribs.
Since then, I’ve had few more scares like that, odd experiences, and of course, as always, the constant hecklers.
Most recently, running across a bridge as it begins to rain, I come upon a masturbator. Pants at his knees. A beer can in one hand and his cock in the other. No one around, only four yards and a sheet of rain between us. He yells, walks toward me.
"This is just sinister," I say aloud, turning back fast.
One day, I call my mom after a van pulls up next to me on a sidewalk, an ancient man winking inside and saying "Come on in…"
"Should I stop?" I scream to her, fury ignited. "Not leave the house to exercise? Get a Crunch pass?"
She pauses, talking soft. "You aren’t wearing anything tight are you? I mean, what do you look like right now?"
I catch myself in the window of a Polish bakery. I’m in black high-top Reeboks, an enormous aging purple shirt and some sweat pant-leggings hybrid, brandless, also purple.
"Not that this should make any difference," I say, righteous, "but I look like McDonald’s Grimace."
I've never actually been attacked, only had close calls, felt really afraid, uncomfortable. Still, ridiculous or not, each time I run, frightening fantasies tend to run along with me; a faceless trucker pummeling me to the ground. The toothy smile of a fancy father shoving me into his car, kissing my lips soft, forcefully fingering me then casually slitting my throat. Being tossed into an unmarked van, bound and fetish-dressed like a Southern belle porcelain doll.
"You need to relax," I think, when the fantasies start. It’s daylight on a busy street and I’m death-grasping a phone in one hand, my keys spread between fingers like Wolverine in the other. So I put the thoughts away, turn down the crazy, deflect. I know that not every man, boy, and grandpa becomes a predator because I’m in jogging clothes.
Still, I feel this nagging danger, that fear. I don't know what to do with it, what to pay attention to and what to ignore. Some days it’s not bad. Some days I say fuck all and run fast and happy with the freeing weight of power in my stomach, flapping my arms like a crazy bird to heckle hecklers right back.
Other days I stay inside.