We had a scare yesterday.
Well, WE didn’t exactly, but David did.
And I guess that is what made it so scary. David is unflappable. He does not really get frightened. We can be in the middle of a huge rally or gathering, or a situation that is escalating, where I sense the potential for danger, and David remains calm and collected, never flinching.
But yesterday he panicked. And his reaction has made me reflect.
First, the story: for the last year or so I have wanted to PAINT ROCKS. It is a trend – people paint rocks and then hide them for unsuspecting strangers to find. It started as a kindness act – bring a little sunshine into someone’s life. But it has become a bit of an “in group” thing now – people paint super fancy, beautiful rocks, then give their fellow rock painters hints at where they are hiding them, at which point hordes of collectors descend upon the hinted at location and score pretty treats.
I know this much about “rocking” because I am part of a Facebook community in Florida about the activity, not because I have ever actually DONE it. Until yesterday!
David and I have both been off work and in Florida, but SICK. We have hung around the house, slept a lot, and played Parcheesi and UNO, and visited a dying neighbor daily. Those things, while nice, are not exactly the way that I normally choose to use my time away from work (except the part about visiting the neighbor, I am grateful that we get to do that). I was healing from my cold/sore throat/cough, but developing CABIN FEVER, so yesterday I took us on our first ever rock hunt in a park!
The problem was, David is still sick (blowing his nose every ten minutes or so) and lethargic, and it was actually COLD for Florida (around 50 degrees). The other slight problem was that David thought we were just heading out for an errand (cuz I hadn’t told him of my plan to also go rocking…) so he didn’t bring a sweater or coat…
But he went along with my plan, and after the errand we parked and started walking around a cold, gray Florida park looking for rocks.
I found my first ever painted rock, hidden at the base of a tree, relatively quickly. I must confess that I was disappointed – it was a simple rock with only a bit of red and green painted on it. The rocks I had seen photos of in the group were amazing – mermaids, sea scenes, elaborate animals, funny characters, and mandalas (my favorites). The one I found didn’t hold the charm or beauty that I had anticipated, but I accepted it as my “first rock”, put it in my pocket, and set about finding others.
|My first ever found painted rock (so far the only...)|
As we hunted, David and I went different directions. It was organic – we were both looking down for rocks and just walked apart. As I hunted I walked further and further. I kept seeing things that looked (to my beginner’s eye) like “perfect” spots to hide the most beautiful rocks, so I got drawn in and kept wandering. I guess I presumed David was doing the same thing. I turned to look for him and couldn’t see him (wrapped in a purple blanket he found in the car I thought he would be easy to spot). But I just figured he was hunting in another area. We were the only people in the park (regular Floridians don’t want to hang out outside when it is cold, they have more sense than that).
When I had wandered all the way to the other edge of the park I turned to look for my purple blanketed best friend again. I couldn’t see him, but saw a car with headlights pulling into the park. At first I was excited to think that maybe it was a rocker coming to hide some gorgeous new rocks, but then I recognized the headlights and knew it was David. “Oh good,” I thought, “He has gotten back into the car to stay warm. I will just hunt a couple of more minutes then head back to the car”.
So, I looked through some old dead trees (they have great crevices that look like good spots for hiding, but no luck). And I looked by some park benches (maybe hide some for older people who can’t walk far in the park to find- but no luck). And I wandered back to where I had seen our car park.
Along the way back, I got spooked a couple of times, but nothing out of the ordinary.
When I was just a few steps away from the car I turned around to see David RUNNING towards me. RUNNING. He was sick with a cold, had no energy, and it was cold. And he was RUNNING to me. I couldn’t figure out why – but as he ran up to me his face looked both petrified and relieved at the same time. When I asked why he was running, he explained that when he looked around and couldn’t find me he had feared I had been attacked. I didn’t have my cell phone with me. He was afraid I was beaten up and lying in some bushes. So, he had run the entire park, screaming my name (which I had not heard), looking for me in a panic.
It was so strange for me to hear this coming from him. He never fears things like this. In our 30-some years together I didn’t remember this type of situation ever occurring. I felt awful for making him worry!
Then I realized, how he was thinking was MY way of thinking... How many times in my life had I been afraid like that, not afraid enough to run and scream, but afraid enough to panic. Afraid enough to walk faster to get out of the situation (avoiding running to not make myself look more obvious and, I feared, put a bigger target on my back). Afraid enough to make a “pretend phone call” so it looked like I was not alone. Afraid enough to change directions and alter my plans to avoid what looked like a dangerous situation…
As we got in the car and calmed down, I walked through (out loud) the incidents that had happened while I was in that park that I registered in my brain as potentially dangerous, and the ACTION PLANS I instinctively created to protect myself. There had been a group of men standing in a line near a bathroom or public park shelter. I noticed them and put myself on high alert. I was a woman walking alone – they were a group of unknown men, the only other people in the park. What were they doing there? Why were they in a line? Did they have bad intentions?? Should I turn around and not go in front of them, or would that draw more attention to myself?
I walked on a bit quicker until I passed them.
In another part of the park I heard talking, voices, and I had not seen anyone else. I perked up – on alert to figure out where the voices were coming from and if they posed danger…
While walking back to the car, I saw a man shaking out a beach towel. He looked unkempt. Why did he have a beach towel in a park? It wasn’t sandy here, why was he shaking it out? He also had a backpack… Was he dangerous??? I had to walk in front of him, quite closely, to get to the car. I made a mental plan – walk fast, but not fast enough to look scared, never look scared. No, just look ahead (don’t make eye contact, though sometimes my mental plan is to do the opposite and MAKE eye contact, so they know I have seen them…) and keep walking. Chin up, shoulders back, look strong. I didn’t have my cell phone, which scared me knowing there was no chance to call for help if he did something. But I could see the car, and knew David would be in it keeping warm. If needed I could RUN to the car. “But what if David is NOT in it?” my mind worried. “Wait, I have my car keys!” I reasoned. As long as I could make it to the car and touch the door handle, it would unlock even if David wasn’t there. I would jump in and lock the doors as fast as I could, keeping the man out.
This is the mental plan I made as I walked.
This is what I thought.
This is what I have to think.
Of course, like most situations, the man posed no actual threat to me. But as a woman walking alone, my mind knew I needed to be prepared.
When I got to the car, David was running up behind me, out of breath and pale. He explained his fear, and I felt horrible for frightening him so much. Then as we talked and I took time to think back through what I had thought and felt as I walked alone. I rarely think back and “unpack” all of that baggage, it all just seems natural and instinctual to me. It feels as if I HAVE to do those mental gymnastics, stay alert and on edge, to keep myself safe. Maybe David’s huge panic on this day was his version of my mental planning and being frightened for my entire adult female life.
After a while I decided to listen to the voice mail he left me when he got scared. I don’t think I have ever heard his voice sound like that, and again, I felt awful for causing him that much stress. But I also felt grateful. Grateful that I have a partner who is willing to run for me, hunt for me, scream for me.
|An old photo of me and my amazing partner on Ormond Beach at sunrise. In talking things through, I realize that |
Ormond Beach is one of the few places on earth that I normally feel safe and comfortable walking alone.
And I felt angry. Angry that when I am out in the world, I have to always have some sort of guard up to keep myself safe. And angry that I know I am not the only one. I think most women, if they were to think about their interaction with the world and think back through their thought patterns of a day, would have the same mental plans that I do.
Try it. Take a day, or hell, take an hour. Rewind your brain. Did alarm bells go off? Did you feel unsafe? Did you take action? Did you change what you had planned to do, even in some small way, because of potential or perceived danger? Did you PLAN for what MIGHT happen?
It is exhausting. Constant watching, waiting, listening, looking, thinking, planning… Exhausting.
We are going to go hunting for rocks again, but this time we will hunt together. So that plan has been made. But there will be countless other times when I am walking alone in the world that I get scared. I will keep my guard up. I will make mental plans. But maybe now I will be better able to rewind and think about it all at day’s end. Maybe if I unpack a bit and see how the plans were not necessary, how I was safe all along, I will be able to let down my guard a bit.
But I don’t know that I will ever truly feel SAFE. I can’t imagine a time when I could be alone in the world as a woman and not pay attention. Can you? Do you?