I was startled straight into hyper awareness by Boomerang. There were men in the small parking area directly next to where we were camping. What were they doing?
There were noises I could not identify.
“I am worried they are going to do something to my bike,” Boomerang breathed into my ear.
I was worried about something much worse.
I have lived in the woods for a long time now, mostly with Boomerang and Rainbow Dash and Felix, but I spent at least a month sleeping alone in the trees. I felt fear twice this trip — once because it sounded like mice were eating my ramen and I was so afraid and the second time because I was listening to The Hunger Games and every night noise transformed into an attack from President Snow.
Last night was the most scared I’ve been on the entire trip. Every time Boomerang moved I wanted to scream out in terror. Why alert these two men of our presence? Felix and I were frozen, silently listening from our sleeping bags. Was there a clue to their intentions? Could I pick out words from their menacing murmurs?
I have been taught to be afraid of men since I can remember. Don’t walk alone at night, keep keys between your fingers, carry pepper spray at all times, don’t ever wear promiscuous outfits.
I have been harassed by men since I can remember, too. There have been the gropes in middle school hallways, full on masturabation on the subway (how I wish I could pull my mom’s best friend’s quote: “you paid to ride the subway, not my ass!”), the endless comments walking down the street, the approach of frat boys at parties, the knowledge that in any darkened corner I could meet my fate.
This may sound dramatic, but it is simply the world I live in.
Last night I thought back to The Collector, the book my mother insisted I read as a young person — the book where a young man kidnapped and held a young woman for months, for “love” — the book I have pondered about for years (what could my mom be trying to teach me?).
I was a frightened animal in the woods last night, frozen in fear, cursing myself for camping by the road (women are never suppose to do that!). I wildly thought about the weapons I had lying around me (none). I thought about running. I thought about how I would protect Boomerang and Felix. I thought about assaults in the woods. Did they want a woman? Did they want to hurt queer people? What should I do?
This morning, in the light of day, we saw they were harmless mountain bikers.
Boomerang laughed, “we were frightened by stoners!”
I didn’t laugh. Last night spoke volumes to me about the fear I live with, and how society is structured. I can’t escape that fear, even in the woods.