Yesterday, Alex and I began our normal walk up the street to pick up Sammy from school. We left the house a little early, as usual, so that Alex would have enough time to dawdle along the way. The weather was perfectly sunny.
As we approached the busy intersection, getting ready to cross the street, a maroon, 1980s era Buick slowed as it came past us and then the man driving gave me a tacky whistle. Alex didn't notice as she was too busy pulling leaves from a tree. I on the other hand was dumbfounded. I suppose in my younger years I would have taken a whistle as a compliment elevating me to walk a little sassier with my head held just a tad bit higher, but in this scenario it only made me angry. I was with my child for goodness sakes.
I grabbed Alex's hand before we began our journey up a small incline when the same vehicle nearly pulled up along side me. This time, the driver, with his head hanging out the window like a dog trying to catch wind, whistled again, this time with a creepy smile. At this point I was beside myself with worry. Was this guy following me? Doesn't he notice the child present clinging to my hand? To get this guy off my trail, I walked a little faster and cut through the church parking lot which would take me to the school playground. Somehow I felt by cutting through the parking lot he wouldn't see me and therefore I was much safer. It reminded me of putting my head under the covers when I was a child so the monsters couldn't see me. My heart raced. I hate to admit it because I feel in some way it makes me a weaker person, but I was scared.
I arrived at the school and immediately texted my husband about what had happened. And though I was on the playground, well hidden from the road, I still couldn't resist looking behind me and all around to see if that man had some how followed me. The school bell rang it was time to collect Sammy.
I emerged into a crowded hallway where a friend of mine looked at me and said, "Are you okay?" The look on her face was of pure concern. I explained to her what had happened and she completely sympathized with me and said she too would have felt the same way -- scared.
I let my girls play on the school playground for a half hour or so dreading the impending walk back home. I came very close to asking one of the moms if she wouldn't mind driving me and my two girls home -- I'd sit on the floor or anywhere if there wasn't enough room. I wasn't concerned about seatbelts or child seats or anything, I was just too afraid to walk. By the time the girls were done playing, I was too embarrassed to ask someone for a lift so instead, reluctantly, we walked home.
For fear of being followed, I took a detour and walked a different route home. We did not dawdle a single bit and when Alex asked me to carry her, instead of my usual, you're too big to be carried, I gladly scooped her up and shuffled on home.
Once inside, I locked the doors and glanced out my windows every now again to see if I could see the maroon car. So far, I haven't seen it again and probably won't ever again. I've never had this feeling of helplessness while with my children and it's left me paranoid. If that guy had gotten out of his car, what would my scrawny arms and doughy tummy have done against a burly, scraggly haired behemoth?
Some time ago, a police officer told me that the safest thing I could do to protect my home is to always leave lights on, and curtains open. This is the universal sign that tells an intruder, keep moving this house is occupied -- people are home. Even knowing this, I pulled down the shades and once again reverted back to the little girl hiding under the covers. He won't see me and therefore can't hurt me seemed more plausible.
I'm pretty sure that I sound incredibly foolish to be so worked up over a whistle. But it wasn't just that, it was the fact that the car slowed down almost to a stop in front of me and my child. It was the fact that an otherwise busy street was suddenly empty and quiet, devoid of any automobile or pedestrian traffic. I felt helpless. I didn't feel strong enough to protect myself let alone a 3-year old.
This morning I drove Sammy to school even though on foot it would only have take minutes. I'll probably drive every day this week or until I feel safe to walk on my own two feet. For now, I'm still frazzled and too afraid of my own shadow to go out alone. I'm sure this feeling will pass, but for now the image of that car and that man still haunts me.