21 10 2010

Fear vs living in fear.

I’ve already made several (failed) attempts at starting this post – I think I’ll just start with what happened. It may seem off topic, but I will bring it back to bicycles, I promise (and there’ll be  some coarse language along the way).

It was late on a work night, and a small group of folks were at my place until all hours preparing food for an upcoming event. The music was bumping, the windows were steamed up from pounds of roasting peppers, onions, garlic and other veggies, and the air was thick with the delicious aromas. After everybody left, I still had to wait for stuff to cool down enough that I could refrigerate it, so I was puttering in the basement around three AM when I heard footsteps above me, and not just of the startled kitties stampeding down the stairs.

Wondering if one of my guests had returned, I marched quickly up the stairs, through the kitchen, and into the dining area to find myself staring at a strange man standing in my living room. What I did next I did without thinking; I went completely berserk. It plays back in my mind in slow motion.

“WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU AND WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING IN MY HOUSE!?!” I yelled as I started to run towards him.”GET THE FUCK OUT!” He turned around and ran out the front door and I gave chase, me still yelling and swearing. He hopped on a ten speed and started riding away, down the sidewalk. I wasn’t sure if he’d just stolen the road bike a friend left parked in my living room, or anything else for that matter, so I kept chasing him on foot, halfway down the block until he finally accelerated away from me, yelling and swearing the whole way, “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU”RE DOING!?! YOU CAN’T JUST FUCKING WALK INTO PEOPLE’S HOUSES YOU PIECE OF SHIT!” I actually don’t remember exactly what I said, my memory is in so slow a motion as to make my words indecipherable, but it was peppered with profanity and was loud enough to wake the neighbors.

I returned to the house full of adrenaline, but also terrified, shaking and crying. A friend rushed over after a frantic phone call (thank goodness for friends who will get out of bed at 3am to take a teary phone call and then come over to spend the night) and helped me relax, though between jumping at every little noise and the somberness setting in about all the fucked up shit that could have happened, it was still a restless night (er, morning). I don’t remember being so afraid, ever, nor can I think of many times I’ve been so strong.

The next day, tired, still feeling down about having my space violated, still in shock. Being my own shero is tough.

Two summers ago, police warned women in my neighborhood to lock their doors and windows because of a violent serial rapist (and some women in the ‘hood responded with some more pertinent advice to prevent sexual assault than blaming the survivors for not using enough security gadgets). This incident made me think of that series of assaults, and I’m sure it also crossed many friends’ minds as they heard the details. I made a decision back then to not live in fear, to not imprison myself in my own home, because a cool breeze in my bedroom on a hot summer night does far more to help me sleep soundly than any facade of security. Even though one is a hundred times more likely to be assaulted in their home by someone they know and have invited in than a stranger, women (and men) are cultured to believe in stranger rape as the ultimate reason to live in fear, and then use that fear as a reason to not walk alone, to not go out after dark, to not live alone, to not wear what you want, to not let children play outside, to avoid alleys and parkades, to not do anything (ahem, riding a bicycle) without a chaperon.

Perhaps the early 21st century will be known to history as the age of living in fear and preoccupation with safety (the flipsides of the same coin), when we were so afraid of each other that we locked ourselves indoors, sentenced to a lifetime of unhealthy inactivity and an earlier death. The culture of fear that tells women it’s unsafe to walk on the street (when they’re more likely to be assaulted in their own home) is the same culture of fear that makes people think that cycling is dangerous (though driving is, statistically, equally dangerous and worse for your health). The same people who are always on my case for “putting my life on the line” through cycling (especially without a helmet) are the same ones who chastised me for having the reckless audacity to not double check that the front door was securely dead-bolted.

Fear is powerful, but when we are living in constant fear, besides being miserable, we negate the strength and insight that can come from being truly afraid and become paralyzed in the face of things we need to take action on.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on what happened in the days following the incident, and realized, that for my sanity, I had to focus on what happened, rather than what could have happened. The man in my house wasn’t there to rape me or otherwise attack me. He may have been there to rob me, he may have walked into the wrong house, he probably walked in through an unlocked door, he probably wasn’t stalking me, he couldn’t have been watching me through the fogged up windows, he probably won’t be back, and if he does come back I will make him regret it. It’s likely that (if he is a thief) the bike pile out front is what first enticed him to my threshold, and considering someone tried to jack Poplar a week earlier, it was time for a change in bike security, so I channeled my nervous energy into a little DIY project.

Long chain + super strong fabric cover + badass padlock = bike pile that will neither be moved nor scratched

While I U-lock all my bikes’ wheels to their frames, they weren’t always locked down to something else, as was the case the night I retrieved Poplar (U-lock still attached) from the sidewalk out front. (What kind of drunken crackhead tries to steal Poplar anyway?). I sewed a cover for a hunk of chain long enough to secure all of my bikes, in bright red fabric so it’s hard to miss. I don’t know if it’ll prevent any more douchebags from darkening my doorstep, but I needed to just do something, even if only symbolic, to assuage the fear and get on with my life.

Sassy inspects the leftover fabric. Kitties and hundred year old squeaky floor are the best security.

It’s been more than two weeks since this shit went down. All in all, I’m fine, and even though I got a little jumpy writing and reliving this, it took less than 48 hours to feel “normal” again. When I told a friend (who has also appointed himself my unofficial blog content manager) that I was planning to write about this he said, “Why? Because that dude escaped on a ten speed? It doesn’t have much to do with bikes.” Actually, it speaks to one of the core reasons I started this blog to begin with – to inspire people (especially women) to liberate themselves from fear, because the biggest reason people don’t do awesome stuff (like cycling) isn’t other people or the environment stopping them, it’s the fear inside their heads.



8 responses

22 10 2010

I think it was healthy to write about this disturbing event and your blog may help someone else. Especially not to live in fear. To be able to live without fear is one of the reasons that a lot of people emigrate to this great country of ours.

I understand your unease. We had an incident two weeks ago where our doorbell was rung insistently at 2:30 in the morning by a person panhandling. And while I gave her money, it was hard to go back to sleep. She went to my neighbours and they called the police. However, by the time they arrived this person had already high-tailed it out of the area.

What bothered me most was her persistence in wanting to come into the house and her unhappiness at the $20.00 I gave her when she had been wanting $28.00. She insisted that I accompany her down to the Mac’s and withdraw money from the ATM. That was when I’d had enough and closed the door on her.

The next morning before I hopped on my bike I did a tour of my property to be sure she wasn’t still lingering around or had stolen or damaged anything.

Like you, I feel this person won’t be back to bother us again.

5 11 2010

I’ve had people try to push into the house too. It saddens me to know that we live in a world that sets up people for such desperate acts.

22 10 2010

Learning how to cope with fear is an essential part of life, and of riding a bicycle. Frances Willard deals with this extensively and eloquently in “A Wheel Within a Wheel”, which is a superb book in so many ways. As you mention, fear is the main reason given not to ride a bike, in almost every survey ever taken. Most recently, there’s this: As the man says, fear is the mind killer. We need to summon up a certain minimum of strength to get on the bike in the first place, but once we do, riding can make us stronger. Just ask Jill: She’s been using bicycles to go far beyond her comfort zone (and thus expand that zone to include more of the world) for years. This post makes me glad in many ways: I am glad that you are all right, I am glad that you are strong enough to react the way you did, and I am glad that you are telling us about it, and setting the example that you do. You’re doing it right; don’t ever stop.

5 11 2010

Thank you for the great links and the lovely comment.

25 10 2010

I wish I could hug you. I am relieved you are safe and so brave! I enjoy your blog because of your adventurous spirit. Please keep on riding!

5 11 2010

Thank you Jude!

6 11 2010
fire fire

didn’t know this went on. been a bad friend.
so glad to read your blog, and i really like your last paragraph (i think the last one, among many), about why you think this is relevant for your blog. thank you thank you.

15 11 2010

Holy crap. I have nothing to add except hugs and high-fives.

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