I'm getting really lazy about writing. I think about it quite a bit, but then I usually get sidetracked by Liege Waffles and drinking chocolate. Or trips to museums. Or the laundry. I can blame anything in my life on The Laundry. (The 100 year war? That was really about laundry.) Actually, on rainy days, I've been watching lots of photography course content that I've downloaded, as well as tutorials for my new camera. (I love it, but I am seriously confused by how it operates. Really. It's so different than anything I've previously used.) Plus, if you follow me on Instagram, you really have to be a glutton for punishment if you're showing up here, where I have unlimited writing space.
Blah, blah. I do have a point today, I just like a good windup full of tangents and parenthetical thoughts. I had this experience a couple of weeks ago that rattled me. I spent several days replaying it in my mind and of course, forced a few people to dissect it with me. Let's discuss.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I had this weird day where I was late for everything (just trust me that I'm a super punctual person), but then things kind of kept working out anyway. Here's how it went down:
I rush home from a hair appointment, 40 minutes late for a grocery delivery. (Oh yeah, did I tell you that i do all my grocery shopping online? and they deliver it straight to my kitchen counter?) The delivery window is an hour long, and I figure the driver will call my mobile if no one is home, or just leave me a nasty note telling me that I am a horrible, inconsiderate person. When I get to the house, there is no note, no call, no sign of attempted delivery, so I let out a sigh and will the driver to show up in the next 15 minutes because I have to get to school to pick up the girls. In fact, I will be cutting it extremely close if I don't leave within 10 minutes. Tick, tick, tick. No driver. It is 3pm and I search the street for trucks - nothing. UGH. I get my stuff and set out out to catch the bus. The groceries would have to be forsaken because there is no one that I can ask or call to let the girls know I am running late. As I'm crossing the railway tracks near our house, I see a truck/van, Waitrose, emblazoned across the side in big bold letters. I know it is coming for me. I try to wave at the driver, but he passes me and then turns onto our street. I quickly duck back across the street and practically accost him when he opens his door.
"Hi. I think you're delivering to my house. I'm sorry to rush you, it's just that I have to go pick up my kids and I'm already late." I give him my nervous mom smile.
"Oh, I'm sorry I'm a bit late with your shop. I don't have anywhere to be until 4pm, so I can just come back to deliver after you've collected them." He seems genuinely sorry, which I didn't expect.
"Oh no, I won't be back in time - their school is quite far away. I'll just run and open the door and we can throw the stuff in my kitchen."
I fumble with my keys, get the door open and then head back over to his truck where I start grabbing bags and being the Very Straightforward American. He wheels the rest in on a small trolley and unloads it on my counter, gives me the receipt, and goes over the substitution list. Then he asks, "Where do your children go to school?"
"Oh, it's over in Leeds, *Hogwarts Primary School." ( * yea I'm totally not putting this info online.)
And then he says, "Would you like a ride to the school? I live just around the corner on Oxford street and I was just going to go home and have a cup of coffee."
Ladies, are you with me? This is the point where we all ask ourselves, do I want to die today?
This is what I call, the gift of fear pause. Because in the 2 seconds that follow this question, I am assessing the hell out of my situation. I go over what I know:
1. I am late, very late.
2. He is older, and quite slight in build. Not a threatening person. I could probably take him.
3. He knows where I live. He would know this anyway because he just delivered my groceries.
4. He only offered help after he knew I was in a hurry - from information I had offered, not that he had solicited.
5. He told me that he didn't have anything until 4pm before the idea of giving me a ride came about - when he offered to just return with the groceries.
6. He is a delivery driver with a schedule to keep, and route that is prepared for him every day. His employers know where he is and it would be very easy to find that he had been at my house.
For real, I am sorting through all of this in nano seconds (is that a thing?) And I hesitantly respond, "Well, are you even allowed to give people rides in your van?" I ask this, because I'm deflecting, and because what I really want to ask is, "Are you a rapist or a murderer or both?"
He shrugs his shoulders and says, "If you don't tell, I won't tell." Which sounds creepy written out, but at the time it seemed harmless, like he didn't care one way or the other if I accepted.
I decide to accept his offer. And the second I say "yes," I begin planning my escape route and defense strategies. I am late, I have no car, and I can't be 1/2 hour late to pick up the girls. Well, I can, but I don't want to freak them out, so instead I take the gamble with my life. Totally makes sense. I also apologize internally to my husband and my mother. (They will both want to kill me if I survive.)
I hoist myself up into his van and take note of his schedules, his signs that he has other things to do. I take out my phone, hold it at the ready in my hand, trying to figure out if I should take his picture or just pretend to casually call my "friend that is a police officer." I literally hang onto the side of the door, my free hand positioned over the handle, so I can jump out if needed. I feel bad being so obviously wary, but I want to be alert. I keep telling myself to calm down, it's just a ride, he's just helping you out. To which my obsessive mind starts in on all the ways predators make you think you need their help. I mean, this is textbook stranger danger - a ride? From a stranger? It was turning into the longest ride of my life, and my brain would not shut up. We try to make conversation. I try to pay attention to my feelings and my senses, and I remind myself that if he takes one wrong turn I will speak up. He does. He turns off the main road, and I immediately blurt, "where are you going?" and he nonchalantly explains he is avoiding traffic, which is indeed, backing up and not moving on the main street.
The road he turns on goes right past Eli's school, and it was letting out time. Eli walks himself home. As I'm driving by, I see him (of course I see him!) walking and I have another internal debate about whether to wave to him and catch his attention. There would then be a witness, but it would also mean absolute confusion for Eli. My mom just drove by in a Waitrose van and waved at me? Again, I assess like mad and decide to hunker down. I know this road is headed toward the school, even though I haven't been back this way before. Sure enough, it all becomes familiar, and we drive up to the far side of the school gates. He pulls over and I realize I have arrived alive. Unscathed and unharmed and on time. I thank him, "Thanks for taking time to do this - I know you would have probably rather had your coffee break." To which he replies, "Well, I feel badly that I was late with your shop. Seems like it was the least I could do." And he drives off.
I am slightly abuzz while walking the school grounds. I rush straight to the faculty toilet for a bad case of straight-up stress diarrhea. For real. My mind is trying to figure out it if this was okay, what I'd done. Or if this guy was actually some sort of predator that was now going to show up again somehow. Had I just put all of us at risk?
Let me set your mind at ease. The answer is, No. I have not seen him lurking on my street, or driving by, or anything at all. He did not show up in the middle of the night to stab us all to death. And while I know I sound flippant, the truth is, these are all things I legitimately feared. And for the rest of the evening and subsequent days, I was kind of mad that we live in a world where someone (a man) cannot offer to help a woman without this kind of neurotic gymnastics and predator defense. The guy was just trying to help me out in a bind. These are the kind of people we want in society, and yet everyone is suspect of the helpful man. It's so weird that offering someone a ride because they are late is something we would discuss and debate.
If you are a woman, you know that hyper-vigilance is just a constant state of being. I'm not a scientist, but pretty much every woman I know is constantly assessing danger and risk in any given situation - particularly when we are alone. I get tired of it. I get frustrated that men often don't understand that what they deem as fairly innocuous interactions, often feels like life or death decisions for women. And you know what else? If something had happened to me, you know that it would be characterized as my fault, "She shouldn't have gotten in that truck with a stranger." And not, "That man should not be killing people and we really need to talk to our sons and boys about not harming women." I'm not sure why prevention amounts to preaching fear and self defense classes to women. I also know that there are plenty of nice men out there that have to avoid helping women, simply because they don't want to be creepy or threatening. Cal doesn't get on an elevator if there is only one woman in it - he waits for the next one. It's all just really whacked.
I think the reason I haven't been able to put it aside is because it's been ages since I've felt that way. Big city, no car, no friends - it's been a while since I've had to do this. I remember constantly feeling that uncertainty as a young, single woman, back when there were no mobile phones. I am that old. Honestly, I still feel conflicted about my decision. It worked out, yes, but in the end it still feels like I took some sort of huge risk. Even though I had consciously considered and assessed the potential threat. Would you have done it? Am I being over analytical? Maybe I shouldn't open myself up to scrutiny, but we all know you're dying to play arm chair psychologist.