Suburban Snapshots

Daughters Without Borders

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Every day when my husband comes home from work, he enters our side door, walks through the garage and to the door that leads into the kitchen, which I keep locked during the day. Every day, I hear him grab the knob, grumble when he realizes it's locked, and reach for his keys. Almost every day, he asks, "Why do you lock yourself in here like that?"

I don't know whether it's because he's a man and hasn't been trained to think this way — that he's a little more vulnerable working at home alone, even in a busy neighborhood — or whether he's just more laid back than I am. But we've had broad-daylight burglaries just a few blocks over, so the door stays deadbolted even when I'm home.

Ten years ago or so I left our cheap apartment in a pricey Boston suburb to take a three-mile walk. It was 11:00 on a sunny Saturday morning. I wore black yoga pants and a tank top, and back then carried an iPod that seems enormous now. I didn't yet own a cell phone.



I was almost done with my loop, walking past a gas station, pace set to whatever song was playing, when I felt a hand squeezing my ass. Though it didn't make any sense, I thought it had to be Steve or a friend playing a joke, and when I turned around to see a total stranger there, still grabbing me, I froze.

I don't know how I looked — furious, horrified — but he let go and as I silently walked away in shock, he caught up, put an arm around my shoulder and said, "Sorry, I thought you were someone else." I still wasn't really processing and half believed him. I slid out from under his arm and as he walked away he grabbed me again and said, "You got a nice ass, bitch." I yelled, "Fuck you!" at the back of his black t-shirt.

I didn't watch to see where he went — I think he was on a bike but there may have been a car. I walked the rest of the half-mile home sobbing, didn't stop at the police station as I passed, just needed Steve.

I told him what had happened and took a shower. Steve asked if I'd be okay if he left for a drive around the neighborhood. I assumed he wanted to find the guy and knew he wouldn't, and I said it was fine. I wasn't afraid to be alone, after all, it was just an ass grab, right? I felt silly getting so emotional about it. It took me years to become more angry at the guy for grabbing me than I was at myself for being slow to react.

Later we went to the police station and filed a report. The officer asked why I hadn't walked right to the station on my way home, and then rounded up any man in the vicinity with a passing resemblance to the description I'd given, but none were him. I learned that the way he'd touched me was a felony. That afternoon, I bought my first cell phone.

Sometimes I marvel at the difference in how Steve and I navigate the world; I don't know that he's ever wondered whether it's okay to walk home alone from a bar, or to take a shortcut through a wooded lot. I doubt he's ever peeked to be sure all the stalls are empty before using a public restroom, or quickly checked the back seat of his car before getting into it. I'm sure he's never owned a pepper spray key chain.

I don't feel unsafe in general, but I know when I need to be aware and alert. What I wonder is how to raise a daughter to understand that she should be able to take the shortcut, and feel safe in her car and her home, that she deserves to live in her beautiful, unarmed way forever, but that she just can't. How do I let her know what she's up against without darkening the world she inhabits?

It's a struggle to raise her with awareness but not fear, with optimism but not naïveté, with a wide-open, vulnerable girlhood in a world that's constantly tempting me to build walls around her.

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