You are dressed and ready to go. The radio is on, as well as certain strategic lights.
As you check that all windows and doors are locked, you look through all of those panes of glass to ensure no one is lurking around your house, ready to spring out and shove their way through the front door.
Now, you set the alarm for leaving. 90 seconds.
You look out all of the windows. Again. Needing to ensure, again, that in the last couple of minutes while you set the alarm, no one came lurking, came ready to spring out and shove their way through the front door when you leave.
You double-check you have your keys ready to open the car on your way, just in case you have to make a dash for it.
Then you open your front door, just enough to poke your head through, look out, left and right. Scan the bushes.
A man you don’t know strolls past your house. Could be a trap.
You retreat inside, turn off the alarm sequence, and wait until he goes by before starting all over again.
When you were a little girl, your immigrant grandmother showed you and then let you obsess over the full page spread in the NY Post of unlucky victims of domestic violence, mafia hits and botched home invasions. The bashed skulls all over the front page, the gory gory details written in third grade level English. You know all too well how horribly wrong things can go when you, a woman, let your guard down, even just for a second. You know inexplicably bad things happen to good people so…
Windows and doors are locked. Check. Look out all of the windows. Check. Confirm that no one is lurking about, ready to spring out and shove their way through the front door. Check.
Then set the alarm for leaving. 90 seconds. Check.
Windows. Look out of them. Be sure that suspicious passersby and any would-be accomplices have not come lurking in the last couple of minutes while you set the alarm, have not come ready to spring out and shove their way through the front door. Check. Check. Check.
Remote control car key at the ready to open the car door on your way to it just in case you have to make a dash for it—you open the front door of the house, poke your head through, look left and right, scan the bushes. Check. Check.
So far, so good.
You place the key into the lock and replace it in your left hand with your keychain mace before walking out, so you avoid fumbling and losing focus on your surroundings—if, say, some shysters were to show up and attempt some kind of diversion.
Then you step out through the doorway and in one pivot you turn the key, locking it, and in another smooth motion, you pull the key out and walk to the car, scanning the yard the whole time.
You look around the car to make sure no one is crouched there.
Then you open the doors with your handy remote control key.
Your keychain mace is ready in your right hand now—just in case.
Finally, you slip into the front seat and lock all the doors so there will be no carjacking nonsense in your future. It’s irrelevant that you live in a rural area. You don’t want to become a statistic.
You scan the area as you pull out, in case that weird ambler has returned. Really! Who walks these days! Then you drive away.
You arrive at the Walmart parking lot, careful not to park next to any vans or SUVs with dark tinted windows. But you need to be close enough to the front door so that surveillance cameras, and as many people as possible, will see you when you get to your trunk after shopping—to possibly be witnesses or hear you scream for help in the event you are abducted or attacked by anyone.
Some stalker ex, maybe. Some…one…like your stepfather? Your grandfather?
No, that was a long time ago. You are all grown up now. You know what to do. How to stay safe.
You locate an ideal parking spot, 20 feet from the entrance, and look all around the car before quickly getting out, shutting and locking the door with your handy remote key as you stride briskly to the front entrance of the store, head on a swivel, clutching your purse. You make sure no man is following you.
Once you’ve paid for your purchases, you ask for a helpful store employee to escort you to your car—preferably a strong young man to protect you from other random men who may be trolling the parking lot. That way no one can jump you as you pack your trunk, shove you inside and take off with you stowed away in your own car. Serial predators are often shockingly practical. If there is no employee to escort you, you check the back seat for anyone hiding on the floor back there, you skip the trunk and you hurriedly toss your bags in the vacant back seat, head still on a swivel the whole time. Sometimes, you take the cart back. Sometimes, you leave it there by the back of the trunk. It depends on the time of day, how safe you feel.
If a man walks towards you, you loudly greet him before he gets within 8 feet of you. “Yes! What do you want?” you shout as you scoot towards the driver’s side door. He thinks you are unhinged but he knows you are aware of him and thus a poor choice of victim. Either way, you win. You are in the car now, doors locked, window cracked just an inch. If it’s that important, he is happy to speak through the inch as you start the motor. If not, he goes away. Either way, you win.
Your sister binge watches Law and Order: SVU and sends you warning email chains of rapists’ tactics and latest scams against unsuspecting women. So you know to call the cops if, say, you hear a baby crying on your front steps, for them to come see if it’s a recording meant to lure you to open the door in the dead of night. To lock all your vehicle doors before you pump gas at the station. To be home before dark.
And you are home before dark. As always. Because you know “freaks come out at night” is not just a song.
Now you do all of the motions in reverse. Once inside, you turn on your alarm system. It tells you that all the doors and windows are still closed, undisturbed in your absence.
You do not close the curtains—not right away. Instead, you go through each room, turning on lights, just in case. You want to be sure no one is hiding in a closet. You wouldn’t want to have the curtains closed when you need your neighbors to see you flailing for help.
Now you go around again, close the curtains.
You relax, watch some crime shows and contemplate getting a dog. Or a gun. Or a boyfriend?
Tomorrow you will visit the dog shelter.
Mary is an African-American writer, editor, and survivor, and the editor-in-chief of Memoir Magazine (www.memoirmag.com), home of the 2018 #MeToo Trigger Warning Essay Contest. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous places, including: *82 Review, Argot Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, Cobalt Review, Awakened Voices, and others. To date, she has lived in more than 220 cities, in 23 countries. She spent 12 years in Italy working as a fashion model, the subject of her memoir-in-process entitled, ‘Perfect.’ Find her at www.MaryMcBeth.com