I’m not a girl who scares easily. When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark and only the dark. I’ve always been fearless, often to a fault. Good or bad, it’s a trait I was born with. Not that I never feel nervous or intimidated, just that it takes a substantial event to rattle me. There was a night a couple of years ago when I feared for my life in a way that I never had before or have since.
There were 3 of us. My friends M and K were already at the restaurant where we agreed to meet. As usual, I was running late. I parked my car on the street and ran to meet them. It was early into both my separation from my husband and my recovery from cancer. I welcomed any occasion to wear my new boots and skirt. My outfit was sexy, but low key enough for a casual dinner and local bar. We went to 2 bars after dinner in order to have a good spot to sit and talk.
We drank wine and talked for hours. We were buzzed enough to make the conversation flow but not so much that we couldn’t get ourselves home. It was good fun. I succeeded in embarrassing both of them on our journey from the bar to M’s car. We said a hasty goodbye in the cold that none of us had dressed for. K insisted on walking me to my car, though I told her it wasn’t necessary. We scurried down the street, shivering along with every other bar patron trying to get home. After a few minutes, I realized that between the rushing around and the multiple locations, I had completely lost my bearings. I could picture where my car was, but I couldn’t figure out how to get there. After a little more walking, I felt pretty confident that my car was a couple of blocks away. I assured K that I was fine from that point on and that she should go back to her hotel and rest before her flight home the next day.
We went our separate ways around 2:30 am. I continued on in the same direction, only to find that I was wrong. I didn’t end up in the place I had pictured. I was in an intersection I didn’t recognize on a street I’d never heard of. It was then that I realized I was very much alone. The sidewalks were empty. Few cars were on the road. I kept close to the streetlights with my keys in a death grip. I was lost. I was freezing. I was an easy target and I knew it. I didn’t know what to do.
A young guy on a bicycle was riding out of the hotel parking garage on my right. I stopped him and asked if he knew where the overpass was. We talked for a minute, but he was new to the city and couldn’t direct me. Not knowing what else to do, I asked him to walk with me. He paused and looked at me for a moment, assessing my situation.
“You’re scared, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess I am.”
He escorted me for a couple of blocks, then told me he had to head home. I wasn’t any closer to knowing which way to go. He suggested I turn right because I was walking away from the Back Bay and into an iffy neighborhood. He apologized for leaving and wished me luck.
I was alone again, in a bad situation that was no one’s fault but my own. I thought about calling someone, but felt like I shouldn’t have any distractions from my surroundings. I didn’t know who to call anyway. It was one more reminder that I no longer had a husband to call on. I hated him for not being there and I hated myself for being so careless. I needed to fix this on my own, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I could.
My reasoning at that point was that I wasn’t safe walking on the street. I felt sure that I’d be better off in the warmth of a car where I could see the city faster. A cab had pulled over ahead of me. I ducked my head down to the driver’s level and asked if he could take me around the block. He shook his head, telling me he couldn’t take me anywhere without an address. I was pleading my case when another cab pulled up behind him. The driver shooed me away and I leaned into the second cab.
“Hi,” I said. “I need to get to my car but I’m not sure what the name of the street is. It’s right next to the Pike and I know that I’ll know it if you can just drive me around the block.”
The small dark skinned man smiled and said “Okay.”
“Is it okay if I sit in the front so I can look for my car a little better? I don’t have my glasses.”
“Yes,” he nodded. “Get in,” he spoke with a thick accent I didn’t recognize.
I opened the door and sat down, thanking him profusely. I let out a sigh of relief. I had fixed the problem. I was warm. Safe. He pulled away from the curb and eyed me up and down like a starving man served with a steak dinner.
“I like you,” he said. My heart dropped. Any buzz that I’d had the moment before was gone. What seemed like friendliness outside of the cab felt horribly sinister up close. I had nowhere to go. My mind ran through my options and the possible outcomes. One thought raced through my head, no matter how hard I tried to shake it. Do whatever you need to do to stay alive. Even as I thought it, it felt melodramatic. But the thought came on me as a sneeze would. My body was reacting to something in the air. There was nothing conscious about it.
I ignored his comment. “I’m parked next to one of the Berklee buildings. The music school.”
“Are you going home?” he asked.
“Yes.” I said.
“Where do you live?” His question made me think that he didn’t understand why I was there.
“I just need to get to my car. I don’t need a ride home. I can drive myself.” I asked where he was from in an effort to redirect the conversation. He was from Ethiopia, which I knew next to nothing about. I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Why do you want to go home? Why don’t you stay in the city?”
“No, I have to go home.” I said again.
“But you should stay in the city.” I didn’t know what he was getting at. I only knew that he wasn’t listening to me.
“I need to go home. I’m not going to stay in a hotel or something. I only live 30 minutes away.”
“You could stay with me. You should come home with me.” He tilted his head to the side. “Do you want to come home with me?”
“I’m not paying you to talk, so shut the fuck up and drive” I screamed in my head. They were the first words that came to mind. Then I thought of the ways he might react to me telling him to fuck himself. Not one of them involved him taking it well.
“No, thank you.” My voice was tiny. I had been holding my breath. I knew I was choosing the safest and smartest route. At the same time, part of me felt gutless and disappointed in myself.
“Why not? I want you to come back to my house with me.”
“No, thank you. I can’t. I have to go home.” I said in a bigger voice, backed by the festering rage inside of me. He needed to drop it. How dare he try to take advantage of a person so vulnerable? I had asked for help. He was being paid to harass me. It killed me how much control he had and how much I lacked. I was angry at myself. I was stupid, naive, and afraid.
“But why? Why can’t you come home with me? You don’t want to come home with me?” He became loud and argumentative.
“No. I don’t. I don’t know you. I have to go home and take care of my dogs.” I closed my eyes, wanting to cry. This man was going to rape me, maybe kill me. After all the struggles, all the fights I had won, I was going to lose to this asshole cab driver?
I took a breath and opened my eyes to a beautiful site. I was no longer lost. I knew exactly where I was. I was not finished. I would not lose. I told him where to turn.
“My car is over there,” I pointed up the road and across the street.
“There?” His voice was doubtful and hesitant to stop.
“Yes, right there. Please pull over.”
Miraculously, he did. My door was open before the car stopped. I ran to my car and grabbed the rest of my money. I actually tipped and thanked that piece of shit. (To this day, I don’t understand why.) I got in my car, locked the doors, and shook uncontrollably. What felt like the most tortuous hour of my life, was over in less than 10 minutes. I called Wifey on her overnight shift. I needed to tell someone. She asked about obvious details that didn’t occur to me for a second when it would’ve mattered. I couldn’t remember the color of the cab, let alone the company that owned it. I spent the whole ride trying not to look at the driver.
As fucked up as the whole situation was, two things that happened afterwards bothered me the most. The first was a few weeks later, when I was out on a first date. I told him the story.
“Well, you did get in the front seat,” was his response.
“I wouldn’t have been able to see from the back. I told the driver that.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, but still…”
Still, I don’t know how my sitting in the front seat would have justified or prompted that man’s behavior. Did my action suggest that I was interested in this man, despite the fact that I explained the reason for my seating choice? Was I “asking for it” by not sitting in the back? Was the backseat safer because it put more distance between the driver and me? (The man controlling the car and the locks on the doors had the upper hand no matter where I sat.) Or did I deserve this because I was wearing a skirt that wasn’t to my ankles with boots that weren’t plain and flat? How should I have carried myself, dressed myself, and said “no” over and over again, to make this man act appropriately? Clearly, it was my own doing.
The second baffling response came from the nurse prepping me for sedation before a scope. Wifey and I were chatting with her when the story came up. She asked the usual questions – did I see the cab company, the license, etc.? I explained that fight or flight mode had taken over. The only thing I could think about was how to get out. And in a voice suggesting that I had missed the best and most obvious solution, she said “You should’ve told him you were married.” Wifey and I responded in unison that it wouldn’t have made a difference. The man did not care what my reasons were or what I had to say about them. The nurse insisted that he would have left me alone if I had just said those magic words.
Disturbingly enough, she may have been right. Studies have shown that men are more likely to respect a woman being another man’s property above anything the woman herself wants. How fucked up is that? And no, it is not ALL men. It is by no means a no-fail defense maneuver. What it is, is a number much larger than you’d guess. It is more men than it should be.
I doubt that my marital status would have mattered that night. It shouldn’t matter. I said no repeatedly. That should have been enough. But my wishes weren’t acknowledged at all until he stopped the car. Thank god, he did. I often think about what I would have done if he kept driving. I wonder if I was a test run and the lack of consequences gave him courage to follow through with another girl. Maybe one who was less aware than I was. A girl who drank too much and thought all she needed was a taxi to get home safely.