A few mornings ago, I was strolling along through downtown, camera in tow, trying to find nice little spots to get accustomed to a new-to-me lens that I had rented for the weekend. It was a little warm, but beautiful outside as I strolled through the downtown farmers market and roamed the surrounding streets.
At one point I rounded a corner, passed through a few groups of people, and one of the men huddled in these groups broke off from the rest and began to follow me.
I noticed this immediately. I mean, of course I did. I can’t remember a time when I was not wary of strangers, particularly strange men. I tried not to let it bother me, but I also noticed this man was incredibly muscular, and my mind began racing through scenarios of what might happen if I was cornered and unable to defend myself against such a seemingly strong person.
Still, I trekked onward, making a decision that I would not change my behavior just because of someone else’s disconcerting behavior. Shortly after the man began to follow me, I noticed a wide, brightly lit alleyway that I had never really seen before. The light streaming in was lovely, and I couldn’t help but climb the couple of steps and take a peak at it, noting to myself that it would not be wise to get cornered in there given my hanger-on a few paces behind (and thereby breaking my own rule not to change my behavior— damn).
The man ambled up the stairs just as I was turning around to head back to the sidewalk, and we made eye contact. I smiled and said, “Hello!” thinking that this might be disarming, and make me more human in the eyes of someone who might have seen me as less than in the moments he stalked me down the street. He smiled back, and I casually continued toward the sidewalk, his eyes following me.
I can’t remember all of what was exchanged next, but I remember he said something, so I turned around. He was mumbling. I said, I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. So he came closer, much closer, which perhaps was the point of the mumbling (or perhaps I was just incredibly suspicious of every movement at that point). He began telling me I was very beautiful, and did I live around here? Yes, I said. Born and raised, in a way that meant it could be, well, anywhere around here.
He began asking more and more incredibly personal questions, but I said something—although I can’t remember what—that stopped him at some point. He repeated that I was beautiful, and I thanked him for the compliment, told him firmly that I was going to be on my way, and that I hoped he had a good day. He said Ok gorgeous, see you around.
Luckily, that did the trick. He stayed where he was, and I dared not turn back in case it gave him hope that our interaction was the start of something that he ought to find a way to continue. The entire walk home, I tried to put it out of my mind, thinking it was a relatively minor thing compared to the street harassment some people endure. His words were gentle, I told myself, but the tone and intent of the questioning were quietly desperate.* And he followed me. Following a person is an incredibly inappropriate way to court someone’s attention. It leaves a person feeling unsafe and a little shaken, even if it is in broad daylight when you think no harm could possibly befall you.