Yesterday I wanted to go out on a walk. It has occurred to me that these Stamford plays I'm writing, pretty much all of the first 16, cast a bit of a negative light on my hometown. What can I say, it's in my genes, I'm a critical person. Better than being a moron, I'll take critical any day.
But I want the finished product, the full-length Civic Fucking Pride (working title), to have balance and feature positive things about Stamford. Well, I think nature is one of the best things in town, so I set out on a walk to the bird preserve.
Here's the monologue I wrote about my experience. It's unfortunately true. It's a rough draft. But read it if you'd like.
Safety in the Neighborhood
By Vanessa David ©2012
I’ve lived here for 12 years now. It’s not a bad neighborhood. Multi-cultural – that’s the polite way to describe my neighborhood. And to be honest, it doesn’t bother me at all. I dunno, I’m from Stamford. I’m used to being surrounded by a rainbow of ethnicities. If I go into a room full of white folks, that’s when I notice the discrepancy.
But this isn’t about race, I don’t think.
My neighborhood, I dunno, it’s great. I can walk to the beach, walk to the supermarket, Laundromat when I need it, convenience stores, restaurants.
I’ve always felt safe. Stamford is consistently one of the safest cities in the country. This year we’ve had a spike in the murder rate, someone was killed at the Laundromat one neighborhood over, kinda. I could walk there. And there was some gun violence in that same area that took some lives.
It makes me sad. This is Stamford, Connecticut. I don’t understand why people are in gangs. But I guess it’s not for me to understand.
Anyway, today… Today I wanted to go on a walk to “clear my head” so to speak. I put on my “walking at the beach” uniform and headed out the door.
Beautiful day. First day in a long while that the humidity hasn’t made walking unbearable. I walked to the end of the block, scurried across the crosswalk because I know people don’t like to stop or even slow down for pedestrians around here, and as I stepped up on the curb and continued my walk in front of the “Spanish store” I heard behind me “Get out the way!”
I hadn’t even seen anyone, but the tone of voice made it clear to me that I had better get out the way.
I stepped aside, “Sorry” I said, as I giggled uncomfortably. I recognized him. He’s a kid, maybe a young adult now. He’s probably kinda retarded, but I know we’re not supposed to use the “R” word these days. I’ve seen him enough in my years in the neighborhood to know he’s just not all there. In the past he’s asked me if I knew who 50 Cent was or asked me to read words on paper for him like “Then” and “That.”
He muttered as he walked by, something like “That’s right.” Asserting his control over me as I stood there with my hand on my hip, scratching my head, wondering what the fuck I’m supposed to do in such a situation. I never thought he was a threat in all the years I’ve lived here, but something has changed. Suddenly, for some reason, he has become emboldened, aggressive.
Well, I guess I’m not thinking clearly and I still want to go to the beach. I think for a moment about crossing the street. But the sidewalk on the other side isn’t all there, at some points you have to walk in the street. And why should I have to cross the road, the beach is on this side of the street. I’m walking behind this guy now, who is not walking very fast, so I’m forced to saunter behind. And he keeps looking back at me, checking to see where I was. As we cross the next street, me being a “safe distance” behind him I notice he is getting agitated. He keeps looking back at me, and now he has something metal in his hand, not keys, but metal. And he’s grabbing at his shirt and his waist and I’m realizing I have nothing, no keys, no phone. And I’m genuinely fearing for my safety. What if he turns around and goes ape shit on me? I have nothing to protect me. There’s people around, in the Laundromat, eating outside at the burger place, but would they come to help me?
I considered going into the convenience store, but what could they do? As he became more agitated, more physical, more amped up he crossed the street and I turned down a side street. Frightened, scared, humiliated, intimidated, embarrassed. I wanted to cry.
I turned around, feeling like an idiot, wondering what the guy in the car next to me was thinking about this ditzy broad who clearly turned down this street and then turned around and went back in the direction from which she came. Silly me, thinking anyone would notice.
I walked home like a kid who’d been thrown off her bike. A feeling I know well because, as a child, we had a kid in the neighborhood who used to love to come over and throw me off my bike. In my own yard. And today, here I am, months away from my 40th birthday, and I’m back on the ground with a skinned knee and a severely damaged ego.
But it was more than that.
This is my neighborhood. I live here. I have never ever had an issue with anyone that made me feel unsafe. Every time I walk to the supermarket I walk right by the projects. And they may not be the most cultured people, maybe not the most well-mannered, they will think nothing of pulling in front of the two gas pumps to run in and buy Doritos, but I’m nice. I just sit and wait, and stew. I would never say “Get out the way.”
I didn’t know. I didn’t know what he was going to do to me. What he was willing to do to me. All I had to go on was instinct. I went home. I wasn’t in the mood for a beat down.
I went home and buzzed the door for my husband to let me in. He was waiting in the hall. He didn’t know why I had been so quick. I told him what happened. I cried. He held me. I was safe in his arms.
I wish I hadn’t gone on that walk. My neighborhood is forever changed. I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to have to look over my shoulder, make sure he’s not out in the streets when I want to go out. I don’t want to have to drive to the beach because I’m afraid to walk in my own neighborhood. I live here. This is my home. I have a right to be safe in my own neighborhood. During the day.
But I don’t. Not after today. After today I feel a little less safe. A lot less safe.
Uncomfortable. On edge. Unwelcome.