Yesterday during my daily walk with the girls, I was thinking about the differences between my personal space when I’m alone vs. when I’m with the girls. I tend to have a smaller personal space boundary than many because of my time in Africa as a child. Different cultures tend to have a fair consistent distance that people stand from one another, depending of course on context and the relationship of those involved. There are of course, as with most things cultural, alot of factors that go into how much space a person needs to feel comfortable, but what society you are from plays a key role. Americans have one of the largest “bubbles”. Very rarely have I had my boundaries pushed, but it’s been happening more and more as I take the girls out.
Yesterday it happened in the most dramatic way yet. I was just entering the downtown area when I crossed paths with a man probably in his 40s. Now being the small town girl that I am, I tend to make eye contact with the people I pass on the street and smile. I do this even more when I’m with the girls, because I tend to attract more attention. This gentleman didn’t smile back, and I held his gaze probably a little longer than I normally would in anticipation of some form of acknowledgment. I know, very un-citiesque of me. So when he still didn’t smile back I just kept on walking thinking to myself, “fine Mr. Grumpy-pants, don’t find any joy in life, if two little baby girls don’t make you smile, nothing will”.
I was a little shocked, however, when I realized that he had turned around a couple paces behind me and was following me. I turned to see if he wanted to ask me a questions, or why he had turned around. Suddenly he had is finger in my face shouting “Why are you looking at me? Don’t look at me like that!” My jaw dropped, I dropped my gaze, I started to respond, realized that this man definitely had a mental disease of some kind and quickly turned and walked away as fast as I could with my head ducked in case he tried to hit me. My adrenalin shot sky high. The man followed a couple steps before crossing the street still yelling “F***ing Bitch“, “I’ll F*** you” “crazy over sexed…“. I was terrified.
Luckily, a man and a woman were walking nearby and stopped to make sure I was ok. The gentleman walked me across the street to make sure that the guy didn’t come back. After the immediate danger seemed to be over, I almost started crying. The girls seemed fine. Liz had let out a small cry a half a minute or so after the man was gone, but she was soothed by my reassurances that “everything was fine” I had started saying this almost immediately after the man crossed the street, partly because I was concerned for the girls, but most to reassure myself. The girls were faced away from the whole scene which I am most grateful for, and they were too young to really understand what was happening enough to be scared.
I, however, was not as fine, and it took a couple blocks before my shoulders relaxed and my legs stopped feeling shaky. I considered calling the police, but had decided not to when a squad car turned the corner I was approaching. I waved him down and described what had happened. Unfortunately I could only tell him the location, that the man was Caucasian, a rough age estimate, and the direction the man was headed after he crossed the street. I couldn’t describe him any better than that because I was trying not to look at him as much as possible since that was obviously what had set him off.
For the rest of the walk I was a bit on edge, and very aware of everything around me. I steered well clear of where it had happened and the mental home that is located a couple blocks away and more than likely he is a resident of. I found that it was still difficult for me not to meet people’s eyes and smile, if a bit more timidly than before. Old habits are hard to break. Nothing about this man’s behavior before he turned and followed me seemed out of place. Danger is not always something you can anticipate. Going home, even the squirrels received a suspicious glance if they got too close.