Shadows

[content note: assault]

I don’t want to write this. It’s an ugliness that needs to be acknowledged, but it’s damn uncomfortable.

I am used to seeing threats where there are none. Hypervigilance is constant. It keeps me awake nights, tells me everywhere a danger is, everywhere it might be. I see things in shadows when nothing is there.

One night last week I rolled over in bed and saw a shadow. Just a dark shape in a dark room at three thirty in the morning when there’s nothing else to see.

A shadow. At three thirty in the morning. The familiar split: rational brain saying “hush, it’s nothing.” Anxiety brain saying “That is a man. Hurt him. Hurt him and run.” I held them both, believed them both. A shadow is nothing. A shadow could be anything. I should reach for a weapon, or turn on a light. It’s probably nothing, but just in case.

A shadow covered my face with his hand. I shrieked and kicked. He ran. I kept screaming for my roommate. She let the dog out and came running. Turned on lights. Took a moment to dress, get through a rushed explanation, arm ourselves, and search the house. A door was unlocked (no, there is no possibility that either of us failed to lock it, or failed to check the locks. Hypervigilance means checking, over and over, no matter how sure).

We called the police. Waited. Waited. Waited. Talked to a detective (who took us seriously, thank God), and our landlord (who did not). I didn’t want to wait for an undetermined “later” for an unknown handyman to change our locks. We did it ourselves and added more security.

We’re fine. No one hurt, nothing taken. In daytime, I’m alright. Just tired. At night, there are shapes in shadows and I can’t keep my eyes closed. And I’m angry. Because I know I’m not any less safe now than a week ago, but I feel it. Because how dare anyone or anything make me feel afraid in my own home.

Oblivious male responses have been hurtful, some even panic-inducing. Predictably, they don’t take it well when called out. To them, this incident was anomalous, shocking, damn near unbelievable. I’ve gotten “you don’t know there was any kind of malicious intent.” (Uh. A man invaded a home and put his hands on a naked woman in her sleep. There is no possible intent that isn’t malicious. He’s literally already committed a burglary and assault by getting to that point.) One worst-possible-attempt-at-reassurance “If he’d really wanted to rape you, you wouldn’t have been able to stop him.” (What. The. Fuck. Dear men: stop thinking about how easy or difficult it would be to overpower women. What is wrong with you.)

Everyone else knows it’s not anomalous, not even uncommon. Women aren’t safe, because men do this. We sit in a circle around a collection of weapons, install alarms, set up safe calls for each other, discuss taking martial arts classes or getting a bigger dog. It’s not okay. We shouldn’t have to. And it won’t make us safe, but what else can we do?

So I’m getting back to normal. We all are. But normal is seeing shapes in the shadows. Normal is being told it’s probably nothing (you know, statistically) by people who have not lived in fear. (By men.) Normal is fear, and the worst part is that it’s rational. I’m tired. I haven’t slept substantially for days, but that’s not it. I’m tired of being afraid all the time.

[I’m disabling comments. I realize folks feel the need to provide their insight and commentary, or ask incredibly invasive questions. It’s not wanted, thanks.]