Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hypervigilance

Ever since I saw this post on Pandagon, I've been thinking about just how aware I am of my surroundings. This morning, as I was preparing to go for a walk around my neighborhood, I realized just how much more mental preparation and attention it takes than when my husband does the same thing.

MrCircus goes running: He puts on running shorts and shoes, no shirt. Ipod is strapped to his arm, volume is turned up high to get him pumped and help his adrenaline flow. According to him, he only pays attention to what's going on around him about half the time. The rest of the time, his focus is entirely on himself and his running.

This is such an alien concept to me, the amount of freedom and the assumption that no one will bother you.

This is how my morning run/walk went:

I put on running shorts, shoes, and a red sports bra top. I debated on whether or not to put on a shirt, even though it was already 80 degrees at 10:30 in the morning (we live in Florida), and decided against it. I knew that anything that made me hotter would make me wimp out and cut short the distance I wanted to go.

Should I take keys? There's no need really, since MrCircus and CircusKid are home and the door would be unlocked, however, I could use them to stab someone if I needed to.

Cellphone? I'm only going around 2 miles, but you never know what could happen.

ID? See above.

Ipod? I put in my headphones, but keep the volume down really low so I can hear everything going on around me.

So I leave the house, and head out on to the sidewalk, into our nice planned community. I saw 4 other women walking/running and all of them are more covered than me. One is even wearing long exercise pants and long sleeves, despite the heat. We all look at every single car that goes by to see who is inside, it's not even a conscious thing at this point.

I reach the part of my walk that goes by a lake, and take a quick peek into the bushes to see if anyone is there, even though there are no woods or anything else around that obscures the view.

When I reached my halfway point, I turned around to head home and found myself behind a mom and her 2 kids, a daughter around 10 and a son around 8. The boy was on a scooter, and seemed impatient, so after a minute he zoomed ahead of everyone else. When he was about a block ahead of us, a light blue minivan came along and started driving slowly beside him. My brain started calculating if I could run to the van in time if I needed to, and I tried to make out the make and license plate number (impossible, even with my glasses on). Ends up it was the kid's father, but believe me, that wasn't my first instinct and my body and brain immediately prepared for the worst.

I'd like to think that I'm unique, way more paranoid than other women, but I just don't think it's true. MrCircus is a high school track coach and tells me that his female runners, 14 to 17, already know the drill: they run in groups, even though they're some of the fastest runners in the county and in fabulous shape; they overdress, despite the heat; they always have a cell phone; they watch who's around them and look for potential dangerous spots.

I think of myself at that age, and I can still remember the first time I was followed home from the park (I was 13) by grown men in a car, and how much that scared me. It's been twenty years and I can still remember how that last little bit of my childhood was ripped away, the idea that I could go somewhere as simple as the neighborhood park without being a target. When I go back to the old neighborhood, I still can still point out every single house I avoided because the guy that lived there was creepy, or the bushes were too high, or there was a tall wooden fence with a gate that was always ajar and someone could be hiding behind it.

Anyone else ?


5 Comments:

Anonymous Bleu said...

Yep.

My favorite nearby trail is in a national park where there's always a sexual assault every few years. That's just "normal," or anyway inescapably true. I can't if it's not blazing broad daylight, and it's smarter not to go unless it's fairly well-populated, which of course ruins the whole point of getting away to run in nature. I'm a SAHM, but going during business hours hours is just plain stupid unless I'm going with a herd of other people. It sucks.

A few years ago in this park, a woman came up to me asking to use my cellphone. I automatically said no, but then realized she was upset and asked a little about what her situaiton was. Turns out she had just been flashed. There's no cell phone reception there anyhow, so I tagged along with her for support to make sure she found a park ranger and didn't run into the flasher again. She had a foreign accent and I was afraid she might get blown off by the ranger or police if I took off. We found a woman park ranger, and she was great - accompanied us on the trail to see if the woman could ID the man who flashed her. I was automatically not pointing out the men I saw who were there with their families, but the ranger pointed out that that was the perfect disguise, and not the discounting factor I thought it was - far from it. We never found the flasher, and I was impressed with ranger, but it still didn't exactly do much to enhance my sense of safety in the park. : /

4:04 PM  
Blogger thistle said...

I feel pretty safe running, but partly that's the result of years of being determined to *make* myself feel safe. I don't wear headphones, and I don't go at night, ever. Which sucks, in itself, because it means that during the winter I pretty much can't go since it's dark by the time I get out of work (not that I'm much of a runner in winter, anyway, but being able to go for a walk by the lake after work would be nice and is just not safe). But overall, during the day, I don't think about it and just go. Maybe I'm not cautious enough, but anything else makes me feel even more trapped in my house than I do already.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Trudi said...

I think it is a cultural thing. While perhaps women living in very urban parts of Canada may feel a similar sense of being on guard at every moment, mine is not so much. It wasn't when I lived in a big city either, partly because of the neighbourhood I lived in.

But mostly, it's the unlikelihood that anything will every happen to me, with a few exceptions. I'm not comfortable out walking at night, but that doesn't necessarily equate "in the dark". In fall and winter, I'll walk at 7PM in the dark, alone and I am quite comfortable. While aware of my surroundings, I'm not quite so hypersensitive to them as what I read in this piece.

I am very comforatable in highly populated areas. Sure, I'm aware of where I can go to get help and be safe, but mostly, I can focus on myself and get lost in my thoughts. And I love that.

However, I think this is changing.

5:14 PM  
Blogger thistle said...

I think probably it is a cultural thing, but maybe not as simple as urban versus rural. I know I felt a lot safer running around Boston than my mom does on her morning walk in rural New Hampshire--in fact, she and I both actually hide if we hear cars coming when we're walking alone where she lives. It sounds extreme, but her neighbors include some scary people, the area is extremely isolated, and she takes a walk every day at 6:30 am, and doesn't want people to know that it's her habit to do that or the route she takes.

5:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so refreshing to hear your story on here. I am a 23 year old female, and I have realized that I am hypervigilant. I am always carrying my keys in between my fingers in case I need to use them as a weapon. I am always looking around at the slightest noise behind me when I walk to my car. I thought I was the only one who did this. I began feeling like I was being paranoid. One day, I realized I'm not convinced that someone is about to attack me, I am just preparing in case anything does happen. I am so grateful to know that I am not the only one who feels this way and does these things.

6:23 PM  

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