This week, I experienced something on a personal level that was alarming. I was followed home to my townhouse complex by someone who saw me at a gas station/convenient store. When I say I was followed home, I mean this was someone I didn't know and I am convinced this person had very negative intentions in mind.
The whole situation played out in about 10 minutes' time, from start to finish, when I left the gas station and drove home. This was after dark, and I was alone, which is exactly why this person chose to follow me. A single woman, alone, unfortunately provides what most think will be an easy target and victim.
When the vehicle pulled into the lane of my complex, I was still inside my car. I had a couple of things happen that I now believe saved me from harm, and very possibly saved my life. Because it was dark, it's not always easy to see the numbers on the parking spaces allotted to each unit. My next door neighbor's car is usually my marker to recognize my own parking spaces, but he wasn't home. Because of this, I had parked two spaces over from my own numbered spaces and I was on the verge of backing out and pulling in again to the proper parking space when this vehicle appeared. It was driving very slowly down our lane, and at first all I could see were the headlights. Once it got level with my location, I recognized it to be an SUV that had been at the gas station when I was there. That started the niggling feelings of doubt, because no one on my lane drives a vehicle like that particular SUV. It drove on past me and I expected it to go down the hill to the last two units on this lane. It didn't do that. It pulled into the parking spaces allotted for the management office, then reversed, pulled back out and drove towards me, pulling into my neighbor's space.
At this point, alarms were going off in my head. I waited to see if this person would get out and go into one of the town home units and they didn't. The next time I glanced over, the SUV was empty. Again, I waited, but couldn't see the driver standing anywhere near their vehicle. I was far enough away that I should have been able to see their feet on the other side of the car, but it appeared no one was there. Thinking they had walked back down the hill, I did something incredibly stupid. I got out of my car and shut the door, but didn't lock it. Immediately, this guy popped around the end of the SUV and headed straight for me, walking fast. I, in turn, yanked my car door open, got in, slammed the door shut and locked it. I made sure to look him dead straight in the eyes and he veered away, walking past my car and started talking on his cell phone. I started my car and left, driving up the hill into the subdivision that backs up to the property of my complex. I parked where I could see the entrance of my lane, shut my lights off and waited. About three minutes later, that same SUV pulled out and left the neighborhood.
Several years ago, a book came out called "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker. I remember watching an Oprah show with him as the guest, and his comments stuck with me. Trust that voice of fear. What I can now clearly recall was that as soon as I saw the headlights of that vehicle turn into my lane, I was instantly on guard. Something felt wrong. As the rest of the story played out, I felt that sensation stronger and stronger. What I also experienced were whirling thoughts and a lot of self doubt. Women are raised to be polite and that very habit has most likely caused many unfortunate deaths over the years. The young man who followed me that night was clean cut, nicely dressed and appeared as pleasant as could be in the convenient store of that gas station. He even smiled at me as I walked in. I did the typical response of smiling back. When I was sitting in my car watching this whole thing play out, I experienced moments of doubt where I was rationalizing everything. "He's probably lost." "He must be a relative of my neighbor." "He's just parking here and walking down to those last units." All of those thoughts could have caused a terrible outcome if I had acted differently.
Reflecting now, I realize that my "mistake" of parking in the wrong space is probably what saved me from harm. If I had parked in the correct spot, I would have already been out of my car with arms full of bags, my purse, keys, etc., walking to my town house by the time that SUV drove down my lane. This guy would have been able to drive right up to me, jump out and grab me or do whatever it was he had planned. If I had been at my door, he could have run up and forced his way in behind me. So, that "mistake" was the main thing that changed the outcome that night. The other thing was my own instincts. I am not exaggerating when I say I could literally feel a sense of urgency pressing in around me. Perhaps it was my angels or Guides, or God/Universe surrounding me and attempting to communicate to me to not get out of my car, and to leave immediately. Whatever it was that I was sensing, I paid attention to it and I'm alive and unharmed today as a result.
It can be argued that I misinterpreted the whole situation, that this young man had no ill intentions. I do not believe that to be the case. The fact that he left the neighborhood after I drove away is a pretty telling sign. Now I am left with a very unpleasant sense of not feeling safe in my own home. Although I didn't walk up to my unit and identify specifically where I live, common sense indicates that I live at one of the units of the building I was parked in front of. I have taken steps to beef up the security of my town house and am looking into purchasing firearms for the house and possibly to carry with me. Mace will become a regular tool in my purse and on my key ring.
I've often said that as we live our lives, endless layers are stripped from our rose colored glasses. This incident definitely robbed me of a certain inalienable sense of safety that I used to carry around with me. All that I did was stop to get gas and pick up a bottle of water and some snacks on an evening after dark had set in. That's all. I wasn't in an unsafe neighborhood. I wasn't dressed provocatively. I wasn't rude to the young man in question; to the contrary, I was my typical friendly, smiling self. The harsh truth is that we live in a world that harbors people of dark nature. Those people don't need a reason or a trigger to urge them to make dark choices. Because of the choice that young man made, my life has changed forever. I don't know that I'm going to feel safe in quite the same way that I used to. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Many would argue that a healthy sense of suspicion and fear is a good thing. I don't disagree with that concept, but I do refuse to adopt a victim mentality or demeanor as a result of this experience.
The person that I spoke to at the local county Sheriff's Department told me that the fact that I stared at this guy, looked him directly in the eyes, was probably one reason he veered away from my car. I was told that by doing this, I made it clear I was not a victim in a very primal manner. I don't know if that is true, that that action made that much of a difference. I'm more inclined to believe that being in a locked car made the biggest difference, but I'm sure my direct stare made it clear I wouldn't hesitate to use my car as a weapon if any threatening moves were initiated.
The outcome of all of this was a happy one. I am safe and nothing happened that night other than me getting a big dose of fear. I have done all the right things, following up with the Sheriff's Department and filing a report about the incident, informing the management people at my complex, and taking steps to increase my own personal security. By doing all those things, you would think I would feel nice and secure, but I expect that will take a while. I haven't slept well since this occurred; I've been jumpy at night every time I've heard a car drive down the lane I live on. I suspect that's absolutely normal.
As for my rose colored glasses, they're still on my nose. The rose color has been impacted, I admit that, and it may take time for the color to come back to a stronger tint. I refuse to let this experience permanently damage my outlook on life. As many have pointed out to me, I was able to think on my feet, even in the midst of panic....and believe me, I was as scared as it was possible to feel when this played out. That answered a question for me - I had always wondered if I would be the type to crumble in the midst of true crisis and fear, or if I'd be one of the ones who is able to function and think clearly. Now I know. I'm capable of very clear, logical thought, even when I'm in a situation where I am feeling unsafe and threatened. Although I did make one colossally dumb mistake - getting out of my car - I acted quickly to turn that around and everything ended well. The only regret that I have is that I wasn't in a position to get the license plate number of that SUV. I would have had to get too close for that. The gas station has surveillance cameras on site, and they have been made aware of what occurred, with dates and times. The police report has been filed and is on record. I am hopeful that this person won't harm anyone in the future, but something tells me it will happen. I was fortunate to make the right choices in the midst of my own experience and didn't come to grief. Some other woman in the future might not be that fortunate.
For whatever reason, my own experience ended well. I paid attention to my own instincts and I'm okay. My emotional state and sense of personal security took some blows, but those will rebuild in time. I'm writing about this experience primarily to get it out of my system. That's what writing does for me. I'm also writing about it here to remind everyone that dangerous people are out there, dangerous circumstances can surround you without a moment's notice, and how you react is going to impact the whole scenario. If you haven't read "The Gift of Fear", I encourage you to purchase the book. I'm including the Barnes and Noble website hyperlink to purchase it. This is for the paperback edition and it is available in used copies for as little as $2.74. If you're unable to purchase and read this book, then make an effort to be more aware of your surroundings. I am speaking first to women, but this applies to both sexes. If someone is intent on inflicting harm, they're very possibly not going to be picky about gender.
Finally, pay attention to your instincts! If I had not done that very thing, I believe there might have been a very different outcome to my recent experience. Happily, I'm fine. Shaken, and changed as a result, but alive and well. I'm also appreciative of the support of friends and family when I made this experience known. Despite the fact that I knew this was not a good situation, I was falling back on "good girl" mentality and doubting myself, thinking I was unfairly judging the situation. With the support and encouragement of friends, I became firm in my resolve to report this incident. I am hopeful that by doing this, and by writing about it here, maybe other people will also avoid a negative outcome in their own lives. Be safe, everyone, and pay attention to that still, quiet voice of intuition and instinct. I believe it saved me.