Something You Can Run In: Protection Is a Part of Self-Care
My most cherished memories are of marching down Good Hope Road in cowgirl boots, during the annual Unifest parade in Anacostia. It would start near Ketcham Elementary School and end up the hill past the old Skyland Liquors lot. Living in Anacostia was bittersweet. I could go to the laundromat, but only before the street lights shone. I could play outside, but I needed to beware of the raccoons. And I could stomp and play in a parade with funky, blue tassels and cowgirl boots, but only until the parade was over. When the parade ended, I had to put my tennis shoes back on. We would walk back home, past wooded areas, through trash, and away from large dogs.
Waiting for us was “just my mom.” She’d call herself that from time to time even though, to me, she looked like Superwoman. My father was around, but he wasn’t always there. So when shit hit the fan, it was she who needed to put on the cape and fight the monsters, alone. The aesthetics of being a single female with something to lose were a constant threat to my mother’s safety. They are a constant threat to the safety of many single women.
During middle school, I walked to school and back alone. As the oldest, I was the pioneer through the new pathways of danger for my siblings. I was strongly encouraged to wear shoes that “I could run in” by my mother.
By the time I was 15, my tennis shoes had won races against German Shepards, perverted police officers, gunshots, and handsy male teachers. They became a beacon of protection. In the fall of my freshman year of high school, I was introduced to steel-toed Timberland boots.
There isn’t much confidence to be had in sneakers or running in the winter, and the older I got, the less that dressing in unfitted clothes protected me from unwanted male advances on my way to school.
One day, my father dropped off ugly, green boots that displeased my mother so much that she didn’t want to look at them. As I inspected the fashion fail my father had secured for me, he stooped down to warn me how dangerous using them the wrong way would be. I was taught to press the steel of my new boots against the throat, groin, or shin of any bad man who might present himself on my way to school each morning. And to do it with as much force as humanly possible. I was only to do this when it was necessary. When there was no way to run.
When school started, I would daily test the limits of my father’s commands on unsuspecting school boys. This was a complete abuse of the power of my steel toe, but I counted it as training. I was ready for action. I learned to beat the hell out of a boy my size, and I declared this vital to my survival at the time. I was confident in my steel toe boots and my ninja-like kicking abilities. I was unafraid. I didn’t have any issues in the neighborhood since my steel toes made an appearance. So when my high school gym teacher decided to assault me in the middle of an active class session, I was shocked and devastated.
He yanked and pulled and hit and fondled me in front of all of my classmates. At the time, I felt that the necessary action was an ass whooping for the gym teacher and a new school for me. I came into no such luck though. What ensued was a rollercoaster of truancy and depression that lasted well after high school.
I could say that this happened because my gym teacher was an asshole or my father didn’t do enough to protect me, and I might be right. The fact of the matter is I’d been exposed to a wild girl’s kryptonite: defeat in the form of abuse. Subsequently, I lost interest in everything that didn’t include graduating as soon as possible.
I only cared about studying after that incident. Going to class seemed optional since there was now a real and proven possibility of danger in school. My name at the top of the honor roll and my sister’s reputation for mischief were my legacies there. I had no interest in participating in any extracurricular activities with possible suspects of assault after school. I stopped trusting, and one who does not trust surely does not grow. I missed out on a lot of good times because of the impact that one man had on my self-esteem, and after years of therapy and medication, I still have a web to untangle. In the meantime, I do my best to follow these rules in order to protect myself.
Do not be afraid to hurt someone who is about to hurt you. Do not entertain empathy in the slightest when you feel threatened. Immediately fight or flee.
Don’t go anywhere without a sizable knife clipped between your boobs or inside of your pants or leggings. It’s cute and easily accessible. Practice gripping it properly; it isn’t always just for show. If the time comes when you need to use it, you want to be secure enough not to hurt yourself and to be able to eject it.
Keep pepper spray on your keychain. Test it outside, away from your face. Again, you need to know that it works before the trouble arises.
Wear shoes you can run in. Unless you are walking in a group, you need to be able to take flight with as much ease as possible.
Love yourself enough that you are willing to fight.
I can’t definitively say that any of these things keep me safe. My idea that the world was made up of villages of men, with capes and morals, who will save me from the boogie men who lurk in front of the CVS on nights when I’m in desperate need of Midol and chocolate, is bullshit. Protecting myself is a part of self-care. I would never ask a man to supplement that because it’s absurd, and I can take care of myself just fine.