I got some bad news today, potentially life-altering bad news, the details of which aren’t relevant for now, and it put me into a serious funk. And between being with one or more children from sunrise to bath time to a bedtime which seemed to stretch to geologic timescales I didn’t get an opportunity to exercise. I didn’t exercise yesterday either. One year ago I was only a semi-regular exerciser who wouldn’t have thought anything of skipping a work out two days a row. But in that time I have realized something very important about myself: exercise, specifically hard-sweat inducing-push myself to my limits exercise, is my anti-depressant. It works better for me than any therapy or any drug ever has. I need a good workout more than I need just about anything else save food. So today when crappy news rained down like shitty little turds around me I really just wanted to go for a run.
It took until 10:30 pm for all three children to finally fall asleep. Husband, probably tired of hearing me rant about my dark mood, suggested that I go for a run. I scoffed, “It’s too late, it wouldn’t be safe.” Husband goes on late night runs occasionally. A few weeks ago during an extremely rare late night rain shower he laced up his shoes and went on a four mile joyful run through the cool rain. Oh how I envied him and his freedom. He worried only about the danger from slipping on some wet leaves. He certainly didn’t look at each hedge as he passed, searching for hidden attackers waiting to leap out and accost him. I am sure he didn’t take note of every car, watching to see if it slowed down or circled back around for him. Husband thought it was perfectly safe to run in our neighborhood and told me as such. I wasn’t so sure. Running around at night, even in our relatively quiet residential neighborhood, goes against every fiber of my hyper vigilant female being. I do, however, tend towards the anxious and I wondered if I was being overly concerned. The night air beckoned me. It was gloriously cool outside. After a summer of running through the heat and humidity, the sun beaming down on me, the idea of a night run was irresistibly appealing. I decided I would run only up and down our street, making a tiny track, out of our short (only nine houses along the road) street. Ours and many of our neighbors front doors were also open and I half jokingly told Husband to listen for any screams.
I stepped out cautiously, with my music turned down in my ears so that I could hear any footfalls behind me. I tucked my phone away so that I wouldn’t be distracted by it and could keep an eye on my surroundings. After a quarter mile or so I relaxed into a nice rhythm and decided to be slightly more bold and run on a short section (less than half a mile) of the street just perpendicular to ours. I ran a couple of miles in loops this way. I felt my stress slip away from me for the first time all day. My eyes had adjusted to the night and I found myself no more unsure of my footing than during the day. I picked up speed. I ran up the hill and down, gleeful for the tiny bit of freedom from my life. Suddenly a young man on a bike turned onto the street and approached me. As he rode by me, he slowed and let out a long whistle. There was no mistaking that it was meant for me. And just like that my sense of freedom evaporated. I turned and watched him ride away up the hill; watching until I could see him no more. I was in full red alert mode, wondering if he was going to circle back around and sneak up on me from behind. I turned down my music to barely a whisper in my ears. I turned back onto our short street where I surmised, no longer joking in the least, that my husband or neighbors would be able to hear me if I screamed. I ran another mile or so, but it was a haunted mile. I just kept thinking, “It never ends”. “It” being the constant harassment of being a woman. From pregnancy discrimination, to a man making nasty noises in response to seeing me breastfeed, to jokes about women’s looks, to being hit on every god damned time I go to the grocery store alone after dark, to being whistled at while I ran down the street, it just never ends. I am so sick and tired of it. I could hashtag #yesallwomen, but what good will that really do? I just want to be able to live my life, to go out in the world and not worry about what a man might be thinking about me. I wish there was something I could do to make the world a safe, fair, free place for myself and all women. But as long as I, a relatively privileged woman in the United States, is scared, legitimately so it seems, to take a run down my own street I can’t see how to even begin to fix this problem. I don’t want to be imprisoned by the actions of a few men but I don’t want to risk myself either . All I know is that this is one problem I can’t run away from.