Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Paranoia Lost

You know that feeling that someone is following you? Down a badly carpeted hotel hallway. And there may not be a reason for him to follow you - but you're scared. And you think - I'm heading towards a room, where I will be alone, and where I'd rather not be trapped....

Once a man followed me on a cold morning at Lancaster University in Lancaster, England. At the time, due to love or familial obligation or something, I was drawn to the computer lab (at the time, a central location where one would computer, in the absence of a personal computer), to send some emails back to the states. I remember being scared to be so alone on the desolate campus anyways, and the tall man walking purposefully behind me wasn't helping. And I knew the peacocks up ahead wouldn't come to my rescue (a feature of British campuses - ambivalent peacocks). The man, perhaps realizing my terror, said to me kindly "I am not following you."  I remember thinking what awareness it must have taken. And while I temporarily thought "isn't that exactly what a serial killer would say?" (Hey, I grew up in the town that brought us Ted Bundy and the DC Sniper), I realize it took both an understanding of the situation, and an acceptance that, despite the fact that equality should reign, and men should not scare women in dark alleys at night, at the end of the day, the physical and functional realities meant he could hurt me, and I was conditioned to fear it.  I remember saying thank you to the kind man. And indeed, he wasn't following me.

I recalled this incident last week in a hotel in Maryland, when a bus boy seemed to abruptly stop his laying out of a table of refreshments in the hallway of the hotel, and start following me down the hall towards my room. And gaining on me. And not smiling or responding at all to the fact that I was clearly nervous about it - and checking behind me every few paces.  Now, again, I know I'm not supposed to be afraid in a dark long hallway alone in a hotel, but, damn it, I was. But I almost felt him self-righteously thinking "What? because I'm some black kid walking down the hall, she thinks she's going to be attacked?"   I wanted to assure this boy that he could have been any man of any race walking purposefully and rapidly behind me down that hall, and I would be scared (save, perhaps, anyone with a walker). But there was no time for this exchange. I asked - "Are you following me?" and he said "no" in a sullen way. While I can imagine he hates being stereotyped, I hate being scared. And I wish he had the grace of my British stalker to recognize my side of the situation.

I embarked upon this blog to document the opposite phenomenon, though. I was walking purposefully and rapidly behind someone today. Out in the open, in the street, in broad daylight. And usually, we can feel someone walking behind us. It is almost a sense, detached from the sound of footsteps or breathing. But the gentleman blocking my way did not seem to alter his stride or notice that I was up against his heels, trying desperately to pass him. Why? iPod. 

Which makes me wonder... I'm sure I'd be a less paranoid person if I walked around with an ipod in my ears all the time. But would I miss something...?

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