When fears actually manifests the worst case scenario.

lifestyle fear theft

As I was in the midst of writing an article on people’s worst fears, I found myself in a full on anxiety attack. While attempting to delve into the fears of others, I was forced to experience something that I and many others unfortunately experience all too often: the realized fear of unwanted sexual advances and violation of property and space.

I was sitting in a cafe busy writing and reading for my assignment when a young man came and sat on the floor about a foot or two away from me. I thought it odd, but there was an outlet there and the cafe was full, so if he needed to charge his phone for a minute, I wasn’t going to judge. It wasn’t before long that out of the corner of my eye I caught him starting incessantly at my legs, looking them up and down and never looking away. This certainly made me feel uncomfortable, and I should have said something, but no matter how many times I’ve found myself in situations like this, I always freeze up, not knowing what to do or say, too afraid to do anything, just hoping the situation stops.

Today it didn’t stop at the stares. It didn’t stop with him creepily muttering things about my appearance under him breath, just loud enough for me to hear. It didn’t stop with him passing me a note describing how badly he wanted to take me out. It didn’t stop when he kept trying to talk to me despite the fact that I was wearing headphones, the only form of protest I felt courageous enough to enact. It stopped when he got up to leave and I realized my wallet had been taken out of my bag. It stopped when I breathed a sign of relief that my old address was on my license, not where I currently live. It stopped when the police showed up and told me they’d find him.

lifestyle lessons fear harietta harris

I stopped writing my previous article before my wallet was stolen. The man’s disturbing advances resurrected a fear that controls many parts of my life. As a woman, the fear of violation almost never fully leaves the front of your mind. I was afraid if I left the crowded cafe for the quiet Park Slope street, he might follow. I was afraid (ironically enough) that if I left to go complain to a manager, he would steal my things. I was afraid that if I said anything outright to him, he would get aggressive and I would make a scene. So much of being a woman is learning how to navigate fear, and that is, quite frankly, exhausting as fuck. Even though I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve had to be afraid for my safety, I haven’t learned what to do with myself in the throws of such an uncomfortable situation. Even though most of these situations have never resulted in harm, the possibility of it is very real, and consequentially, very debilitating.

When I relayed these events to my friends, they almost all had the same reaction (after being wholly sympathetic, of course): Why didn’t you say anything when he was staring at you? Why didn’t you leave? Why did you lie and say you had a boyfriend instead of telling him to leave you alone? All of these are obvious questions and the actions they imply should have been what I did, but I didn’t do them. I was too anxious and afraid to do anything, and because of that this kid is on the loose after stealing something very valuable from me and left me feeling vulnerable and violated. So why was I afraid to do anything even if it meant bad things would still happen?

lifestyle fear anxiety harietta harris

Fear and anxiety are not the same. Fear is something that is directed towards a concrete reality, while anxiety is an amorphous, all encompassing state that can directed at everything and anything. The fear I experienced as this young man sat close to me ogling my body was directed toward the very real threat that men take advantage of women with alarming regularity. But from there, anxiety set in spiraling my fears into a crippling state, where I couldn’t do anything besides let the scene play out. Not doing anything wasn’t entirely illogical, but it was largely a disservice to myself. I should have felt empowered enough to tell him he made me uncomfortable. I should have cared less about “making a scene” and asked him to leave me alone.

Trying to wrestle fear and anxiety in situations like this has never been my strong-suit. All too often I let creeps be creepy, swallow the discomfort, and try to move on. But it is exactly my inability to confront my fears and anxieties that lets these stories to keep replaying themselves. By remaining passive and afraid I’m allowing these pervs to continue behaving the way they do. I’m signaling that I am someone who can be messed with.

lifestyle fear theft lessons what if

Don’t think that I’m blaming myself in any way, shape, or form. I’m not saying that it’s my fault my wallet was stolen and this kid harassed me. What I’m saying is that I, like all people, have the power to potentially prevent these instances from escalating, but my fears kept me from doing so. Instead, the fear of what would happen if I say nothing should me the most prominent. The consequence of that is far more than just being robbed and harassed, it’s also losing a sense of self-respect. I should be more afraid of what it means to lose a sense of self-respect than what would happen if I said something instead of merely ignoring him since ignoring is no guarantee that everything will be okay.

Every situation provides its own nuances and own potential dangers when deciding what action to take. Now, a day later, the kid has been arrested and confessed everything. My wallet, which belonged to my deceased grandmother, was thrown in the trash and I will not be reunited with it. However, I guess I’m one in a string of people he’s stolen from, and there were already warrants out for his arrest, so I can try to find resolve in the fact that I put an end to his petty crime career. At the same time, it is impossible to see this result as a happy ending. I put a kid in jail, I had something valuable stolen from me, and I was reminded of how cowardly I can be. The only thing I can walk away from this with is assurance that next time I should speak up and stand up for myself; that fear isn’t something that needs to be respected, necessarily, but acknowledged and challenged.

[Paintings by Henrietta Harris and Zin Lim, quote sourced from Tumblr.]