Today I had a terrifying situation happen to me and I feel compelled to share it with you. It’s 4:20 in the morning and I still can’t sleep. My insomnia isn’t due to my lingering fear (though I can still feel it there, just below the surface) it’s about me wanting to explain my reaction to this horrifying event.
I was cutting the front grass while my three children played inside the house when a strange man came up behind me and scared the holy living shit out of me. He was angry, really angry and he demanded to see “that fucking dog that won’t stop barking”.
My initial thought was that he was angry because he assumed I was somehow neglecting my dog. My initial instinct, despite being in my front yard on a sunny afternoon, was to do exactly what this man said so that he didn’t get even angrier.
I leave my lawn mower and walk around him to the front door, opening it a crack and calling for my dog. Oscar comes running to me and I immediately step inside my doorway to scoop him up. Clutching him to my chest, I apologize profusely to the man and tell him that, despite my best efforts and despite his bark collar, Oscar just barks a lot sometimes. “Give him to me” he snarls and reaches for my dog “I’ll make him shut up”.
I can see by the way he sways and slurs that this man is very drunk. He is also old, in his late sixties or early seventies, but well over six feet tall and by no means scrawny. My initial impulse is to hand over my dog. I am mortified to admit this, but it is the truth. I have learned long ago that compliance keeps me safe. I hug Oscar tighter to my chest and say “no”, shaking my head. I take a step back from the doorway and the man takes a step towards me. “Just give him to me” he slurs, “I’ll make him stop barking his fucking head off, I’ll shut him up”. I apologize again for the fact that Oscar was barking and I tell him that I will do my best to keep him quiet in the future.
The drunk old man is even angrier now, I can see that look of wild rage in his eyes, but he tries to mask it with a fake calm demeanor. “Give him to me right now” he growls as he reaches out to take Oscar from my arms. I am terrified. I am scared for my dog, but I am even more scared and aware that my three small children are huddled right behind me. “Don’t you know who I am?” he demands “I’m John Omstead”. Anger flashes in his face as this clearly doesn’t register with me and he goes on to explain that he used to own the Green Giant plant in town. I shake my head and apologize for not knowing him and he tells me that he has been friends with my neighbour for the past 20 years. Now he is acting like I’m being ridiculous for not giving him my dog. “Don’t you trust me?” he asks repeatedly? This has gone on too long and now my fear is turning into anger. “No, I don’t.” I say. “Just like I wouldn’t give my children to a stranger, I certainly am not giving a stranger my dog either”. I try to slam the door shut, but he blocks it with his arm and steps into my doorway, grabbing Oscar’s collar and pulling him hard.
I’m back to fear now. Fear tells me what I already know, standing up to this drunk and angry man is going to only get me knocked down. Fear and survival mode tell me to diffuse, diffuse, diffuse. I soften my voice, apologize again and force a smile on my face. “I’m so sorry, I know he barks too much. I’ll try harder to keep him quiet” I say meekly. I can see the man’s anger drain a bit and he tells me he just wants to give Oscar some “John Omstead love” so he will stop barking. “Oh, no thank you” I say kindly. “I have to make dinner now, so sorry again”. He steps back onto the walkway outside and shrugs like it’s my loss and says defeatedly “if I can’t have him now, I’ll come back later then” and he motions to leave.
I slam the door and lock it and then immediately scream for my oldest daughter to lock the garage door as I sprint upstairs to lock the patio door. As soon as the doors are locked I burst into hard and ugly sobs. I’m still panicked and terrified, but now I can let it out instead of hiding it behind a forced and kind smile.
I call my husband at work and I cry. I hear the man calling my dog’s name from the neighbours backyard and I peek out my window to see him standing on my neighbours back deck with a wine glass in hand. Obviously he is friends with my kind and elderly neighbours and I immediately feel a bit better. Perhaps he wasn’t wanting to kill Oscar as I had assumed, but that he really did think he could make him stop barking somehow. I tell myself that his was justified in his anger because Oscar’s constant barking is annoying and he was unable to communicate properly due to being blind drunk.
I start making dinner and I post my terrifying experience on Facebook. A few minutes later there is another knock on the door. I’m scared to death again and I run to my room to grab my pellet gun before cracking open the front door. Relief floods out of me as I see it is another neighbour checking on me after he had read my Facebook post and I cry and sob and tell him what happened. He tells me to call the police. Everyone on Facebook had also told me to call the police. Family and friends had started calling, in absolute disbelief that I hadn’t called the cops immediately. I had zero desire to call the police.
The situation was over. The drunk man’s anger had faded and since he wasn’t a neighbour I had to see everyday, I wanted to just let it go and move on. My gut told me that calling the police was just going to piss him off again and maybe he would come back. Despite my gut, I gave into peer pressure and called the police to make a report. Again, when the police knocked on my door, I answered it with pellet gun in hand and unstoppable tears.
When my husband got home from work and I told him the story again, his response was like a punch in the gut. “Why didn’t you kick him in the balls? He was an old man, you’re tough, you could have taken him”. I felt humiliated and ashamed that I hadn’t stood up for myself to the crazy drunk man. But even as I felt the shame, I knew that I had reacted the right way and that I would do the same thing again. I was in survival mode. I don’t bother explaining it to my husband, he would never understand. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be terrified when you walk alone at night, he doesn’t hold his keys in between his fingers as a makeshift dagger when he walks to his car in a bad part of town. He will never understand what it is like to fear half of the population because you know that they are bigger and stronger and that they could hurt you if they really wanted to.
I have learned the hard way, multiple times that despite my best efforts, despite fighting back with everything I have, a man can overpower me in seconds. I have learned that standing up to angry and drunk men can get you knocked down hard. I have felt the terror that only a women can feel when a man is stronger and you are helpless to defend yourself. The fear that if a man really wanted to, he could overpower me, hurt me and even kill me. A man doesn’t need to be wielding a gun or a knife to be terrifying and threatening, when a man is being aggressive towards a woman, his body is a weapon that ignites fear in itself. A man will never understand that fear.
I have also learned that the best way to stay safe is to diffuse the situation. Be sweet, be polite and be quiet. Kindness and a smile will protect you more than fighting back. It sickens me to even type this and I wish more than anything it wasn’t true, but it is. I would have loved nothing more than to have punched that old man in the face as hard as I could have. Unfortunately, I know that fighting back against someone is only a good idea if you are certain that you are going to win. I am no match for a big strong drunk man, even a really old one. No, my inner feminist goddess (as badass as she is) knows that the best defence against a crazy, rage filled drunk man is to try and calm him down, not fire him up.
I received 60 comments from friends and family on my Facebook post, every single one of them telling me to call the police. There was only one comment, from my mother-in-law, that said exactly what I was thinking. “Watch out that he doesn’t escalate now that you have told the police”. I was relieved and saddened by her comment. I was happy that someone understood why I was reluctant to call the police in the first place, scared that I would just enrage this lunatic again and he would come back for revenge. I was also sad for my mother-in-law because the fact that she understood meant that she too knew that she should fear men like that. She understood that standing up to men like that can sometimes be far worse than just letting it go.
As for the other 59 friends and family who left comments about what I should have done to him or how I was “too nice” in my response to his assault, I am so happy that you don’t understand. I am so happy that you have never had to learn the hard way that some men are so much stronger than women physically and that no matter how hard you fight back, you may not be able to win. I’m glad you don’t feel you have to look away and say nothing to the asshole on the street corner who makes sexist comments or that your heart doesn’t beat out of your chest in fear as you walk your dog alone at night. Being afraid of strange men isn’t something that I am proud of, but it isn’t weakness either; It is survival and it takes more strength than you know.