Sally had worked much later than she had intended to, and hurried as she crossed the dimly lit lobby to the front. The old security guard shuffled toward her to unlock the door, wishing her a good evening and admonishing her to be careful. She stepped outside and listened to him lock the door behind her, wishing she could have requested an escort to her car a block away. He was too crippled, and couldn’t leave his post anyway, but she still wished someone was with her.
Standing in the small pool of light from the doorway, she looked carefully in all directions. The old fashioned street lights were close to the ground and gave only a warm glow, but she could see that many were no longer working. A full moon peeked out from behind scudding clouds now and then, but the moonlight seemed to result in more shadows than anything else. The damp wind carried a promise of rain, or snow.
The street to her left sloped down to the river and abandoned docks, where rumor had it gangs were hanging out these days. The whole area had deteriorated in the ten years she’d worked there, and she noticed especially that more buildings than ever were dark and closed tight. Looking to the right, she could only see about a hundred yards to where the street crested the rise and vanished over the other side.
Tucking her big purse firmly under her arm, under the good Berber coat she wore, she set off with far less confidence than she normally felt, trying to look in every direction and beginning to feel more apprehensive the farther she walked. Maybe she should have called a cab? But that seemed silly to go just a block, and she walked a little faster.
There were no restaurants or bars in this particular stretch of commercial and office buildings, and no traffic this time of the evening. She suddenly realized she was very alone, powerless, and far too vulnerable. Her stomach felt like a rock in her belly, and the hunger that had finally driven her to quit for the day was forgotten. They had just completed a very important project, one that would ultimately allow the company to find better quarters, and the deadline had been tight, but all that lost it’s importance as she contemplated the lonely walk to her car. She gave a fleeting thought to her decision not to use the company parking garage behind the building. The fact that it was dark and gave her an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia had been reason enough in the bright light of the morning. Not that it would have been much safer, of course. Several cars had been stolen there over the last few months, and one woman had been mugged early in the morning as she came to work.
Her footsteps echoed faintly from the concrete walls as she walked down the hill. She wished she’d brought a pair of walking shoes with her, since her stylish 2 inch heels had already reduced her toes to a painful mass over the long day. And then, contemplating a stretch before her with no streetlights, she wished she’d brought a flashlight as well. Coming closer, she could see in the moonlight the sparkle of broken glass on the roadway and sidewalk, telling her that the lights had been destroyed rather than just burned out.
Walking carefully, she watched her footing instead of looking around her, and was startled to feel something brush her leg from the rear. Absolutely unable to decide whether to stand still or run, she turned and saw a scruffy cat vanish into the gloom between two buildings. Her mind knew that the cat posed no danger to her, but her heart rate remained high and she began to sweat under the fine silk of her best blouse. Then she could feel it on her face and in her hair as the breeze freshened.
Her steps quickened, and she avoided the larger chunks of glass while the smaller ones grated under foot, once almost causing her to slip. She was fortunate to catch herself on a nearby bus bench, and scraped the glass off her shoe bottom on the curb. Only half a block to go to reach the municipal parking lot, but she was dismayed to see that only a few lights remained intact there either. She re-positioned her purse under her arm and discovered that her fingers were painful from the tight grip she’d held on it.
Suddenly aware of a police siren in the distance, she was dismayed to realize that it was at least a block or more away and fading fast. She thought about how she had always assumed that the police would be there to protect her if necessary. And then she knew that she needed to revisit that assumption soon, just as soon as she got to somewhere safe. She realized that she was the only person in the world right then who could do anything about it, and this was a very new and disturbing reality. She remembered all of the conversations her brother had tried to have with her about it, and how he had urged her to take some self defense classes, but she’d always put him off with assurances that she was perfectly safe in the city. It hurt her to admit it, but she had been wrong.
Sally had put her keys into her coat pocket before she left the building, and she was grateful that she didn’t have to fish in her purse for them as she approached her car. Unfortunately, it was parked under one of the broken lights and she peered anxiously into the back seat as she unlocked the driver’s door. Sudden shouting nearby made her hurry to get in and lock the door, but she hadn’t even gotten the key into the ignition before several young men rushed toward her. One had what appeared to be a baseball bat, and he swung it in a wide arc that ended with the smashing of the windshield of the car sitting next to her. Terrified, she twisted the key and the engine roared.
Grateful that the lot was mostly empty, she backed out of the slot wildly, changed gears and then floored the accelerator, trying hard to watch where she was going while not losing sight of the men who were obviously rushing toward her from several directions. The utter chaos of smashing windshields, screaming and cursing people, and the sudden downpour of rain had her reduced to near hysteria by the time she turned the car onto the road. Whatever shred of reason she retained caused her to turn up the hill rather than down toward the docks, her usual route. The presence of the gangs was obviously no longer merely a rumor.
Behind her she saw the flash of police lights and heard sirens again until she crested the hill and descended into an area with strip malls and more traffic. The sight of people and vehicles helped her to calm down some, and by the time she reached her own neighborhood nestled in the foothills, she was ready to think about her experience and do some serious reconsideration of long held beliefs about who was responsible for her safety and what she might do about it. She recognized fully that she had been incredibly lucky, and that if she’d left the office just a few moments later she might well be dead, or worse.
The apartment should have seemed warm and safe, she thought, but after hanging her coat and turning on the light in her home office, she looked out the window that overlooked a wide swath of the city below. For perhaps the first time, she truly noticed all of the areas that had gone dark in the last few years. She could see flashing police lights here and there, distorted by the rain, and a police helicopter hovered in the distance, quite possibly over the parking lot she’d come from. She had avoided listening to the “news” for a long time, immersing herself in her work and her narrow world of research. And now she realized that much of the world she’d thought she inhabited had never actually existed.
Booting her computer, she opened an email blank and began to type:
I’m taking some vacation time next week and, if it’s ok, will fly down to stay a few days with you. I want to talk to you about this self defense thing, and I want you to take me to buy a gun and show me how to use it.
Your loving sister Sally
The book, “Dial 911 and Die” is available from JPFO.