With Halloween approaching, it’s only natural to start thinking and talking about things that scare us. How I long for the days of my youth and a good healthy scare- werewolves and zombies and vampires and all of that, made-up monsters who retreat into myth at the end of the day. But as we all know, that mythos is a cover for the real monsters that lurk out there- rare, fortunately, but flesh and blood humans with something wrong in the head. And they terrify me.
When I was a senior in high school, I had a stalker. It was before stalker laws were in place, before anyone even really understood what it was all about, so when my parents called the police to report that some lunatic was calling me and threatening to kill me, they wrote it off as a crank call.
I never forgot the terror of that moment, standing alone in the kitchen with the phone receiver in my hand, wondering if someone was standing outside the front door. That was my first lesson in the world not being a very nice place.
One of the great benefits of living in a mild climate as I do is the ability to be outside enjoying the weather year-round. I didn’t let my bad experience sour me on the joys of being out alone with my thoughts, inhaling the grassy smells of dusk out on an early evening jog. It’s a common refrain of running clubs- “Don’t go alone!” but of course that is one of the reasons it’s as enjoyable as it is.
Chelsea King felt the same way, before having her life taken in a park I’ve been to often. Her only mistake was trusting the world to be a decent place and a well-traveled park to be a safe location on a weekday afternoon.
A year or so ago, after Emmett became ill but before I got Brody, I was running alone in a little hilly area by my house, maybe 50 yards from the road but blocked from view. I had a sudden thought in my head- “Oh my God- what if a mountain lion tries to eat me?” and I froze. I don’t know why I’m terrified of mountain lions, of all things, but there you go.
A minute later, I hear rustling in the leaves and a large German Shepherd comes tearing around the corner, snarling. He stopped about 10 feet from me, barking with his hackles up. A few seconds later, his owner comes puffing up.
“Oh, he’s just scared,” he said, as I watched his very confidently aggressive dog continue to bare his teeth.
“Can you please put his leash on now?” I asked, not taking my eyes off the dog.
“I don’t have one,” the moron replied.
“Then you need to grab him and leave here now,” I said.
“I got him,” he said, his hand around a palmful of scruff. “You can go now.”
“That’s okay,” I replied, “you first. Leave.”
As he was passing by, he stopped. “You have a leaf or something on your leg.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, my tone getting chiller.
“Just let me-” he leaned down, and in that split second I had to decide whether to kick him in the teeth or not, so I said “I GOT IT,” and skittered back. Then he left.
It was the last time I ran in that area, and the last time I ran without a dog. I suspect he was just an idiot and not an actual malicious creep, but unfortunately women have to live their lives suspecting just that. Not a quarter mile away, a young girl was assaulted right off the main road on a Saturday morning- the busiest time for pedestrians in our suburban area. It’s the reality of this world in which we live.
It’s not the reason I got a dog, but it’s nice to have a companion so I can feel a little more comfortable out and about. Brody doesn’t exactly strike the picture of fear with his mushroom collar and his crimped ears, but he has slightly crazy eyes, and that might be enough to keep passersby moving along. There are gyms and very high traffic walking trails in the area, but that misses the point of the whole exercise in solitude. Having an alert and watchful cohort is a big comfort.
Dogs aren’t foolproof, of course. There is more I could do to be safe- run with a group, take pepper spray, that sort of thing. But it is one thing, and that is enough. I try very hard to live safely without letting my entire life be determined by fear, so I leave the headphones behind now and take the dog. He doesn’t even realize it, of course, but it’s just one more reason having a big beast hanging around is good for the soul.