I had already walked Harley, and she had licked her paws a little and settled down on those cool tiles that are in front of the fire place. I watched her pant, close her mouth, look around like a little kid, then pant some more. I noticed how passively interested she seemed in things around her - such as the lamp, or the couch, from what I could see, or unknown ghostly beings floating near the lamp or couch, which I couldn't see. It struck me how boring it must be to lay around all day, even for an old dog such as herself. Generally, I keep both my own and Harley's exercise to a minimum, especially with the hot weather as of late. We go for a quick walk twice a day, during which Harley obliges with a bowel movement, most of the time. We come in panting and sweating, I clip off her leash, let her get some water, and I flop on the couch. That's the extent of our exploration of the outdoor space immediately around us.
Laying there on the couch watching her look innocently and sweetly around the room, I decided to get up and take us both on a good ol' rolled-down-window drive in the car. We'd have to have the windows down, not just for Harley's benefit, but also because my air in the car isn't working lately. I don't know, probably has something to do with a fluid or hose or mechanism - something I'll have to get fixed later, when I have money.
|This is what Harley looks like buckled into the car.|
As soon as she saw me with her leash in my hands, she hopped up and came eagerly over to the door. I latched her leash, grabbed my freakishly-large nerd sunglasses, my keys, and took off. Despite her arthritis, Harley popped up into the passenger seat rather sprightly, and settled in for a drive. I got in, clicked my seat belt, rolled down the windows (God, as quick as I could - it was massive-heat-stroke HOT), and took off. The seat belt beep went off because Harley was in the passenger side unbuckled.
We went rolling down the road, turned left at the exit from the complex, which I never do, and started exploring. I took the time to notice the dilapidated old house with the thousand hanging plants acting as a curtain for the house-wide front porch. I noticed a long, gravel private drive extending into the woods. Those always make me want to turn in and find out who lives at the end of them. Then we ended the little two-lane that I've always wondered what was at the end of it and discovered that it let out to a major, recently constructed parkway. I took a right there and kept going to discover that THAT lead, kind of in a boxed-shaped circle (a square), back to another major boulevard, which I have also always wondered where that led, other than to the turn-off to my place. I discovered just how close I am to the local university (and the women's correctional institution) and (yet another) McDonald's.
|Old picture of Harley riding in the car.|
Once I was back on a familiar stretch of this boulevard, no longer exploring, I decided to take us to a park that circles a lake on the other side of town.
|This is the lake at the park.|
I turned into a parking lot on the opposite side from where I usually park. Before I even got out of the car, I spotted a park bench with our name on it (not literally). I got Harley out, grabbed my book, and headed toward it hurriedly. (Whenever I find a good spot, and especially because it doesn't literally have my name on it - like a parking spot, or a park bench, or a seat in the movie theater, I immediately get this sense of...immediacy about claiming the spot before someone else gets to it. Even if there's noone else around, I have this impending sense of doom that, because it is the perfect spot and I want it, some ass is going to pop up out of nowhere and grab it, with their tub of buttered popcorn, before I can, and I'm just going to be screwed. I think it's implicit memories stemming from failed experiences at games of musical chairs.)
Anyway, I get my ass on the bench, and Harley is sniffing the air, and before I am there for thirty seconds, this old (poor-old, or just old-old, I can't tell) (poor-old is when the trials and worry of poverty make you look older than you are, old-old is just plain' old old) guy rides up on his bicycle, and asks me if Harley bites.
I have enough sense to say, "Why, yes sir, yes she does."
I'm a woman alone in a park.
And here's the problem. Here's My Problem. I am often, 99% of the time, a Woman Alone in the park, or movie theater, or grocery store, or what have you. And I cannot tell you how vulnerable and targeted this makes me feel. And how often the opportunity of that vulnerability is taken up upon (Is this a grammatically correct expression? Whatever.). People often avail themselves of my aloneness, and vulnerability, and also I think of this sense I must give off that I am a kind, willing person.
The man continues to talk about my dog, then a dog he ("we") (him plus who?) used to have, a Rottweiler, and how I would (can't make out what he says here, but, presumably, be amazed in some fashion) if I had seen that dog. As he is doing this, he is rolling his bicycle off into the grass about ten feet away from me. He asks if I like his bicycle, if I think it's a good bike. Yes, yes sir, it's a nice bike. He tells me that it is dirty. He doesn't like his bike to get dirty. He's going to wipe it off. He starts to walk off.
"Make sure nobody gets my bike."
He says this hurriedly, urgently, as he is in the process of walking off from it.
Now, here I am, a woman alone with her dog in a park. The book I had brought now sits kind of off-kilter and dejected in my lap. I keep an eye on the man walking off, wondering if he lives in a house nearby, or where he is walking to get something to clean his bicycle, or if he is coming back, and when, or what he is doing, if this is even his bicycle, maybe he stole it and is abandoning it and the police are going to come up any second and question me about this bicycle that is sitting an incriminatingly few feet away from me, writing my Alone-Woman name and address down on their tiny little spiraled notepads.
I notice another man walking toward me, but not purposefully toward me, just following the sidewalk that circles around the lake. I've seen him before. He smokes cigarettes and walks and looks nervous and swishes his hips when he walks and flicks his one hand out to the side in an exaggeratedly effeminate rhythm. I wonder if he is not a male prostitute. I wonder if he is not otherwise up to something unseemly out here at this lake. He passes me and keeps walking toward the poor-old man who has walked away from me and his bicycle and is now several yards in the distance, rummaging through a trashcan. My view is obstructed by the trees, but I think they exchange a few words when they meet up with each other near the trashcan. In any case, the man swishy-hips his way on, and the poor-old guy, having dug some long, torn, black cloth up out of the trash (and, I think this is something he stored there - like, I think he expected it to be there instead of just happening upon it), is returning to me and the bicycle. He sets his bicycle upside down, and starts carefully wiping around the pedaling mechanisms of the bicycle.
Now relieved of my bicycle-watching duties, and four minutes into my visit at the lake, I am ready to leave. I am ready to blow this place with its crazy trash-digging, bicycle-riding, Rottweiler-reminiscenting, conversationalists and swishy-hipped nervous smoker walkers.
I get up, bracing myself to be asked for money, or a ride, or a blow job, or something, because I am a Woman Alone, grip Harley's leash (thank God for Harley), and make my way to my car. I wish the gentleman a good day, because I don't feel like you can just walk off from someone you have spoken to without excusing yourself in some way and providing closure to the interaction. This is Southern, I think. The man asks,
"You going back in?" as if I've just stepped out of my house onto the front porch to get some fresh air, and now I'm retreating back into the small, dark quiet den of my home.
"Yeah, she needs some water." I say, indicating Harley. You know, the one who bites.
He says okay, and I am relieved, but then I find that he is following me over to my car.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you....my mama died."
I tell him that I'm sorry, as I'm still bending to get into my car. This feels so rude, but now the immediacy of awkwardness has been ratcheted up quite a few notches.
"She died July 8th."
He says something about her burial, which I get the impression hasn't happened yet? Or is happening this weekend? Anyway, it sounds off, time wise (if she died at the beginning of the month, and this is the end of the month?, though I am admittedly ignorant of various burial rituals/procedures/etc.), but I give him my apologies again, and tell him,
"Well, I'm gonna go..."
He says he'll see me around.
I don't know how right or wrong this man was in the head. I don't know if he was just desperate for human interaction, and that makes me feel so sad for him, or if he was inevitably going to ask me for something - money, or a service of some kind - (which, again, I am sad at the need of other people, but am so tired of continuously being the one to be asked to provide for that need as the Alone Woman (Approachable woman, Kind woman, Vulnerable woman...)), or (and this I least suspect) if he intended to do or otherwise would have ultimately done me grave, bodily harm.
It is just so frustrating to constantly come up against my precariousness in this world, as a woman alone, trying to do something as simple as enjoy a little peaceful time at the park.
From my attitude in this post, I doubt that it needs to be said, but I will say it just to point out that I don't think this exchange (the awkward conversation, the request to watch his bike, the following me to my car) would have happened, or would have been as likely to happen, if I had been a man, or if I had been with a man, or was else in benefit of the safety of company, man or woman. I'm not sure of this, because I think the man was a little off, as it were, but I still do think that being alone, as a woman, also my own sense of aloneness, makes me particularly vulnerable to these exchanges, these constant intrusions into and of my space, time and energies.