This weekend I attend a party, to mark enslaved people freeing themselves in the united States.
The holiday feels heavy, but, as I walk toward a line of colorful outfits, coily hair, and a symphony of fragrances, I am glad if this means Black people will have an excuse to seize joy today.
The bar fills up quickly, music's already poppin.
I don't know this place. The Black bay area is its own nation. I'm not familiar with the music that gets a whole crowd going after three beats. But I can laugh and vibe.
My bag starts to feel heavy when my hips start to feel light. I look for a surreptitious corner to perch it. My friends look concerned, but my most important things--wallet, phone--are still on my person. I keep an eye on it.
Then another woman comes over to ask if she can put her jacket near my bag. I laugh and respond, of course, I don't own that corner anyway. Later, she will tell me some people have sat next to our open-air locker, but don't worry, they didn't seem like they were trippin. Later, another woman laden with tote bags will join us, and, bags heavy, hips light, she'll give in to the music too.
I didn't worry after that; I didn't worry at this place. I felt safe. Very safe. Astonishingly safe, my friend would remark, without any groping or unwanted touches in sight. There's merely those normal bumps and grazes of young people, celebrating youth, and if you want, bouncing booty with other women you just met.
In the end I asked a girl to hand me my bag, which she did, pulling it out from under the jacket of my new acquaintance. The leather seemed polished with this memory. That was the only difference.
Later that night we commute home on the very last train. I look at the cheerful, pink taser in my friend's hand. A man asks for the time, which I provide. He moves to sit next to me. He puts his arm around my waist. I remove it. He begins to rub himself and starts to pull down his trousers.
My friend stands, and the three of us leave. We feel safer, just a few feet away, at the other end of the train car, where there are more people. I feel disgusted. But I feel safe. With people near me who I know well. The subway event was unpleasant. It makes me think about safety more. It makes me appreciate the gleam of my bag, still new with the memory of the crowd. My herd protecting me. The safety of community.
What is Safety?
The next day my friend says I seem nervous, to travel to the next city over, because I ask if there's a background check law for rideshares here. Do I feel safer in a Lyft than on the train? Do I feel safer when I learn that there is, in fact, such a law?
The same friend offers her pepper spray. I laugh. I should spray my driver on the highway? She doesn't think he could multi-task well enough to "creep and drive". We laugh. Another friend says I can share my location with them for the ride. This I agree to enthusiastically. That, with certainty, makes me feel safe.
What is Safety?
In my hotel room I close my eyes. I imagine abstract hulking figures passing through the door like ghosts. Lurking at the foot of my bed. I open them. It is not so much out of fear that I imagine these. But rather, a lack of having fully processed them. This blog post takes shape in my mind.
I think about how safety is reproduced by class, in my nicely furnished hotel room. I think about how at the airport, my feeling of safety has much to do with the fact that I can't imagine anyone would pay $200+ for a flight just to steal my cheap luggage. The $102 Lyft did feel safer than a train commute, especially with the cumbersome bags I carried. I think about how this weekend, I just met someone I largely knew only from the internet. But I felt very safe, in part because of our shared educational experiences. Experiences difficult to attain, strenuous paths to a higher class. If I could not afford the Lyft, would I have remained for the night? Would I risk my safety?
Why does the night feel less safe? Is it simply because we are diurnal mammals? I think about summer night markets in Asia, where, babies yawn to sleep as parents stroll in the 1am breeze. This always feels safe. Perhaps there's a danger of being pickpocketed, but never of being attacked. Or so it feels.
When, two years ago now, I was relentlessly harassed for a viral blog post, I was nervous. But I felt safe. I felt safe because people messaged me and checked in on me. I even felt safe when they warned me. I thought of all the people behind usernames and vile comments. I thought of pale, sickly figures emerging like zombies to attack my apartment. I imagined easily sweeping them aside with an umbrella from my closet, to a soundtrack by Beyonce. I imagined killing mosquitos in the summer, smacking them with my bare hands, frowning at my palm in disgust, and finally, cleansing my hands in the sink.
I observe my location dot while sitting in the Lyft. I feel safe. I remember talking to a friend of mine about the experience of going viral, particularly the bad side. I said that there was a kind of power in imagining the worst case scenario. I said that even if people threatened or attacked or murdered me, what else could they do? I stood by my actions and they were already done. I knew my people--friends, family, community--would not be silent. It may sound dark or depressing to some people. Being one hundred percent honest, to me, it was a comforting thought.
Because, "I am more than just myself", is what it meant.
I realize, from both the past and now, than what I am most afraid of is not death. I have contemplated it more often than I should. What I am afraid of is being the tree that falls, unheard, and makes no sound. Perhaps that sounds vain and ironic coming from someone who writes online. But is it not what we are all afraid of? To die alone. To leave no legacy. To have our time cut short.
I sleep soundly after writing my thoughts.
I know I am loved and looked after.
My sisters keep me,
and I am my sisters' keeper.
My people keep me,
And I am my people's keeper.