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To the Man Who Left Me Alone

By Terri E. Gerstein

I DON'T know your name, but I write this to you.

Last night at about 2 a.m., I was walking back from Adams House to Quincy House. I walked alone, as my mother and other fortysomethings have told me not to do. But it isn't far, so I usually don't worry.

You were with three or four friends, standing on the sidewalk along Plympton Street. I couldn't see all of you very well, and I really didn't want to. You all sounded drunk and you were laughing. One of your friends wore what looked like a Harvard jacket.

I hurried home, wanting to sleep.

You called out to me, loudly and drunkenly, "Hey, don't leave without me!" and your friends laughed.

I surreptitiously glanced around me and knew that I was the only woman around. You were talking to me.

I walked faster and you called out again: "Hey, where you goin'? Wait for me!"

You moved in my direction.

My heart pounded. I quickened my pace. You were more than a block away now and I had almost crossed Mt. Auburn St. But there were five of you and you were big--I could tell that even from a distance.

I didn't run, though, because I didn't want you to know I was scared. I heard your footsteps coming closer.

"Hey!" you called out again. I tried not to pay attention. I was nearing the gate of Quincy House. You weren't going to do anything, I assured myself. You and your friends were just kidding around, I guess.

I felt almost silly for being afraid. A bunch of Harvard guys drinking, not meaning any harm, and I got scared. I felt silly--almost.

I want you to know that your joking entreaty, "Don't leave without me," was not what you intended (I assume) it to be. It was late. It was dark. I was alone. The streets were empty.

WHEN I arrived in the city for college, I was flattered when I walked down the street and horns honked or some guy said "Hey, baby, how ya' doin'?"

I soon realized that these men's comments were not judgments of my beauty. They didn't really look at me; they just saw that I was a woman. I had long hair, and that was enough. I began to feel angry, but not yet scared.

That didn't happen until one night when I wrestled playfully with my boyfriend. I had always thought of myself as strong; I certainly fought enough with my older brother when we were little. But 10 years later, while wrestling with my average-sized boyfriend, I suddenly realized how vulnerable I was. He playfully pinned my arm, and I laughed. But when I tried to push his arm away, I couldn't.

"Hey, baby, how ya' doin'?" became threatening. Scary. Probably meant to flatter me, or just to have fun. Probably said with no bad intentions. Certainly said without a sense of how "Hey, baby," might make me feel--defenseless, frightened and vulnerable.

But only for a minute. Once the man is out of sight, I feel slightly ridiculous for feeling frightened, thinking "Of course there's no threat. Of course he didn't mean anything."

And of course, you didn't mean anything last night when you yelled "Don't leave without me." But once I was inside the gate of Quincy House--once you couldn't see me--I ran.

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