I had two drinks at the bar. Two drinks is my hard limit when I'm alone. I am a featherweight if there ever was one. I was really starting to feel the place after the second drink, a stiff rum and coke. The music was interesting: upbeat, late fifties. I watched lumberjack-esque hipsters dance like sorority girls and boring people nearly bungle drug deals in the beer garden. Saturday turned out to be a decent night to show up alone: great for people watching, but no one was unencumbered by mirth for me to talk to.
After my second drink I contemplated dancing but I had already been sufficiently embarrassed by walking into the men's bathroom only to be pulled out by a kind, blonde stranger. I drank a glass of water, lit another cigarette, and left. I walked to the stoplight outside, double checked my phone for directions home, and set out. I decided to eschew safety in favor of simplicity; I decided to take the same route home that I had taken on my way out. I knew it was a bad idea. Earlier, on my way to the bar, I thought to myself that I needed to figure out a different way home, possibly a cab, because walking through a very dark alley that spans two blocks already felt dangerous at 11:30pm sober. But I have never valued my own safety and alcohol has never been known to argue in favor of prudence.
Walking home, I was feeling somewhat proud of myself. It was my first time going to a bar alone. I had enjoyed myself. I didn't look at my phone at all. I had even remembered my way home. I was, however, unhappy that I had not actually talked to anyone.
And then I turned into the alley. I made a left turn. Immediately headlights came on. The car was to my right, now behind me. I looked to my sides. I thought I was about to get jumped. But then nothing happened. So I kept walking. Soon I would appreciate those ominous headlights.
I live on a busy one-way street several blocks from a homeless shelter. If you had asked me yesterday I would have told you that the area had been recently gentrified. It's a fairly hip place to live in a college town. The alley is created by a long stretch of garages and private parking behind apartment buildings. It's dark, narrow, and filled with hiding places like dumpsters, open garages, and cars.
Anyway, I had just pushed the headlights out of my mind. I had gotten some distance from the car and it had not followed me. No one had appeared when the lights came on. Maybe it was a cop car hanging around an area near a lot of bars where a lot of drunks are walking home around last call? Just as my nerves were settling, I saw him. I saw a man, about 6' or 6'1" tall, perhaps in his 30's or 40's, and about 170 to 190 pounds. He was muscular, but his body was not of the type that a gym had sculpted but the kind that a hard life and a want of rest had forged. He had three black garbage bags full of cans full hanging off of his shoulders. A fourth was open and partially filled.
We looked each other over. We both looked each other up and down. Each of us made a show of noticing the other while carefully avoiding direct eye contact. We sized up the situation and each other. I could see him consider attacking me. There was a conversation of sorts. I held my posture, confidently and smoothly. I reacted to him promptly but certainly not suddenly.
I had won. I still don't know why. Maybe it was my indication that I would fight; maybe it was the mystery car lurking somewhere in the background; maybe he also was scared when he saw someone in the alley but he had been prepared to fight.
(I know that I'm an anonymous voice in the text, but I think it's important to note that I'm a 24 year old female that is 5'9" tall and weighs 135 pounds. When people are nice, they call me "willowy." I have the upper body strength of a parakeet. The last time I accompanied my mother at a quilting retreat the congregation of old women had a very disturbing conversation about how rape-able I am. I was also carrying a lovely $300 purse and was similarly well dressed.)
His shoulders crumpled. Our eyes never met, but I saw his face very briefly. Both of us were afraid and broken. (But only he was dumb enough to show it.) It was very disconcerting to see that look in his eyes. Shouldn't he have been trying to rob me or rape me? Or at least put up a front if he's not going to act as the aggressor? (Maybe my grief is more transparent than I had assumed.) Instead he was digging in a dumpster, identical to the one I throw my own trash into, looking as if he wished he could make himself disappear.
All day I had thought about how safe I felt because I had somewhere of my own to live for the first time. I had thought of how deeply happy that made me feel, despite the overwhelming grief that still consumes me after my sister's death less than a month ago. (She was more of a mother than a sister during a very troubled childhood and the only person I've ever trusted and loved.)
Then, tonight, I thrust myself into real world danger, the kind of danger that Hobbes negotiates, and that no man is exempt from. Honestly, I don't know why I was so reckless. I've never had any regard for my safety. It seems like the logical explanation is that in my grief and inebriation I tested the limits of my luck to feel alive or something similarly maudlin. However, this is nothing new or surprising. This is mundane and almost reassuring.
I suppose that, ironically, the lesson of the night is something that I told myself right before I left for the bar. We all are the same on a deep level. We are all insecure and dealing with more than we can handle. That is what I told myself when I was anxious about being alone in a strange social situation. That is what I'm telling myself now when I think about the expression on the face of the man in the alley.
He is doing worse than I am. I wish that the world were a kinder place so that I could have given him $20 to get a meal and have some change in his pocket. I suppose that what gave me strength was my home.
I know that everyone in my life is very worried about me. Perhaps I'm beyond reckless at this point. I'm staring down homeless men in dark alleys while wearing ruby rings and designer clothes. I'm not just tempting fate, but spitting in her face. I have nothing left to lose with my sister gone.
Or somehow, in a sick twist of fate, I have become too big to fail in a sense. He's too sad to fight because he isn't as lucky as I am.