Every Tuesday night I take a bus, then a subway, then another bus to get to the church where my choir rehearses. I sit on public transit for an hour, give or take, and I get off and walk for three minutes down a woody path that cuts straight through a cluster of apartment buildings and spits me out within view of the church.
I didn’t always know about the path. Before I found it I would get off at the next bus stop and walk, at an impatient clip, for 11-13 minutes through an outdoor mall to get to practice. Sometimes I would stop on the way for a too-hot and too-expensive cup of soup from the luxury grocery store on the periphery of the complex. Then another member of the choir showed me the path. The shortcut saves me a minimum of six minutes.
The path is genius. It acts as a bridge where the grid of the city lets up into an unwieldy tangle and smells like forest, to boot. But, also like the forest, my path is unlit.
This past Tuesday, the sun set in Toronto at 6:20p.m. Last week Tuesday, sunset was 6:31. Rehearsal, both Tuesdays, began at 7. Both Tuesdays, the “give or take” hourlong commute gave instead of took and I was late.
Last Tuesday I got out of the bus with my earbuds tucked in. It’s probably not a good idea to walk into a wooded, unlit path after sunset with earbuds tucked in, but I was listening to a podcast about a woman who got attacked by a shark and I didn’t want to stop listening. So I walked into the dark, wooded path without being able to see very well, and also without much ability to hear things apart from the podcast, which was very good.
That’s when the man appeared.
I saw his arm first, which he extended toward me with a piece of paper at its end. Then I saw his hood and his shape. He said something I couldn’t understand.
“NO!” I shouted at him. I half-heard my own voice as it came out of my body, girlish and shrill. I had re-watched Clueless the night before and it occurred to me that I’d just sounded like Cher.
“God!” said the man. He sounded wounded. I could hear him because I’d pulled out an earbud. “I–I’ve lost my cat!”
I could tell from his voice he was telling the truth. He had probably asked me, “Have you seen my cat?” before I could hear him, and he probably lived in one of the apartment buildings adjacent to the mouth of the trail. He was probably trying to hand me a poster he’d made with his cat’s picture on it and a number where I could reach him. He was upset.
“You can’t just sneak up on a girl walking by herself in the dark like that!” I realized I was crying.
A serial perpetrator of sexual assaults in my neighborhood (possibly, allegedly, a teenage boy) didn’t stop my nighttime jogs. I don’t carry weapons and I don’t know self-defense. I walk alone more often than I don’t, usually through the city, sometimes at night. While I wouldn’t say I haven’t been cautious, I haven’t really been scared either. I guess you could say I’ve been macho.
But I wasn’t crying because I’d been macho. My tears were hot and so was my face. I was crying because I was angry.
I was angry because I had acted like an asshole. Fear and a pair of earbuds and a guy who didn’t know not to approach a woman in the dark because he had never lived as one made me into the kind of person who shouts at a guy who’s just lost his cat. Who shouts at someone who just lost their cat? An asshole. And, well, me.
I was angry at myself for other reasons, too–for losing composure, for being slow on my feet. But probably, more than anything, I was angry at the cosmic injustice of knowing that, if guy had hurt me, people would be wondering why I was careless enough to walk down a dark path wearing earbuds. And I was angry at myself for being careless, too! It was all very circular.
Anyway, nothing actually happened. Thank goodness! But now I have to think about whether it’s a good idea to keep taking my shortcut. And it’s a bummer.