This is a story about nothing happening. Nothing at all. So it could all be in my head; an assumption, jumping to conclusions, an unwarranted response.
I’m putting that out there to save you doing it.
I was walking in a local park the other morning around 10am, podcast on, earphones in. That’s me, pretty much every morning. Only the route and park varies. This one has a forested area, pretty but dark and overgrown, skirting broadly around a playground but hidden in undergrowth.
By the time I heard the footsteps behind me I instinctively knew two things: I was utterly alone save for that heavy tread and it was at least 200 metres until the pathway emerged into the open.
My right hand stole into my pocket to pull out the earphone jack and examine the silence. Definite, heavy footsteps. I walked on. They walked on, pacing me. I stopped. They stopped.
I looked up, around and, finally, behind. He was standing there, about 20 metres back, fiddling with his phone. I walked on, he walked on. Now I could describe him. Now I’m thinking he knows I could describe him. My left hand curled around the keys in my other pocket.
On high alert, I could hear faint noises ahead, children playing. I tried to judge the distance in my head. The footsteps were matching mine now. Or was I just imagining that? Maybe it was the thumping of my heart. The silence was profound.
I pulled my phone out, faking a urgent call. “Yes, hi, nearly there, at the playground,” I said loudly, and with that, a whoosh, he ran, raced past me. So fast, so close, his arm brushed against mine. There was no need – it’s a wide path, there’s plenty of room.
Nothing happened. I was shaking, terrified, for absolutely nothing, the aftershot of adrenaline calling me an idiot.
Someone I follow on Twitter posted that she had a “terrifying experience” in a park this week, harassed enough to call the gardaí, saved by a woman walking her dogs. It was also in the morning, in broad daylight.
Amid the “Hope you’re OK” responses, a TD piled in. He meant well, I’m sure, so I’m not going to bother outing him here. He sympathised, saying he “often” saw girls walking alone at night, on phones “in places I wouldn’t like my 15-stone ripped nephew to be”, and mansplained the importance of situational awareness to her. He added “not all men” are monsters.
Predictably, there was a pile-on. He may not get why, so here it is.
We know it’s not “all men”. We’re related to and married to and friends with the men it isn’t.
But it’s some men, and we don’t know who they are. It’s some men, because some women get attacked in some parks some of the time.
Why should it be up to us to be situationally aware? To not be on our phone? To not go for walks. To mind ourselves? It’s exhausting. Constant anxiety is utterly tiring. So, until we know it’s not you or him, then it is, I’m sorry to say, all men.