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I grasp my keys tightly, threading them through my knuckles. One of the first makeshift weapons they teach you how to make. My eyes dart between the shadows, the alcoves in the sides of the building, just the kind of place someone could be waiting, watching. I listen for footsteps behind me. My heart pounds, thundering in my ears. I reach the safety of the interior of my building.

I am not afraid of the dark. Never once have I been afraid when I turned off the lights, save for the few times at slumber parties after an evening of horror movies when every foreign sound is a monster coming just for me. When I was a kid, my parents ran a firework stand, and my older brother used to wake me up to walk with him to the bathroom. Although, he’ll never admit it, he was afraid of the dark–and sometimes the raccoons.

I fear the dark because of men. Men who don’t take no as an answer, men who think they have something to prove, men who think women are objects. I once had a boyfriend that said that consent was implied in a relationship, and that as his girlfriend, there was no saying “no” for me. In every example of toxic men, I think of his single-syllable name. The key thing that my college roommate taught me–and that my mother never did–after telling her one-too-many of my terrible dating stories. I’ve had a hard time sleeping at night recently, and I will pretend that I don’t know why. I will pretend like a door opening and shutting down the hall from my dorm didn’t send me lurching upright the other night. Lost and disoriented in the dark, searching for my dog (who, in the past few years, died), hoping for some kind of protection. The panicked thought that my abuser had come to find me leaked from my eyes. But it was just some girl who’d come back too late from some party and, in her drunkenness, had slammed a door in the perfectly silent hallway.

Recently I saw a post from Facebook, and the gist of the post was that all mothers should fear for their little boys, that some woman doesn’t make up a lie about him that ruins his life forever. I sat there in disgust. Reading it over and over again. I imagine these mothers may be the same ones who claim “of course my child would never do that,” as their child is caught red-handed doing something terrible. Part of me wanted to flip the script on the poster. I imagine myself writing things like “well what was he wearing” or “maybe he was asking for it,” but I restrain myself. I wanted to ask him if he’d ever been wrongly accused of sexual assault. Because according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, “1 in every 6 women in America will experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime.” And few report it.

I never feared the dark until a man gave me a reason to.

SOURCES:

Scope of the problem: Statistics. RAINN. (2020). Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem.

Arianna is Texas raised. A junior at Stephen F. Austin in the creative writing department. Having had publications in the charity chapbook Remedy of Water, the proceeds donated to the California wildfires.
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