Each of my hands holding a gallon of milk, a ten pound reusable grocery bag hanging off each shoulder, and my mom pushing an empty cart towards our twelve passenger white church van that we bought to keep a peaceful distance between me and my five siblings during car rides. She tells me to always check under the car for an attacker.
“Who would be trying to attack us from under the car?” I asked.
“There’s always a man who wants to attack us,” she answered.
Who is this man? Where is he from? What did I do to him? I scoured my mind for every offense I’ve ever committed against any man that would prompt him to lower himself to the dirty concrete parking lot of the Tops grocery store, the one that my family refers to as “Armpit Tops,” sacrifice his clothing to the greasy underbelly of our well-sought-after 2008 Ford E350, in the hopes of getting the opportunity to slash my 12 year old ankles as I deposit groceries into the trunk with my mother.
I had been the victim of random acts of male on female creepiness. I was close to getting on a first name basis with the man who liked to flash his yellow shiny knife at me when I walked to the post office. I was on a first name basis with Terry, the taxi driver who would circle the block continuously asking me if I needed a ride home when I walked home from the post office and who I told my name was Ashley. I got plenty of uncalled for cheek kisses from the alms bearers at church and more than once our neighbor had pulled his garden hose on me and only when I was wearing a skirt. But crawling under the car to stab my legs? That was a little too personal.
Still unloading the incredible amount of food necessary to feed myself and my brothers for the next three days before another grocery store trip, I kept subtly kicking under the van for anyone who had snuck underneath in the last five minutes to know that I meant business. The thought that they could just stab my kicking foot floated through my head and settled in like a weighted blanket so I stopped after giving the Underbelly Stabber one final shake of my foot saying “NO.”
I climbed up into the passenger side of the car as my mom said she had to show me something. I looked over as she was positioning her keys between each finger like a low-budget Wolverine and she said “If all else fails, do this and punch.” She had thought about the possibility of him stabbing a kick already.
“Do you know who’s after us in the parking lot?”
“No, and I’m sorry. You can never feel safe.” We gave each other sad smiles, then a little incredulous laugh and were quiet the rest of the way home.