Here’s my story of the week. This past Monday, late in the evening, hair wet, and ready to sleep, my cat made me aware that there was no food for her. She also wasn’t willing to compromise on waiting until the next morning during regular business hours. Knowing that I wasn’t going to sleep unless this cat was fed, I grabbed my keys, a hoodie, and made my way to my local grocery store 25 minutes before they closed.
As I turned into the parking lot of only a handful of cars, I noticed three things:
First, there was a man loitering with his grocery cart at the entrance. Second, as I was pulling to park, the only other person in the lot was a young girl sitting in her car. She caught my gaze as I parked. Third, I still needed cat food.
As I cut the engine and jumped out of my car, the unknown girl rushed to do the same and we walked into the store barely a few feet apart from each other. I briefly entertained the idea that she was possibly waiting for me. I didn’t like the unknown man that was waiting outside the entrance and I was thrown off with the girl that walked so close to me. As we went separate ways, I hurried to get the cat food and return home.
Food acquired. I headed toward the exit and saw through the windows that the same man was now at his car slowly putting groceries away. Keys in one hand and 7 pounds of cat food as a potential defense in another, I squared my shoulders and made my way to the car. In less than 30 seconds, I was inside with the engine started and driving forward.
Not quite liking the man or the peculiar turn of events (or lack of actually), I felt that I couldn’t quite leave yet. A feeling of uncertainty made me hesitate. I parked my car at the end of the lot, facing the store.
About to berate myself for overreacting and waiting for what, I wasn’t certain. I just knew that it certainly shouldn’t take this long for anyone to put their groceries away. But movement in the store caught my eye and I saw the same girl waiting inside near the exit watching him, him watching her, me watching all of them.
I was ready to go home. Not sure what to do, I flashed my headlights a few times at the man hoping to weird him out into just leaving. As we watched each other and me making no move to drive away, he finally got in his car and drove off. As soon as he was gone, the unknown girl rushed to her own car. By the time she started her engine, I felt comfortable enough leaving.
Finally home and cat fed, I could finally go to sleep.
It’s likely that this type of story isn’t new for you. You or someone you know probably have had to endure an uncomfortable situation where you didn’t feel safe. I have had my fair share of moments that had me tensing up and looking for escapes whether physical or conversational. These moments where I wish the Earth would just swallow me up and I could disappear. There are too many familiar stories of harassment or violence against women. We’ve even heard stories of girls pretending to know each other to escape awkward situations. I didn’t know this girl or this man. I’m also not even certain what the situation was. I just knew that I didn’t like it and I was there to intervene, if needed. But don’t get me wrong, my hands were trembling.
Importantly, if you see someone potentially being harassed, don’t be a passive bystander. Consider how you could give a sense of security in being present.
The University of Washington describes this as the ideal bystander:
- Approach everyone as a friend.
- Be honest and direct whenever possible.
- Try to de-escalate the situation before it is a crisis.
- Avoid using violence as a means of intervention.
- Refrain from antagonizing or accusatory actions when possible.
- Ask for help from others if needed.
- Know when to call for professional assistance (EMT, Police, RAs).
Never put yourself in danger or risk your personal safety. We can make sure members of our community are safe by taking appropriate actions. Sometimes, the best action is to help someone escape an uncomfortable situation. Don’t ignore anyone that might need help, it’s always best to ensure that those around us are safe than in danger.
I’d also suggest avoiding late-night grocery store visits… stay safe everyone!