When I was a teenager, a man tried to lure me into his car outside of Wal-Mart. I’ll never forget how resolutely he pulled up in a big white town car to say hello– an old white man wanting to be nice, I thought. Then, right before my eyes, a friendly masquerade turned grotesque.
What added insult to injury was his total disregard for my mother, who was right there, loading groceries in the back of the vehicle. “Come on, forget her,” he mouthed repulsively while Mama’s back was turned.
The predator had to have been over sixty. I was sixteen. To think someone could overtly behave this way– stalk children– lure a child in the presence of her parent who did not sense the predatorial behavior at first.
I remember reciting letters and numbers from his car tag as he pulled off, immune to consequences. Letter, number, letter, number… my eidetic memory of the tag eventually failed me, and I remained shocked and appalled for a long time.
That was the first time in my life I could feel my safety being violated as a young woman in the world. How could someone brazenly get away with behaving this way? That rallying cry, “no justice, no peace”, rings true… this incident had a way of souring my view of “nice men”, creating paranoia that I wrestle with to this very day.
I parallel this profane and painful experience from back in 2000 to what I have been feeling these last four years of political manipulation and chaos. Four years of feeling unsafe. Unprotected. Broken. Vulnerable. Violated. And triggered. Four years of gripping my children and my steering wheel when there’s evidence of hate on a baseball cap or a pick-up truck flying by.
I will continue to grip my children with keen predatorial and racial instincts activated, but I can do so now believing better in the promises of our nation.
Those plagues of the past are still there. We’ll never be a perfect country and predators will continue to drive around in Wal-Mart parking lots, but it’s a new day. Biden is a balm. I’m finally catching my breath and feeling calmer inside. The serenity I feel today is real. So real.
I feel safe.
Clinnesha is a wife, mom, daughter/sister/auntie, literary artist, humanities scholar, and social entrepreneur. Her advocacy work is at the intersection of black/feminist thought, arts, culture, and community.