I’ve somewhat stopped holding my head and groaning. But I'm still not over seeing the video clip of the alt-right flashing the Nazi salute and cheer, in honor of our newly elected leader. Nor am I over the shocker stories that came out over the course of the campaign. Indicators of a degrading support towards already-fragile rights.
If you shake your head at me. Tell me I just need to get over it. Say I’m over-reacting. All of these things indicate to me that you’ve never been a crime victim.
It’s already hard, even when the law supports you, to get help during and after a crime. I can only imagine, now, how much harder it will be. Especially with watching basic women’s rights be violated. (Remember how cavalierly folks suggested that our nation should just get rid of the 19th Amendment if women can’t vote correctly?) If you tell me to have faith in the system, and just get these people arrested, I’ll say again: you’ve never been a crime victim. You’ve never experienced the drain of navigating the judicial system.
Never experienced what it’s like to realize you’re not being supported, while screaming for help. Making your work, all the more harder. I think about this in context of a near-assault from this summer …
"GODDAMMIT," the homeless man screamed, "Will you JUST LOOK at me? I JUST WANT A DOLLAR TO BUY PANTS AT GOODWILL!" Then he threw the bottle. At me. It missed and shattered behind me.
He’d been following me for about a block. Asking for money. I ignored him, partly for safety: not everyone on the street is dangerously mentally ill. But, some are. Tuning them out is a way to distance myself from harm, something I hold to more firmly after acquiring a stalker, a neighbor whose door was five feet away from mine.
It only took a minute or two of talking to The Neighbor to realize she wasn’t quite right. As her erratic behavior escalated, my friend Pat observed, “The only reason why your neighbor is still somewhat functioning is because she has support. If she lost that, she would be a on the street. In fact, many vagrants haven’t lost everything. They actually do have friends and family, who struggles to get needed resources to help their mentally ill loved one.
“But their mental issues become too much, and the support network can’t deal with the crazy any more. So, the mentally ill ends up on the street. That’s where your neighbor would be if she didn’t have help. She’d be that screaming woman pushing a shopping cart, getting bounced along the system. Not your next-door neighbor.”
That’s why I rarely engage with drifters. The memory of the hell of my stalker … I just don’t want to engage with another dangerous situation.
There’s a need, such a need, to reform the health care system. Change the perception about caring for mental illness. It’s the one area where I felt some compassion for my stalker: she knew she was ill, and didn’t want to be committed. Who could blame her? We’ve all heard stories at what happens at the mental health hospitals. I’d hate to get thrown in one. Hate it.
I knew she was ill, and tried connecting her to a State mental health crisis team. It was a toss-up whether I’d call them first or the police after The Neighbor’s latest attack. I’d hear, through my front door, the reps talking to her. Each time, they’d ask how she was doing. Each time, they offered her help. (Me: listening intently. Hoping that this time, maybe this time oh dear god please let it be this time and end my hell.) Each time, she said no. The crisis team would leave, empty-handed—nobody can force care on another person. Not unless The Neighbor injured herself or someone else. Like me. The odds sucked, knowing the actions needed to force mental health care on her, would also result with my death or severe injury.
Which goes back to why I ignore the homeless. Not all of them are mentally ill. Certainly not all of them are dangerous. But that guy who just wanted a dollar to buy some used pants. Who followed me. Yelled at me to look at him already. He was dangerous. His hurling the bottle at me cinched the deal. I made the right decision to not interact with him. It wasn’t safe.
You’ll ask why I didn’t run. If I started running, it would give him permission to start running, too. I’m not fast. He’d overtake me, and then what? Instead, I fast-walked to three strong-looking men across the street. Told them flatly, "I'm going to stand with you for a bit." The Just a Dollar Guy was still behind me, wailing a high-pitched scream at his frustration. “I JUST WANT PANTS.”
"Is that guy bugging you? We've been monitoring him," said one of the guys. I started checking the back of my legs for blood, in case a glass shard hit me, and was too full of adrenaline to feel it. The four of us watched him, until he entered a store. There was nothing else to do but thank the men and leave.
I worked off most of the adrenaline rush after arriving home. These things are now uncomfortably common, after dealing with a stalker. Then called non-emergency police dispatch. I know enough about how police work to know it wasn’t worth a 911 call. Already knowing they couldn’t do anything (I wasn’t injured, therefore, no laws broken), but making a report all the same. Collecting myself. Reciting details. The time. His appearance. The bottle throwing. Causing disturbances.
While talking with dispatch, pushing down a familiar awful feeling: nothing I could do would bring resolution. What that man needed was mental help and clean pants. Reporting him wouldn’t give him those things. But it would keep him from hurting others. Maybe.
Dispatch asked if I wanted an officer to visit me. Experience also told me that it wasn’t necessary. I hadn’t been injured. Therefore, no laws were broken. (If everyone were arrested for yelling and throwing things, we’d all be in trouble.) A visit was only a courtesy, to make me feel better. I said no. They had better things to do than listen to me rant.
Dispatch then asked if I wanted an APB, announcing the incident to the other officers on patrol. I said yes. At the very least, the police would be on the lookout for him. For his sake. For others' sake.
Then hung up.
Hours later, tried to sleep.
Tried to not ask why another mentally ill person focused their rage on me. (But still asking, “Is it because I’m so small and have a nice face? Is it because they can smell a previous victim, and think we’re an easy mark?)
Took a sleeping pill.
Went back to bed.
I think about that day in light of the Nazi salutes in my news feeds.
… of people in our grandparents’ time, whose rights were stripped away, and were taken to gas chambers.
… about discussions on giving Obamacare the axe, making it all the more difficult to get mental help.
… of how hard it already is to make a perpetrator come to a full stop.
... of how very fragile our rights are. All it takes is for one person in power, or several witnesses, to look the other way.
I’m asking myself a lot what I must do to defend.
Once again, taking a sleeping pill before bed.