My husband has left me – for 2 weeks, a blink of an eye in planetary time, too infinitesimal to mention, but for me it is time enough for the pilot light of memory to spark a bonfire of irrational fear, one that burns hot, especially at night.
I am not a fearful person, but I fear being alone. I did not have such a phobia as a child or an adolescent. In my twenties I was taught to be fearful, through the kind of experience many women share. I learned that in a world where there are predators who view women as prey, a woman alone is a fish in a barrel, a target so irresistible it cannot be overlooked.
As a young teacher, I lived in a rented house and loved the freedom of a country place all my own. Before bed, I sat at the kitchen table marking report cards when a disembodied hand knocked on the window directly in front of me and beckoned me to come out. I went to the door but no one was there. A few minutes later it happened again. Angry, I opened the patio door and said, “ What do you want? “
A voice from the dark replied, “You know what we want”. More angry than afraid, I relocked the door, drew the curtains and phoned the police.
The dispatch asked me if anyone had broken into my home and I replied, “No”. The police told me they were in the area and to call back if anyone attempted to enter. I was horrified. Pumped with the adrenaline of rage, fear and disbelief, I took a knife from the kitchen, determined I would use it and sat by the phone. Nothing happened. Outside I heard wood splinter again and again, then silence prevailed. Just as I dared to hope the ordeal was over, a slap of winter air filled the room and I looked around the corner to see a leg coming through my half open bedroom window.
I called the police. Within seconds two officers arrived and I was escorted outside. The peculiar noises I previously heard came from the removal of my storm windows. Every one lay neatly on the lawn like eggs in a carton, sequentially removed in search of a window that was not painted shut. A shattered window well led to muddy footprints through the basement and up the stairs where they were rebuffed at the locked door that separated the basement from the kitchen. Someone had been in my home, just feet away from me, frustrated by a door.
The policeman asked me, “Why do you live alone?” a rhetorical question that fanned my fury. Was my victim status open for debate? Before this night, I had thought I had the right to choose.
Although I was unharmed and 36 years have passed, the experience has left a scar. I resent the sleep I lose and the anger I feel when I am alone and vulnerable in my own home for no other reason than my gender, yet I have been taught that a woman alone can become prey. It is a brand on my subconscious, one that flares and burns hot when I am alone, one that I will always carry.
Emirates 24/7, 19 April, 2015.