*Trigger warning, assault, stalking, domestic violence, and rape are briefly mentioned in this piece.
Today I walked home alone in the dark, and I felt fine. In a small town of 7,500 people on the North Island of New Zealand, I walked in the dark for more than a mile.
I did not brace, prepared for every dark opening, alley, or driveway behind a suspiciously tall bush. I was alert but relaxed. Not because I controlled my breath, made it audible, or specifically focused on my belly, moving in and out, my breathing was fluid, as I walked up an incline slowly at the only pace I could. My entire nervous system, my legs, shoulders, breath, and mind uniformly knew that I could go at my pace. I did not have the memory of rape and assault before the age of twenty buzzing lowly through every cell as I passed dark car windows or heard an unidentifiable noise in the distance. I did not remember that time I ran away down a stairwell at the parking lot at the mall.
A small piece of me feels sadness that this walk home makes the headlines of my life. In the United States, living alone for the better part of my adulthood, I learned how to fain safety. I even lied to myself. I laughed loudly, spoke on the phone as I walked, allowed my hips to swing left and right, but there was always an alertness; I was prepared for the next opportunist who could claim that I made eye contact or smiled or said ‘hello’ as I walked by, who would justify following me, or calling out absurd remarks, would pull out their penises and masturbate to walkers by. I’ve seen it all, lived it all, and I imagine I am one of millions who in quiet moments would envision self defense moves should an attacker come from my back.
Tonight for twenty minutes in the dark, my awareness did not shift to danger. I walked alone in the dark. I saw stars.
I don’t mean to romanticize this New Zealand; There is meth and gangs; New Zealand, too, has a brutal history of colonization, but it is not like any of my old neighborhoods. In the United States, a country built on the foundations of slavery and maintained by systems of oppression, massive inequities, and a privatized prison system, there are magnified levels of entitlement and trauma, so perverse, that our nervous systems have normalized…