Why can't we (and by "we," I mean women) just go out for a run and not have to worry about catcalls and horn-honking and what time of day it is? Why can't we enjoy the serenity and seclusion of a wooded trail or an isolated road? Why do we have to think about becoming an easier target every time we twist a ponytail holder around our hair or pop ear buds into our ears?
Yes, I avoid running in the woods or in the dark when I'm alone. Yes, I still wear my hair in a ponytail and listen to my iPod while running. Yes, my heart breaks every time I hear about women who've lost their lives for no other reason than simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And, yes, I heed warnings about suspicious vehicles. Instead of indulging in the luxury of zoning out, I try to stay alert and focused while running, staying aware of my surroundings and keeping my eyes open.
But, today, I just couldn't believe my eyes.
At 10:30 AM, I set out for a short, 30-minute run around my neighborhood. The houses on the street behind mine form a loop and, while running the loop, I encountered a skateboarder. I estimated him to be about 14 years old, lean, with brown hair, wearing loose black shorts with white stripes down the sides and a light blue t-shirt, with what looked like black and white Vans on his feet.
As I exited the loop, he did too. Coincidence, I thought. The next street I headed for was a lightly traveled, shady road that dead-ends at a park. The road borders my neighborhood and two others before becoming slightly less populated. As I started down the road, I glanced behind me and saw that skater boy had followed me. He caught up to me and passed, looking directly at me. When he got approximately three car-lengths ahead, he turned sideways and started thrusting his hips. Weirdo, I thought, and kept running. He repeated this pattern, heading back as if he were going home and then passing me again. The next time he got in front of me, he started rubbing and stroking himself through his shorts until his little weenie was sticking straight out, making a tent, before resuming his hip thrusts and gyrations.
If at first I wasn't sure what he was doing or what I was seeing, there was no mistaking it now. If, at first, he'd done this only once and scurried home, I might have blown it off as stupid teenage-boy antics. But he persisted. By the third time he did this, each time getting a little closer, a little bolder, a little more vulgar, I was both angry and unnerved. He'd crossed the line from merely being an annoying little punk on a skateboard to someone who was clearly harassing me, being entirely lewd and inappropriate, and making me uncomfortable--to the point that I altered my route; I didn't want to continue down that road with him following me, so I turned back. When I did, he was so close behind that he almost ran me over. He smirked.
"Watch out!" I shouted and picked up the pace. I wondered, would he now continue on his way or follow me? He followed. Passing again, stroking and thrusting, scanning the surrounding area to make sure no one else was watching, the movements had become so thorough and exaggerated that I worried he might actually pull the little thing out of his pants.
As I approached my neighborhood again, the road angled upward in a slight rise. Skate-rat punk was nearing the crest and had slowed almost to a stop, as if waiting for me. I quickly realized that if I kept running, I would indeed catch up to him and have to pass by, his hands still groping and grabbing his crotch.
I had at least 10 pounds, a few inches and twenty-some years on this kid. What he had was a large skateboard and a slightly secluded area in which to carry on with this disturbing behavior. Feeling threatened and having few defenses at my disposal, I decided on my voice as a weapon and aimed to humiliate him if I could.
"You're a loser!" I yelled loudly and disgustedly, slowing my pace.
"What?" he said.
"I said you're a loser!" I repeated. "Do you really want me to laugh at it?" (One good smirk deserves another.)
"What?" he said again, stepping off his skateboard and holding it in front of him with both hands. I had a vision of him hitting me with it, or maybe throwing it at me as I went by. I kept running and swung wide.
"Go home to your mom!" I admonished. (This last bit aimed to point out his immaturity as well as possibly strike fear into his heart by planting the seed: maybe she knows my mom!) The verbal confrontation seemed to work.
"What? What did you say?" He asked again. But, by then, I was past him and simply muttered "nevermind" to which I heard him mutter "whatever" in return. I glanced over my shoulder to see him disappearing into the backyards of the houses bordering the road. Maybe antagonizing him wasn't a good idea. And, perhaps I could have been more savvy or selective in my word choice, but it's what I blurted out in the moment. Confronting him, however, seemed to put an end to his shenanigans as he indeed seemed to be headed home, thinking better of pursuing me further.
Once in the neighborhood, I returned to the loop where I'd started my run. He was still riding his skateboard but now pointedly avoiding me, riding away from me whenever he saw me. I found a neighbor who was outside and asked if she'd seen the kid on the skateboard. She had, and she knew who he was. I told her what happened and she show me where he lives, told me who his parents are. He is 16-years-old. Sixteen!
To be a lewd, rude, punk kid is one thing. To cross the line into harassing me to the point of making me feel extremely uncomfortable, making me alter my running route, is beyond unacceptable.
So what to do about it? Call his parents? My husband is livid, contemplating calling the authorities, but considering a sit-down with the punk and his parents instead. The fact that the kid and his parents are neighbors, though I don't know them at all, complicates things. However, the fact that he has been identified gives us the opportunity to address the issue instead of letting some "unknown" punk get away with what he's done. The fact that he could do this to someone else is worrisome, dangerous and scary. What if it's a young girl running down that road next time? What if he has like-minded friends with him next time? What if he decide to take a swing with his skateboard next time, or carries a pocket knife?
Can you imagine your daughter going to school with a jerk like this? Can you imagine what kind of man he will become?
The kind that makes me have to worry about just going for a run.