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I rode my bike today.

The autumn sky is turquoise, the leaves newly yellow, the air unseasonably warm. I quit work early, too nice to stay indoors; these days are fleeting in Oregon.

IT begins as I exit my neighborhood and ride past the construction site. Their cause is noble, returning a duck pond to a salmon run, but the mirrored stares of the workers follow me the length of the chain link fence. I enter a quiet side road, ride in the center of the street, eye each parked van for predators. An ajar driver’s side door sends me reeling into the oncoming lane; a factoid remembered from some cautionary tale.

The houses look empty mid day. I see the occasional grandparent walking a small child on the sidewalk, but the streets are teeming with white pickup trucks: heating/cooling, plumbing, and lawn care. They cruise the avenues, trail and startle like sharks. I am saddened by the number of times I plan my escape, reroute my direction, duck and pause to avoid the men inside. I am sickened to realize how often I envision my own rape.

An elderly man in a convertible stops to let me proceed at the intersection, then follows, races ahead and pulls over. He smiles and waves as he exits the car. I fly by without gesture, unable to trust or take chances.

The address I seek is across a small highway and I find the bike bridge that will take me over it. Gliding over the span, above the cars and semis and people caught in the grind, for a moment, I feel free.

I land on a bike path that leads east toward Mt. Hood, a dormant, snowcapped volcano. The path is lined with blood red maples and golden oaks; high clouds feather the open sky. I cannot slow to take it in. I am the only woman on the trail. I pass professional men in Lycra suits, their bikes worth more than my car. I pass men on benches with all of their belongings. A man ahead stands on a bridge overlooking the railroad tracks, mesmerized by the moving cars, until I pass. All of them stop to take me in, survey me like scenery, run their eyes over the landscape.

I just turned 46. I am wearing a helmet, sunglasses, and a windbreaker zipped up to my neck. Will it ever stop? I ride until I can no longer ignore the voice, the one that whispers always, and sometimes screams. You are not safe here. This is not safe.

I turn around. I pick up speed, downshift to maximize the power of my legs and lungs. I broaden my shoulders and put on my warrior mask. I blow past the men. Don’t even think about it.

Comments

Your post terrified me. I read it heart in my mouth certain the worst was going to happen. Yes, it was a beautiful day. Yes, women everywhere live in fear. Sadly, there is wisdom in that fear. Sadly.

Leigh Anne Kranz's picture

Wisdom in Fear

Dear Potter,

I did not intend for my piece to be so terrifying. :) I'm sorry to make you feel this way about your own home town. However, yes, you are absolutely correct--it IS terrifying. Perhaps in this country, women do not encounter some of the more blatant forms of misogyny and gender-based violence that others experience--however, we live with the ever-present threat looming beneath the sunny surface. We can never fully relax or let our guard down.

I agree with you. Sadly, there is wisdom in this acknowledgement. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this piece. I'm glad we are now connected.

LA

Mukut's picture

I read this twice !

This is awesome and scary at the same time. The way you described the details sent shivers down my spine. I "saw" what you saw and felt what you felt.

Brilliant ! The message is loud and clear - women live in fear, but now and then we put on our "warrior mask" and "blow past the men".

Love and thanks for sharing this.

Mukut Ray

Leigh Anne Kranz's picture

Warrior Mask

Dear Mukat,

I am honored that you would read my piece twice. Thank you for taking the time to ride with me. :) It saddened me to see written down how much fear accompanied me on that ride, how many monsters jumped out at me on the sunny bike trail. I love what you said about how, despite our constant fear, we STILL sometimes rise above it, with power and courage. THAT is what we do.

I am so glad we connected. Thank you so much.
LA

Dear Leigh Anne,

As both Potter and Mukut have said, your cinematic writing evokes significant tension from the reader; after I finished reading, I realized that my shoulders had come up around my ears. Whew.

Sometimes, I wish I could be a man for a day (preferably a die-hard construction worker) so that I could understand WHAT IT IS that makes men react the way they do to women, and I'm not talking about testosterone; I'm talking, I believe, about some unbridled sense of shameless entitlement that many/most men have -- STILL, long after the Neanderthal Age -- wherein they actually think it's okay to intimidate, embarrass and ultimately violate women in this way.

Oh, the stories I could tell!

But I won't, at least for the moment.

For the moment I will be grateful to you for this particular contribution, as well as all the others you are making to the betterment of the world.

With Love and Support,

Your Friend Sarah

Leigh Anne Kranz's picture

The Stories YOU Could Tell

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for reading my piece. As always, I welcome your wisdom and support.

YES--some unbridled sense of entitlement. Over time, this tendency has become intertwined with the definition of "manhood". It is time to EVOLVE beyond this.

I, for one, would be interested in "the stories that you could tell". I feel it is important that these stories see the light of day.

HUG,
LA

Zoepiliafas's picture

Chills

Your story is mine as well. It gave me chills! I feel lurking threat of violence almost everyday of my life.

Thank you for writing this. I will have to share with my community!

Regards,

Zoe

Zoe Piliafas

Voices of Our Future Community Manager
World Pulse

Leigh Anne Kranz's picture

Lurking Threat

Hi Zoe,

Thank you for writing. It is "nice" to know that it isn't just me. :) It is sad that we live with this constant, subliminal fear, even in a town like Portland. I felt sheepish about even posting this, amid the WP stories about more direct threats. But it is real. It oppresses me! This is my work--in my city, in my country, in these times.

I feel like I know you through Delphine, but look forward to meeting soon!
Leigh Anne

Dearest friend,

The talent that you have in writing is truly amazing. I can't wait to read you more and hopefully a book someday!
I wanted to share with you a poem from Zoe, which I am sure will speak to you: https://soundcloud.com/delphine-criscenzo/suit-of-armor-for-work-poem
I love you so dearly!

Delphine Criscenzo
Online Training Coordinator
World Pulse
www.worldpulse.com

Leigh Anne Kranz's picture

Poem

Dear Delphine,

Thank you for your kind words, and for reading the first writing I have ever shared in a public space. It wrote itself, quickly. Usually, I labor for months (years!) over my stuff before it is "ready"--but this was different. It was something that simply had to "come out".

Thank you also for sharing Zoe's poem. WOW. Powerful, and (sadly) will resonate with so many women in this world.

Also, THANK YOU for all that you have added to my life. Especially, World Pulse! :)

Love you, dear friend.
LA

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