Why is this? Well, I thought to myself while following a dappled path through Prospect Park, the fact is that I feel vulnerable when I am outside alone. On regular days I may just feel a little conspicuous - that is, I feel as though I don't want anyone looking at me. On good days I'm alright with it, but on bad days it devolves into downright social anxiety. In my mind, somebody, or some persons, are out to get me, whether it's with a few rude comments or an outright attack, and I must remain alert at all times, and scurry home as soon as my business is done.
Today was one of the bad days, for some reason, and while I'd had a lovely day wandering much of the neighbourhood with a friend-cum-longstanding AC client, as soon as she was gone, I felt strange. I decided that it was a beautiful day and it was time to get my butt to the park and get some sun and exercise, rather than sitting in my hidey-hole for hours. The previous day I'd barely ventured outside - only to do some quick grocery shopping - and I worry that feeding my neurosis only worsens it. So it was that around five thirty I found myself meandering through a groomed forest, and wondering why, instead of enjoying the greenery and light, I was having visions of scenes from The Blair Witch every time I looked around at the trees.
Why am I so afraid? I thought. Is it because my mother left our house when I was six, imprinting some kind of lack of protection on my tender brain? Is it because I grew up as one of the only white kids in a tough neighbourhood, routinely chided and threatened? Is it because of the training I received as a child of the 1970s, that strangers might try to kidnap and rape little kids, or at least put razor blades in their Halloween apples? Is it due to the two minor muggings I've been through, where I wasn't even badly hurt... my alcoholic stepfather... the events of 9/11? Just what is it that makes me so tense while alone in public that I cannot enjoy a simple stroll?
I decided then and there that I was going to push forward, keep walking, and get out by myself more often. I'd go to the park alone again soon. Maybe Coney Island, maybe a movie and lunch. I would wander with no direction, perhaps even without my ever-present iPod and camera that I sometimes use to separate a part of myself from the rest of the world. Here I was, on a gorgeous day in a gorgeous park, dozens of happy people just down the path enjoying the late summer sunshine without the slightest tremor of doubt, and I was going to continue down this path and enjoy it, too.
And that's when I saw the ragged looking half-undressed guy lurking behind a tree.