I’ve taken my time with this post because I didn’t know how to write it. I struggled most of last week, both with the situation and with if and how I should share it. What it comes down to is that it’s important to know that we can’t take our safety for granted, and always have to be the most active of participants in our own protection.
I follow “the rules.”
I don’t go running by myself without letting at least one person know where I am and when I’ll be back.
If I’m alone, I keep my headphones off or low enough that I can clearly hear around me. I listen for footsteps or cars.
I make eye contact.
I rely on my height and my build, standing tall and “making myself large,” as if I’m dealing with grizzly bears and not random people I pass on the sidewalk.
Stay aware. Be alert. Don’t look lost. Don’t make yourself a target. Know your exit strategy. Because that’s what you’ve been taught, what you’ve learned.
Because that’s what you do.
Those are the rules.
But even when you do those things, when you play by those rules, someone can walk up to you in broad daylight, insert themselves into your space, and make uninvited, unwanted contact without batting an eye. And you’re left wondering what the hell just happened and trying to shrug off the slimy, icky film that now seems to cling to you.
When our community gym opened, we had the option to fill out a waiver for extended hours. Mr PugRunner took care of it, and reported that I could now get in those early morning workouts if I wanted.
I had checked out the area while on one of my pre-dawn runs, however, and I wasn’t sure I felt confident about security. Not enough flood lights. Locks and doors not quite substantial enough. No big windows open to the road. In short: should things happen to go sideways, there would be no one to see me in distress and no one to hear me scream.
He looked at me funny, but said nothing. He’s used to my little idiosyncrasies after almost 12 years of marriage, and the conversation was over. Daytime gym time, here we come.
Things were great. Sometimes I was alone. Sometimes I worked out alongside people I knew and sometimes alongside strangers. I was always pleasant, said “hello” and “have a nice day”, and was careful not to hoard equipment.
But even with that, in spite of it, I found myself in a position of vulnerability. Minding my own business, running on the treadmill.
At which point, a person who I have only seen a handful of times, with whom I have exchanged the most superficial of words, whose name I do not even know, came right up to the left side of my treadmill and wrapped his arm around behind me. In a hug? His arm or hand made contact with my lower back and hip and I remember kind of wiggle stepping away on the moving belt because I was sweating and, like most people, prefer not to be touched when sweating.
I prefer not to be touched by people I don’t know at all.
I should have said something. I should have called him out and told him to keep his hands to himself. But then I thought maybe I had it all wrong. No one else batted an eye (the man had a companion with him). Maybe I was being dramatic. Maybe he was just trying to be friendly. Maybe it was all an innocent misunderstanding. Maybe it wasn’t.
For the rest of the day, I second guessed. I was embarrassed that I was bothered by this seemingly small and meaningless gesture, and angry for not standing up for myself. Absurdly, I blamed myself for putting myself in a position where this could happen, then went over the things I could have done differently, then raged that I couldn’t even go for a run without having to be on my guard.
I’m ok. I am. I’m disappointed in myself for not being stronger but I know better for next time. I have been back to the gym twice since that incident, but I went at a different time to minimize the chance of running into him and I wasn’t sorry to take a few days off due to other obligations. I need to get back on that horse, though. The longer I wait, the harder it will be.
I am entitled to be in that space, without worrying about that space being invaded by anyone. We are all entitled to that. My guard is up, now, and I will be sure to keep myself from being in that same position again.
What are the extra methods you employ to keep yourself safe?
Have you ever had an unwanted or unpleasant encounter while working out? How did you deal with it?