In May or June or possibly April of 2010, I propped the front door of my apartment building open with one knee and sorted through the pile of mail in the entryway. I'd just gotten home from work, the sun was still out, children were playing just up the block — it was safe — and still, when I sensed that someone was behind me on the stoop, a little too close, my heart seized up in terror.
The man behind me — I knew it was a man even before I turned around — mumbled something and then shoved me hard into the door. It was only a second, maybe two, but I knew right away what he was doing. He was shoving me into the closed entryway, away from the street, away from view. The door was heavy and made of metal and I knew that if he could get it shut behind me, he could kill me. He could rape me. One half of my life was on the outside of the door and the other was on the inside. And so I screamed.
I screamed louder than I ever have before. He knocked me over when he shoved me but I was sitting upright and I balled up my fists and reached deep into my diaphragm and screamed with all the force of 29 years worth of internalised terror.
"You fucking bitch," said the man. His face was twisted with pure rage. At the sight of it I screamed again and pushed myself forward through his legs. He grabbed for me. He got a chunk of hair. I tumbled down the row house steps. I ran across the street and I screamed and screamed and screamed as he dumped the contents of my bag onto the stoop, grabbed my wallet and my Blackberry and took off running.
When the police came, very quickly, I slouched to the pavement and started weeping. I felt like I owed the officers an explanation for my hysterics.
"Right now?" asked one of them. His voice was pitched with alarm.
"No, no. When I was a little girl. My mother was murdered when I was a little girl."
I'm not sure what I was trying to get across to them. Nothing had happened to me. Not really. My knees and elbows were skinned from my fall down the short set of concrete stairs. I had a tiny chunk of missing hair. But nothing had actually happened.
So I wanted them to understand why I couldn't stop shaking. I wanted them to understand my certainty that something very bad could easily have happened. I wanted them to understand my fear, cultivated by generational trauma, nurtured everyday by catcalls and rape jokes, and reinforced by the experiences of so many women I knew.
I think about that day all the time. I think about it when I get off the subway. I think about it when I stop in an ATM vestibule. I think about it when my mind wanders and I'm not really thinking about anything.
I've been thinking about it, of course, over the last week, watching the Kavanaugh hearings. I thought about it while I watched Christine Blasey Ford testify about a sexual assault that happened to her more than thirty years ago and that traumatised her still while the country picked apart her every word and intonation.
I thought about it yesterday when Donald Trump told reporters, "It is a very scary time for young men in America."
I thought, "Has this man ever really been scared, ever really feared for his life, ever seriously considered the idea that somebody might hurt him, attack him, rape him, kill him?"
I thought about the idea that it's a scary time for men. I thought, "Good. Now they know what it's like to be a cis white woman, a trans woman, a woman of colour. I hope they're scared. Because we are all the time." I thought this and I did not feel bad.
Studies show that 35% of women worldwide have experienced sexual or physical violence in their lives. More than half of all homicide victims are murdered by an intimate partner or acquaintance. Ninety percent of all murders — men and women — are committed by men.
And even as Trump frets publicly about the safety of men (by which he means the safety of men's reputations) privately he very nearly allowed the Violence Against Women Act, which ensures programs, funding and protections for victims of rape and domestic violence, to expire on September 30. It's been granted a short reprieve — until December 7 — to be reauthorised.
It has always been a scary time to be a woman.
Women are taught to be vigilant on the street. To be aware of our surroundings. To carry our keys between our fingers. To let our friends and family know where we will be and when. To cover up our bodies. We are taught to defend ourselves against the ever present threat of male violence.
Women are taught that given the chance, men will rape and kill us. To many, this sounds hyperbolic, maybe. This sounds shrill. This sounds like hysteria. This sounds like the kind of thinking that leads women to falsely accuse men of sexual harassment and assault. This sounds like the kind of thinking that leads to a "witch hunt" — which is hilarious because historically it's the women who are the witches and the men who are hunting them. This sounds like the kind of statement that stokes a worldwide panic that is going to ruin the lives of men.
It sounds like the kind of thing that might make the world a scary place for men right now.
Welcome to our reality. It has always been a scary time to be a woman.
Later on that night, May or June or April of 2010, after the police had driven me around the neighbourhood looking for the man who attacked me, I sat in the precinct and scrolled through page after page of mugshots on an ancient computer monitor.
"You can tell you're getting to the old ones when you start to see the flat top haircuts," joked one of the police officers.
They warned me, very sternly, that if I picked out a face among these photos they would go to that man's house and they would arrest him. They warned me that I needed to be 100% certain that I had the right man. They were right, of course. But already the contours of my attacker's face were receding into my memory. He was fuzzy. All eyes and hands. His face was a mask of hate I'd never pick out in any of these photos.
I told the officers that I couldn't positively ID anyone. They told me that was OK. It was normal.
"We usually don't catch these guys for anything until they kill their wives or girlfriends," said one of them.
He meant it to be reassuring.