I was fortunate enough to have to means to break my lease, so I left the studio immediately. I wound up moving into a spacious one-bedroom apartment in a Bed-Stuy brownstone owned by an older couple. They lived in the building, along with some of their extended family and their close friend. After some careful consideration, I decided to tell the couple what had happened to me. I felt guilty and worried that I had been overly paranoid about my safety because of my assault. They reassured me that they weren’t going to let anyone ever hurt me. Because I had communicated so directly with my landlords about my fear of living alone, I felt incredibly safe during the three years I called the brownstone home — perhaps the safest I’d ever felt living anywhere.
During the fall of 2014, I decided to sublet my apartment for two months because I wanted to explore living in Detroit. I had some acquaintances there, but I planned to spend most of my time working and making art. In my new temporary living space, I had four roommates. Within the first week, I had already become close friends with all of them and everyone else I met was incredibly kind and welcoming to me. Detroit’s community was small and intimate. I realized I preferred the dynamic of a tight-knit community over New York’s vastness.
During that fall, I entered an open relationship with a very sweet and sensitive guy in Detroit and I made the decision to relocate permanently. It took me a few months to pack up my apartment in New York and find a new place to rent in Detroit, but I eventually found a small house that was very close to both my best friend and my boyfriend.
There was something about the density of Brooklyn that frightened me. Even though Detroit technically had a higher crime rate, I didn’t feel as concerned about my own personal safety, because there were simply fewer people around. Even though that made me feel at ease, I slowly began to feel anxious again. There was an abandoned house across the street that had been boarded up and I eventually noticed a person was occupying the upstairs floor. Even though I never saw their face, I spotted objects in the window being shifted around day to day.
This ominous, faceless presence frightened me, so I kept my curtains shut at all times. My boyfriend came over one afternoon and threw open the front window. I hesitated momentarily, then told him that I felt more comfortable with the curtains shut. He looked me over with an expression of both disgust and concern.
“Look, I know you just moved here from fancy-schmancy New York and all, but you’re not in danger here.”
I felt terrible. Was I overreacting? Maybe it was narcissistic for me to believe that someone was out there watching me, learning my daily habits, and waiting for the perfect opportunity to get me alone and assault me. I explained to my boyfriend that I was concerned about the presence in the house across the street, but he bluntly told me that even if someone was there, they wouldn’t hurt me. While I knew he was trying to be reassuring, part of me felt like he couldn’t be bothered to spend a single ounce of energy attempting to empathize with me.
My girlfriends worried about forgetting to lock the front door or getting spied on through their windows, but I’ve never heard one of my guy friends worry over these things. I began to resent the fact that women I knew feared for their safety — even in their own homes — while men were constantly minimizing our concerns with a joke or a shrug.