So often we hear from authorities and read advice in magazine articles telling women to “trust your instincts”. You’ll hear from survivors of attacks that they should have trusted their instincts; that they knew something wasn’t right but they ignored it. Women more often then men ignore those twinges and red flags going up in their minds because we don’t want to appear rude or bitchy or any other insult someone would throw our way. We tell ourselves that these feelings of uneasy aren’t our instincts but our anxiety, our discomfort with meeting someone new or being in a new place. We tell ourselves that we’re being crazy; that not everyone is out to get us. I know because this is exactly what I said to myself.
Last Thursday, I came home from picking up the kids from school. We live on a fairly busy street so I needed to wait to make my turn into our driveway. While I was waiting, I noticed a man walking away from the front door of my home. I quickly wrote it off as someone who was selling something, dropping off a flyer, or a representative from one of the churches or synagogues in the area. I pulled into my driveway and that’s when things got a little strange.
The man started walking back towards the house. I groaned and thought “he’s probably a Jehovah’s Witness”. He was clean cut, dressed nicely, and had some papers in his hands. I hate having to turn these people away. They mean well but I really don’t like the hard sell that many of them do. I feel like a heathen. I figured I’d just wait him out for a minute in my car and we could go in the house without having to interact. So we waited as this man stood on the sidewalk behind my car. And we waited some more and now the man was pacing behind my car, in my driveway. Back and forth; back and forth. I watched him in my rear view mirrors while I pretended to be engrossed with my phone. Then I lost him; I couldn’t see him anymore.
He reappeared at my passenger side door just staring, waiting for me to notice him. When I finally did, I rolled down my window an inch and before I could ask him what he wanted, he asked me “Are you the homeowner?” I told him that I was not the homeowner but didn’t elaborate any further and he just walked away from the house, down the street, and got into a pickup truck across the street. He didn’t say anything else, no explanation of why he was there or who exactly he was looking for, just this vague “homeowner” and then he left. Once he was in the truck, I hustled the kids and myself into the house and locked the door. I then looked out the window to see if he had left but he didn’t. He was still sitting in his truck and I could see his face in the driver’s side mirror, as if he were looking back at our house. He sat there for easily five minutes. Finally, the kids pulled my attention away and when I came back to the window he was gone.
The whole “event” from the time I pulled into the driveway until we were in the house may have been five minutes at most and nothing happened but it just left an odd feeling in my gut. I texted Tim to relay what I had just experienced simply for the opportunity to hear someone say that it was nothing, probably a sales person, and that I was being silly. But he didn’t. He came back with “I don’t like that. Call the police.”
In truth, I hemmed and hawed over calling the police for over a half hour. I tried to rationalize what had happened. The guy was young, maybe he was trying to sell solar panels (that’s a big thing in the area) and he was desperate for a sale since it’s so close to the holidays. Maybe he was a process server looking for our landlord for some reason. Maybe he was this or maybe he was that. I struggled to find a scenario that could explain his bizarre and frankly, intimidating behavior but I simply couldn’t. He didn’t have identification that I could readily see, he didn’t identify himself, he didn’t attempt to contact any of my neighbors after he struck out with me, and he didn’t ask who I was or where he could find the homeowner.
I could come up with a number of nefarious things he was actually doing. Maybe he was casing the house while I was out and trying to cover himself when I came home. The Department of Defense had recently told us that our information was part of a breach and that it could possibly be available to criminals. What if this guy had our information and he was doing some type of scouting? I had plenty of what if’s and no solid way of discounting any of them. I finally called the police a half hour after this took place.
The officer who came out thought it was odd behavior but he didn’t think it was too worrisome. I must have told him several times how I debated back and forth about even reaching out to them, that I felt silly, maybe I was making something out of nothing. He told me there was nothing wrong with calling them anytime an incident didn’t sit right with me. He assured me that I wasn’t taking away resources from someone who may need it more than I do. He did tell me to call sooner next time though, to just do it and they would prioritize it and see if it was something as harmless as a bumbling sales rep or something more sinister.
The more I think about it though the more upset I am with myself. Warning bells and red flags were going off in my head and I hesitated. If I had called sooner they may have actually been able to talk with the guy and found out what was really going on instead of leaving us all wondering. Even after the police left, I called my landlord to see if he could explain it away as a simple mix up. (He couldn’t explain it either.) If a friend had relayed this story to me and told me she called the police from her car, I would have told her over and over again that she did the right thing. I wouldn’t have told her she was being dramatic or blowing a situation out of proportion. I would have told her that she reacted appropriately to keep herself and her kids as safe as possible. I wouldn’t have doubted her actions for a second. Why then, is it so difficult for me to take my own advice? Why didn’t I trust my instincts immediately when they started going off?
Despite some of the horrible things that I have happened as of late, as a U.S. citizen I feel I live in a reasonably safe world. I don’t live in fear. I adhere to practicing awareness but I wouldn’t classify that as being fearful, just mindful of what is going on around me; to me that’s simple common sense. Did I hesitate because I take that safety for granted? Was I so shocked that something bad could actually happen that I tried to rationalize it away? Did I worry about what this man would have thought of me if the police did catch up with him and let him know I was the one who called them? When my alarms do start to sound I need to remind myself to toss aside any concern of what others might perceive of my actions and just do what is likely to keep me the safest I possibly can be in that situation. I need to remember the advice to “trust your instincts” and withhold my doubt.