Dear marginally-creepy guy at the gas station in Fremont,
I had just put $15 worth of 76 in my car and was pulling out when you appeared this morning, walking with a backpack looped over your shoulders. You spotted me and held up your finger, as in don't-drive-off-yet. Then you motioned for me to lower my window.
I thought, What? Is there a nail in my tire? Is something terribly wrong that you need help with? I briefly considered talking to you. I decided, No. You're not bleeding. And I don't care if my tire is slowly deflating. No. I shook my head and rolled forward.
It was over in ten seconds, yet I drove off angry.
As a girl, as a younger woman, I would've stopped to find out what you wanted. Even though I'd never seen you before, I would've figured you're an older man, you must know best. My mucky gullibility would've sucked at my ankles and held me fast so I'd hear you out.
A story: There was a summer when I was twenty and living in a Detroit suburb. I had just been fired from my job as an intern at a local magazine. I left the office in a frantic flurry, wanting to grab my things and get the hell out.
I jogged to catch the bus that would take me back to the house where I rented a room. As I sprinted, the bus passed my cross-street a good half mile ahead. It would be an hour until the next one. The walk home would take about an hour, too. But moving was better than standing, so off I went.
The afternoon was overcast and cool, and while I strode through the flat, endless blocks that connected St. Claire Shores to Grosse Pointe, the clouds fell to the ground. Umbrella-less, jacket-less, I was drenched. By the time I hit a stretch of businesses about ten minutes from where I lived, my hair hung in heavy, wet ropes, my clothes stuck to me. I was humiliated, sodden, and miserable.
Suddenly, a respectable looking middle-aged man burst from an office and called to me. I turned around, because that's what I did then. The man must have something important to tell me, after all, some business with me. So I pivoted.
That was when he began his schtick about modeling. He was a "photographer". Would I be interested in posing for him? Preferably in a swim suit or maybe even naked. Could he give me a ride the rest of the way home? Please? It was no trouble, really. His car was right out back.
Meanwhile I was shivering, still embarrassed about having lost my job, wondering how I'd pay to live the rest of the summer in Grosse Pointe. I also knew that, if I was dumb enough, I could end up some sort of victim to the unctuous phony standing before me.
Luckily, I did not to take the ride. I did not give him my phone number. And, after several minutes of standing under an awning, refuting and refusing a man I'd never met, and finally walking away, a trusted friend's brother saw me, swerved up to the sidewalk, and let me in his front seat.
Back in my room, I changed clothes, wrung out my hair and sobbed.
It had been a hard day. But the thing that bothered me, above all, was that I'd stopped, I'd turned around. I'd wasted energy and dignity standing face to face in discussion with a man who was clearly not simply kindly, or concerned. I owed him nothing.
There have been other stories, too. Stories that make me squirm to remember because I wasn't strong enough or confident enough to say No and keep my course.
And, gas station guy, you may have liked the looks of me or thought I seemed like an easy target, but I owed you not a damn thing either. I'm double the age I was that summer in Grosse Pointe and if you're not a friend, if your eyes are etched with lines the least bit menacing (because, I'm sorry to say, sometimes we must make snap judgments), I won't stop for you. I won't open myself up to you.