A balmy damp night in August, I’m 22 and for another night on the trot I’m toppling home alone after being out at a club. I’m drunk and I’m wired, my ears ringing from the speakers I’d been dancing too close to. It’s a school night and it’s 3.30 am. I can hear the birds singing. It’s so still, it’s so calm but I’m walking fast, badly, in my platform boots. My skirt is squeaky from the sweat and beer I’ve spilt on it. My makeup has long since slid off my face and the cooling breeze plasters my damp hair to my head like a newly bathed child. Yesterday I fell out of my taxi, I managed to get my address across to the driver, I managed to pay him, but I was too drunk to stand. I woke up on my landing at 8.30am when my neighbour left for work. I’d made it through the main front door but not my own front door. But today, no taxis, I’d been certain I’d have thrown up if I’d taken one.
I can hear the birds singing, keeping time with my footsteps, they carry on regardless you know, whether we’re drunk or sober, walking late at night or on a Wednesday lunchtime, the world keeps turning, the trees keep growing and the birds keep singing.
I’ve never been accosted while walking, late at night or otherwise, I’ve had verbal abuse chucked my way, a “get your tits out” here, a “wanna sit on my face” there. But I’ve never been attacked as a young woman, I’ve never suffered in that way. Many have and when they were attacked, when a perpetrator singled them out they did so for a multitude of reasons. I can only guess at those myriad impulses to attack and in many ways I’m not concerned with trying to figure them out. Perhaps I should be-I know it feels like it must be helpful to understand the mindset of an attacker, “to be forwarned is forarmed” they say, except that would suggest that you are learning to aim to avoid the attack. Why do I, as a potential victim – which all women are, have to understand my would-be attacker’s makeup? To understand what provokes them, what makes them tick? Frankly that is the role of pschologysts and those in the job of rehabilitating the emotionally damaged among us, those people who choose to attack others.
My role, as I see it, is simple. It is to be me, to live my life, to choose or not choose to stumble out of taxis, to wander home in the early hours with the breeze on my damp skin. My role is to do this without fear of abuse, without fear of violation and I do not accept that this is idealistic. This is my right. I know that men run the risk of being mugged and also randomly attacked when out late at night, hell it happens during the day, but I feel certain it is not something they actively consider when they choose to walk home from a party or a club, not in the same way as I or my female friends have done.
Still, those birds keep singing and the nights keep coming and going and those girls that were me all those years ago still take their walks home. Those girls still have their fear and those girls still face their attackers and nothing has really changed, not in the time I’ve been part of the dance.
I live in hope that those girls one day and one day soon won’t carry those fears on their backs and will never have to look that fear in the face whether on their walk home, or when they reach their destination, their supposed place of safety. Where they “should have been tucked up in their beds like the good little girls they are”. Because the truth is, the fear carries on when they’re through the door, for so many women that fear is waiting for them, on the sofa, lying in the bed, sat at the kitchen table, long after the taxi has driven away.