December 15, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Ronit Plank
1) Tie up your hair so you don’t look as much like a girl.
2) Walk like you have the right to be out late on your own.
3) When you feel the hairs on your neck stand up, the last vestiges of animal instinct in these 2020s warning you something’s not right, don’t turn around. Walk faster.
4) The man behind you hasn’t made any sound but you can feel he’s closer. When you turn and see him twenty feet away: tall, dressed in black, his skin ghostly, his face almost paper white, his eyes fixed on you, your limbs go numb. When he takes his pants down and begins to touch himself, hurry across the street and head for the nearest house, the one with the glowing doorbell, understanding if nobody answers, both you and the man will know you are truly alone.
5) Blame yourself for being in this position, for not listening to the voice in your head that sounds like your father’s telling you not to walk by yourself at night.
6) Ring the bell. Ring it again. Ask yourself why you thought you would be okay. From childhood you have been worried about getting hurt in this way: this is a story as inevitable as wolves who wait for fairytale maidens in the dark wood.
7) Hurry back to the main road to look for someone who can help you, but don’t run. If you run he might begin chasing you. When you see two men walking together call to them for help. Push aside your mistrust; you need these strangers. Grow suspicious when they offer to walk you home themselves, but don’t insult them. Don’t say “no”, keep talking and get them to come with you to the pay phone on the corner. Be nice enough so they will stay while you dial 911 and wait for the police. You don’t want them to get frustrated with you or hurt you or leave.
8) Feel thankful for the policeman who gets you back to your empty house and checks the rooms for you. Begin to let your guard down, to trust what he says. To believe you will be all right.
9) After the policeman leaves sit frozen on your bed. Your movements are tentative. Even the water that drips out of the bathroom faucet is too loud. Don’t make any noise so if someone is coming for you, you will hear them before they hear you.
10) Keep all the lights on at night for the next week. Do not go out when it’s dark. Look over your shoulder. Don’t trust your instincts. Don’t do things alone. Know that you are one of the lucky ones who got away.
Ronit is a writer with work in The Atlantic, The Iowa Review, American Literary Review, The Washington Post, and others. She is also host and producer of the award-winning podcast And Then Everything Changed featuring stories about the pivotal moments in life and the decisions that define us. Her memoir When She Comes Back (Motina Books) will be published in May 2021 and her short story collection Home Is A Made-Up Place, winner of Hidden River Arts’ 2020 Eludia Award, will be published by Sowilo Press in 2022.