Dear me at 18,
You’ve always had a recurring nightmare in which some dangerous villain is pursuing you and you are trying desperately to dial 9-1-1, but your fingers keep slipping.
You keep having to hang up and start over, only to fudge the order again, as the bad guy approaches and doom is imminent. You know in your heart that if you could just reach the 9-1-1 operator, you would be safe. But your fingers just won’t work.
Tonight, you made a mistake.
You took a chance that you’ve taken many times before. A simple walk. A stretch of residential street lined with beautiful Victorian homes, tall Oak trees and hip old-fashioned bicycles tied to front porches.
Having recently scored your first fake ID, there is nothing more fun and exciting than heading downtown to your favourite lounge, waxing poetic with the University crowd and pretending to be totally grown up.
Your best friend and you have repeated this ritual for several weeks now. You drive your Mother’s car to the Annex and park in a local School parking lot. Since it’s after school hours, the lot is empty, and also completely free of charge. From there, the two of you make the 10 minute walk to the back alley where the entrance to the bar is hidden away.
Your Mother has been repeatedly reminding you to keep your wits about you while walking to and from your car. She’s concerned about the area you’re walking. She doesn’t like the idea of two young girls walking alone to an empty parking lot, late at night, in an area known for housing some less than savoury characters.
You thought she was being over-the-top. Until tonight.
Walking back to your car, your girlfriend and you were chattering away about some guy you met, or about some song that was playing, or about a joke the waiter made before you left. You were totally engrossed in conversation. So engrossed, in fact, that you were unaware of the man who was following you to your car. At first, he kept his distance so as not to alert you to his presence. But as you walked further down the residential street, and as you became increasingly isolated from the Bloor Street pedestrian traffic, he started to get closer.
At some point, both you and your girlfriend began to hear the sound of approaching footsteps. They were getting faster. You looked at each other, assessing one another’s panic levels, both trying to remain cool. As you turned your head backwards, the man stopped. He dropped his pants. He was looking at the both of you in a way you’ve never experienced before.
Suddenly the street seemed significantly more remote. The street lights seemed distant and marred by the trees. The only sound you could hear was your racing heartbeat. There was a very long moment in which the man and you locked gazes. You will never forget the look in his eyes. A voice from within you yelled so loudly you had no choice but to listen.
Your girlfriend and you were panting by the time you reached the next major intersection. You were now standing amidst romantic eateries, couples sharing plates of spaghetti and bottles of red wine. Sparkly Christmas lights adorned the trees. You’d never been more confused in your life. Sheer terror still had its grip firmly on your chest and you were now surrounded by people enjoying lovely meals in fancy outfits. Your exposed pursuer was nowhere to be found and life as usual had continued for the rest of the planet.
“Oh my God,” said your friend, “What the hell do we do?” You reached into your purse and took out your cell phone. Fingers shaking, you dialed 9-1-1. You hit the buttons in the right sequence first try. But it rang and rang. So many rings. It seemed like an eternity until a voice answered-
“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
“I’m standing on Harbord street right near Central Tech High School and we need police immediately!”
“What is your emergency?” It felt as if hours had transpired since you first dialed the number.
“My friend and I were walking down the street and a man followed us to our car and pulled down his pants and we ran as fast as we could. We need police here right away!”
“Is the man still following you?”
“What? Uh, no. I mean, I don’t know. I mean, I still have to walk back to my car, but I don’t feel safe because he could still be waiting for us-”
“Maam, do you know how many calls we get like this in a night?”
Your heart dropped.
In an instant, you realized that the people on whom you had always relied to keep you safe, wouldn’t always be able to do so. The police weren’t coming. No cars would be dispatched regarding your emergency. On the Toronto 9-1-1’s scale of urgency, you were on a level of minus 13. They could not have cared less.
You’re alive. You’re safe. Though shaken, you’re unharmed. You should be very grateful.
Because, make no mistake: the margin between what you experienced, and something much, much, worse is so small that it’s nearly imperceptible. A different man, a different night, a different time, and all the tiny variances in between and you might not have survived. You might have wound up with a stalker who wanted much more than to simply flash you his junk (and unimpressive junk at that, by the way. Loser.)
Tonight you will safely return to your car. You will walk through the doors of your parents’ house in suburbia and climb into your bed and onto the crisp cotton sheets that your Mother just cleaned for you. You’ll be a little jumpy, but you will fall asleep and wake up to a new day.
Your Mother knows what she’s talking about. I know that living in your teenaged world can make you feel like you’re invincible right now, but the sad fact is that you’re not. Quit taking chances that could lead you to consequences much more real, and much more terrifying than any recurring nightmare. Start treating your life and your safety like the gift that they are. Protect them even when it seems like you’re being over-the-top.
Because believe me, my friend. When you do finally return home safe, I can promise you, you’ll never be sorry.