Around this time I had just landed my current job, located deep in San Francisco. I was to start right after New Year’s break. New year, new job, new transportation route.
I guess you can say it’s our family tradition to exchange Christmas gifts after returning home from my dad’s side’s Christmas Eve celebration. We get home during the early AM hours. My sisters and parents will all get settled down, change into pajamas, put away gifts we received, and eventually meet upstairs at the livingroom to exchange the gifts we got for each other.
My older sister handed me my gift. I forgot what the main gift was, but I sure as hell remember the 2nd gift. I unwrapped the littler present to discover a pink can of pepper spray, keychain addition.
“…uh, okay?” I probably said. My little sister got the same gift jr.
“You’re gonna work in San Francisco now and be walking home at night. You never know.” Spoken like a true Ate.
At the time, I probably thought it was a bit dramatic, but was thankful because my broke ass didn’t have to buy it for myself.
I never put my pepper spray to use, but roaming through San Francisco all hours of the night – from night classes to just being out – I realized this was something I should’ve had a long time ago. Especially as a woman.
It made me feel more safe being out. Walking home from Bart, I would keep it in one hand, tucked under my sleeve. Paranoid, I know. I knew I most likely wouldn’t need it, but I wanted to be prepared at all times. I always thought of scenarios where I have my pepper spray in my backpack or something, and then something happens where I need it, and it’s not like I’m going to say, “Wait, ma’am-sir, pause, I have pepper spray in my backpack if you could so kindly wait for me to retrieve it…” Nah. If my parents taught me anything, its trust nobody, and be aware of your surroundings.
Almost a full year of having said pepper spray, not once did I ever have to use it. However, I came close to using it during that racist Uber ride, you know, the story I tell on “This Is America.” But I thankfully never had to actually push that button.
My cousins and I took our first big cousins trip, and we were 23 1/2 people deep in SoCal. We decided to look around Downtown Disney, and so much had changed since the last couple times I’ve been. There were metal detectors and stop gates. I don’t know why that shocked me, but I do understand the “why” and the necessity of these check points. I gave them my bag and hella forgot my pepper spray was in there.
“You’re going to have to toss this out or we need to take it.” The police officer told me.
I must say, I was that bitch. “What?! Why? I need it. If I give it to you, will you give it back to me later when I leave?”
The answer was no. I debated with them for about 2 minutes before I finally caved in. Bye bye pepper spray. I was annoyed about parting ways with my pepper spray, and my cousin thought it was lame too. He reassured me that he would try to get it back for me when we left.
When we made our way out of Downtown Disney, my cousin tried to talk his talk with the police officers.
“But come on, she works in downtown San Francisco! It gets dangerous! That’s how she feels safe! It makes her feel like a woman!” He told them, halfway serious and halfway laughing.
At the end of it, I didn’t get it back. I was more so irritated over the fact that I had to buy a replacement. I didn’t realize how unsafe I would feel walking home without it though. When work started up again after the school’s winterbreak, I dreaded walking home by myself. It was still winter time, so it got dark around 5 pm.
I was scared to walk home with my earphones on. I turned around behind me often. I kept my phone and valuables tucked away and hidden. I would even tuck in my chain so it wasn’t visible at first glance. I’m a tough girl, and I’m sure I could fend for myself and fight like a badass, but what terrified me was being defenseless against someone with a weapon.
But then I thought, “I’ve had the pepper spray for over a year and never had to use it. I’m good until I get a replacement.”
Early months of 2019
I will admit that it took weeks to even maybe a month or 2 to replace my pepper spray. It actually took a scary encounter for me to get it asap.
I was walking home from Bart. It was really dark out, even though it had to be around 6-6:30 pm. There’s 2 guys about to cross the street, they’re about 1.5 steps into crossing, but then they turn and look at me, then at each other, and they trade words. They turn back around. And they step back on the sidewalk and stand behind me, as we’re waiting to cross the street, perpendicular to where they were about to cross.
“Oh fuck nah,” I thought to myself.
I started walking to cross the street, and of course they followed. I’m not even trying to throw shade, but they were legit probably homeless, high on drugs, or both. One was wrapped in a blanket, and they both seemed like they haven’t bathed. Once I got to the sidewalk and they were still following me, I got a bad feeling. So I turned into the dollar store so they could walk off and leave me alone.
Negative. They waiting outside of the dollar store. Just standing there, looking at me, and waiting for me to walk out.
I. Think. The. Fuck. Not.
I started freaking out a little bit. I pretended to shop around and would look up at the exit every now and then. They were still there. Guarding the door, I would definitely have to pass them to exit. I panicked.
Should I call an Uber? That’s such a waste of money, my house is literally 4 blocks away. I’d have to pass them anyways to call an Uber. Do I tell the workers? But what are they even gonna do?
I started going to the back aisles so I was no longer in plain sight. I started dodging, going deeper into the store. Making it hard for them to pinpoint exactly where I was. One of the guys entered the dollar store, the other stayed outside. Then the 2nd man went inside and pretended to be looking at stuff closest to the exit. I inched closer to the exit and waited for both of their backs to be turned. I was legit calculating my moves, if I fuck up and exit at the wrong time, it’ll get creepy real quick.
Thankfully, they both had their backs towards the door, and I saw my opportunity and ran. And when I mean ran, I literally mean ran. I ran out of the dollar store, probably looking like I stole something. I ran for about a block and a half, looking behind me to see if they were following or running as well. I didn’t see them.
That experience was so crazy. I felt so unsafe and defenseless. A day or 2 later I got a new mace pepper spray.
It made me sad to know that I only feel safe when I know I have spray on me. And even with pepper spray, sometimes we still don’t feel safe. And I know that this is the sad reality of a lot of women. The extra steps women (not to forget gay and trans people) take to feel safe is mindboggling. From what you carry, to what shoes you wear, to what clothes you wear, to what route you walk, etc. We learn at a young age to be aware of our surroundings and those around us more than the average heterosexual male. “Not safe” is engraved in our minds. And it sucks when real events support that theory.