Growing up in Lewiston, Maine – I was no stranger to the dangers of strangers. When I was a young boy, often roaming unchecked through the streets, I often encountered various ill-will characters that still haunt me to this day. Back then, I wasn’t able to defend myself. Back then, I was just a child. So, naturally, as I aged, I acquired an “I survived” mentality. It doesn’t mean I’m gung-ho, it doesn’t mean I’m overly aggressive – but you learn to follow that signal you get from your innards. It’s like a beacon firing off within your guts, sending a message to your legs to start pumping, sending your heart spinning underneath your ribcage. That feeling – it’s what you’re left with when you survive. Instinct. It makes you wary, it makes you metaphorically strip-search anyone who comes within your immediate vicinity. It can be unpleasant, especially for those you’re trying to let in – but it becomes a necessity after a while in order for you to keep unharmed, physically or mentally.
So, one night during the winter when I was in my 20’s, I was at my stepdad’s in Lewiston. At the time, I was living with my uncle over in Auburn. If you don’t know the two towns, Lewiston and Auburn are separated by the Androscoggin River, over which are a couple bridges. The walk was a little over three miles between my uncle’s and my stepdad’s, but I often made the trip daily in order to hang out with my brothers and sister, play video games, watch movies. Well, one night I stayed until the wee hours of the morning. Finally bidding everyone adieu, I walked downstairs and discovered that there was somewhat of a blizzard going on.
I remember that the streets were quiet. The kind of quiet that comes with the dampening of sound as the snow covers everything in white silence. Everyone was inside, it seemed, except for me. So I walked down the center lane of Main Street, toward the bridge. As I neared the bridge, I heard the rumble of a snow plow behind me. I felt a sudden surge of panic as the plow truck hurtled toward me, spraying snow from the sides in giant sheets. I pumped my legs as fast as I could and leaped into a snowbank at the end of the bridge on the Auburn side as the plow rumbled by, the driver no doubt confused at my sprinting. I stood up, dusted myself off, and began walking again toward my uncle’s. At this point, there was still just under two miles to go.
As I walked, I began to have all sorts of thoughts. Thoughts about work, about girls, about family, friends, and then – as anyone else who has anxiety, darker thoughts. Something occurred to me. If someone wanted to mug me – right now would be the perfect opportunity. It’s late, everyone is inside, and I have left footprints in the snow all this way. And so I started looking over my shoulder.
I went a long way before seeing the man behind me. He was a black silhouette against the stark white background of the snowfall. I gulped, thinking that I had been right, thinking that I had somehow invited this occurrence on myself. I saw him slowly following my footprints through the snow.
I moved forward, faster, finally reaching the driveway of an apartment building. I darted my head around. Solution, solution, solution. Where are you? Finally, I saw it. There was a large patch of tar where a car had presumably sat covering it during most of the beginning snowfall. So I stood where I was, and from there – jumped a good three feet onto the patch of tar. From there, I jumped another three feet to an alley running between two apartment buildings. My plan was to circle around, watch the man, see if he possibly meant me any ill-will.
I sneaked around the side of the building, the wind whipping snow crystals into my eyelashes. I poked my head out and watched the man – just now coming up on the driveway. He paused, examining my last set of footprints. He scanned his head around, as if to search for me. Right now, from where he was, it was looking like I’d just vanished.
I decided to be a little offensive, right then and there, and I popped out from behind the corner.
He saw me from out of the corner of his eye and immediately started walking fast, straight ahead. I followed, never letting more or less than five feet come between us. Sometimes he’d slow down, and then I would too. Sometimes, he’d speed up, and then I would too. I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do, just then – I just knew I didn’t want this guy to follow me home. Finally, we came to an intersection – and he booked it around the corner.
My adrenaline was already pumping. I didn’t want this guy to get away, to sneak up on me again. So I started running, just as I had on the bridge. Under the streetlights, we were two darkened figures running down a long, unspoiled white trail. Was he running because he was guilty? Was he running because he was scared? I was running because I was scared, because I was defiant.
He had gained some momentum during my introspection, and so I renewed my vigor. He turned down a street, arms flailing. I came sliding to a stop at the mouth of the street in a semi-crouch, staring at the rows of houses and the lines of snow-covered cars. I saw his hurried footprints trailing somewhere off into the distance – but he was gone. I sat like that for a long time, not sure what I should do. Eventually, I moved on, doubled back, took a different way than normal back to my uncle’s place. I even went so far as to brush away my footprints after moving onto his property, with a tree branch.
When I tell this story to people now, I explain that the guy could’ve been innocent – but that if he wasn’t, I saved myself from something like a mugging, or murder, or worse. I was proactive. I wonder if that guy was innocent, and he still tells stories about the weirdo kid who ambushed him and chased him down the street. How that weirdo kid sat crouched like a cat at the mouth of the street…just staring, before finally slinking away while he hid behind a car, wondering why he left his cellphone at home tonight of all nights.