I expected the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 1 to be an ordinary evening. Boy, was I wrong. Every other Wednesday after work I usually run to town and get my two boys some fast food for dinner. It’s their treat because we don’t eat fast food that often. My oldest son was at his friend’s house so I only had my youngest with me and as it turns out, that was probably for the best, or I fear my oldest would’ve caught himself a charge while trying to defend my honor.
We went to McDonald’s on 70 E and I took the “beeline” home. I had already decided to stop at that Town Star that sits behind Everglades Elementary and throw a few more bucks in my gas tank because I spend a lot of time driving teenagers around.
There was a small SUV in front of me as I made the merge from 70 onto 710 and it was going about 10 miles under the speed limit, which was annoying but also dangerous because it holds up the flow of traffic on a road where semis and personal vehicles alike tend to average about 60 mph. As I approached the blinking light on 710, the SUV turned on his right turn signal and moved into the turning lane to turn right onto Southeast 36th Terrace but then, at the very last second, the driver jerked the SUV back out onto 710 in front of me. It was so close it’s a wonder I didn’t rear-end him. So I tapped my horn twice to let him know that wasn’t cool. That’s all I did, tap it. I didn’t lay on the horn like some people do when they get cut off. I wanted to let the driver know that what they had done was dangerous without being rude about it.
I thought it was finished and I kept driving down the road. When I turned into Town Star to get my gas I noticed that the SUV was turning in there as well. A part of me thought, “Oh great, what if this person starts something with me because I honked at them?” but I didn’t really think they would.
I parked my car at a pump and got out, noticing that the driver of the SUV did the same thing. As I was walking around my car to go inside and pay, the male driver said, “Was that you that honked at me?” and I didn’t deny it. I said, “Yes.” If he wanted to have a calm discussion about it, fine.
But that’s not what happened.
The first thing he did was say, “F$%! you.” When he failed to elicit a reaction from me as I continued towards the store, he continued with a barrage of offensive insults. He called me every name you can imagine: A fat cow, an idiot, a loser. Those are just the names that I can say here, the rest I cannot. Let’s just say, he called me the word for a woman with “loose morals.” I requested that he please stop because my young son was in the car witnessing this entire interaction. The man apparently didn’t care.
He moo-ed at me the entire time I was walking up to the store to pay for the gas. I figured once he had it out of his system that would be the end of it and we could both move on with our lives. Of course, again, I was wrong.
He leaned against a gas pump, intentionally waiting for me to come back out and once again started cursing, name calling and moo-ing at me.
He even got pretty close to me and to be honest, I was frightened. He just wouldn’t let it go. I once again asked him to get back in his car because my kid was sitting there watching. He wouldn’t. He made fun of how little gas I put in my car, calling me a loser and pathetic.
I was so unbelievably angry that I can’t even begin to put it into words. I’m still angry. I wanted to share my experience for a variety of reasons.
One of them is because several people stood by watching this interaction take place, and not a single one of them attempted to intervene. Not even so much as to ask the man to stop and get back in his vehicle. No one even asked me if I was OK. The angry man who harassed me had another man with him who got out of the vehicle and went into the store. He kept his head down through the entire exchange and wouldn’t even look at me when I tried to make eye contact with him. There was a younger, bigger man than the one harassing me, standing at the pump opposite mine, who saw the entire interaction take place and he didn’t say a word. He just let it happen. I could understand if perhaps they were afraid of the same things I was but at the very least someone could have inquired into my well-being and asked me if I needed them to call the police. But no one did.
As my headline reads, chivalry is most assuredly dead.
I also wanted to share this because it’s an example of why women aren’t truly free in this “free” country. We can’t go and do as we please the same way that men can. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was afraid. I stood there and didn’t say anything, didn’t defend myself at all because I didn’t know what that man could or would have done to me or my son had I angered him further. If honking at him set off that particular chain of events, what might he have done if I had stood up for myself? Many people in this town carry guns. What if he had one in the vehicle? What if he didn’t care who he used it on?
As I was pulling away the man continued yelling cruel things at me and he was moving much faster to hang up his gas pump, as though he was in a hurry to get back in his vehicle. My hands were shaking as I drove away because I was afraid he was going to follow me and do who knows what. He may have tried to run me off the road. The point is, I wasn’t sure what he planned to do or what this person was capable of. I even called someone at home and told them where I was, what route I was taking, and to come looking for me if I wasn’t home within 10 minutes and they couldn’t get through to me on the phone.
I need you to understand, I’m not whining about some 10-second little altercation where someone said one mean word to me. This man harassed me incessantly while I was at that store. When I was outside within speaking distance to him, he did not stop for a breath between slurs. I believe the only reason he didn’t follow me inside and do it is because he knew the employees would have had to ask him to leave.
I felt completely helpless. And in front of my son at that.
I’ll never understand why people are needlessly cruel to other people. I don’t understand what exactly they get out of it. Except, I know the answer in this particular case. This was a man who enjoys having power over women. It was a man who was going to stop at nothing to make me feel smaller, and less intelligent than him. None of what he said really hurt my feelings and he knew that, that’s why he kept at it. It was like he had gone through a laundry list of insults to fling at me in hopes one would stick — they had not. But fear was the one power he could have over me. Because ultimately, had he decided to attack me at that moment, I would have been helpless to stop him.
To all the ladies out there: Be safe, please. If you ever honk at someone for doing something wrong on the roadway and they stop at the same store you do, go to a different store. (I now wish I had.) If they follow you, head in the direction of the police department if you’re able to, and call 911 while you’re on your way. If you find yourself faced with someone like I was, it’s safer to say as little as possible. No matter how angry it makes you, don’t try to be a hero if you know you’re in a situation where you can’t win. Your safety is more important than returning someone’s insults. It was humiliating to be spoken to in such a way in front of my son and it was humiliating to take it, but his safety was more important to me than my own pride.
I wish I had called 911 if only to let that man know his behavior was 100% not acceptable. I didn’t think the police would come out because the man didn’t actually touch me or threaten to hurt me, however, thanks to my boss I now know that I could have called 911 and explained that even though the man didn’t say he was going to harm me, that they would have come to my aid because I felt threatened and feared for mine and my son’s safety.
Who knows how many women this man has harassed or will harass in the future and who is to say that next time it wouldn’t lead to a physical altercation. I should have called 911. But I’m sharing this experience instead in case it helps save another person from possible harm.
To any men reading this: Please don’t be one of the ones we’re afraid of. Fear is not true power. Fear is not respect. Fear is just fear.
To everyone: Be kind. It takes far less energy to be kind to our fellow passengers on this planet than it does to be cruel to them.
Editor's note: The author of this letter asked her name be kept confidential due to understandable fear of repercussions from the driver who threatened her.