My neighborhood used to be a huge part of the industrial ring in Philadelphia during the first decade of the 1900s and a century later, most of those factories and mills have long since closed down, being replaced with either gigantic, metal shells of steel, exteriors of crumbling, graffiti-ed brick, or expansive lots where some people choose to dump their garbage, needles, old mattresses, et cetera. These abandoned buildings basically leave this place with multiple hiding spaces and narrowed alleyways that are overrun with big leaves that make everything look like a forest. A literal urban jungle, I suppose.
Due to my surroundings, beginning when I was little, my mother instilled in me so many rules in order to keep me safe.
Walk in the street when you're alone because people could drag you into the alley and hurt you.
Never take the exact same route home every week because people could follow you.
If you walk somewhere, walk where people can see you.
Someone asks for your wallet, throw it to them and then run.
Needless to say, I'm a nervous wreck on a near constant basis, but highly prepared for the worse at all times and when it's raining and nobody is outside, I get to pretend I'm in the middle of Dickensian England. A Dickensian England dotted by Chinese takeout places and five dollar nail salons.
I usually cut through a vacant (albeit, clean) lot to get home from the train. Most days, I get to my house when all of the other students from the more local schools do, despite my school being an hour and a half away from home by train and bus. Anytime I see a man, I keep my head down; I don't make eye contact, as if to say, "Just please leave me alone."
A group of young guys, four of them sat on the wooden fence around the lot and my heart started racing. I suddenly got very interested in my moccasins. Then I looked up (so I wouldn't look vulnerable), and then chickened-out and looked down again when one of them went, "Psst..."
Just keep walking.
"Psst..." and after a few moments of not turning around, an old, trampled on McDonald's cup went soaring past my head while I heard the sound of him calling me an ugly hoe and the rest of his friends giggling. Giggling at an ugly hoe dodging a thrown cup or giggling at their friend being ignored by an ugly hoe in torn moccasins and a pilled choir sweater, I really didn't know.
All I know is that something like that would have never happened to one of my male cousins. Or one of my uncles. Or one of my guy friends. They're men, so they don't owe themselves to anybody and they're not ugly if they ignore you either.
I've never felt so humiliated as when I put my two keys in between my fingers while the sun was still out.