Tonight is the third night in a row I have left the support center I volunteer at once a week, needing to pee. There is a perfectly acceptable bathroom that I have access to before I leave, but I never use it. There is always this little voice in my head, as I watch the minutes crawl to the hour when I can leave that whispers, “At least this way if anyone does attack you on your way home, you can pee on them.”
I am reminded of a drunk driving course I had to take in high school in which the woman leading it told us all not to bother asking our speeding friends to slow down, but simply to threaten that we were about to vomit because no self-respecting speed dragon would ever wish to ruin their upholstery. This was directed at all of us, regardless of gender, when she said it. I remember being shocked and then impressed by how simple a threat it would be to carry out. Of course, nobody likes vomit on their upholstery; that’s expensive and time-consuming to clean up. Equally so, vomiting is a bodily function we don’t always have control over. Nobody could blame you if you did vomit due to fear of speed, you wouldn’t necessarily evoke the label of ‘wuss’ in the same way as you might if you cried. Vomit is more serious and much more unsettling than tears.
As I leave the building that’s located in a small cul-de-sac just off a busy main road littered with takeaways, pubs and bus stops, I keep my head down as I head to my car. My hair is always down – no ponytail, no extra allure to grab onto – my hands are dug into my pockets and my phone is always speed-dialing my mother or my boyfriend, usually on speakerphone. I used to live in a dodgy neighborhood, two cities ago, where being followed was almost a rite of passage one should expect to go through, especially if one is female and in her twenties. I used to be able to escape to the local grocery store where there was a security guard on the door if it happened back there, or I could call one of my male housemates to come and meet me at the end of the street. Here I live alone and whilst there are several pubs along the road, there are plenty more dark alleyways without security roaming.
It never takes me any more than about 100 steps to get to my car. I always arrive early to scope the closest parking spot. Every night, as I take a big deep breath before I leave the building, I wonder what life would be like if I felt safe in my skin, in my gender, in the patriarchy that fills me with terror every time I leave my door. What would it be like if I didn’t hold my breath every time someone walks too closely behind me in the street, if I didn’t panic dial my partner whenever I get off the bus in the dark, or even if I could tie my hair back without thinking about it.
What could I be accomplishing if I wasn’t worrying about my bladder and whether or not I need to use it as a weapon? What on earth makes me think that if I’d peed before, I’d have been protected by urine?
It’s a topic I would never bring up to my co-workers, although I know they fear unlocked doors at work and feel uncertain of the giant, dark old building we work in. I don’t think it’s something I’d feel comfortable discussing with my friends either, not because I think it would be met with derision, but rather because I think it would be met with understanding. The fact that someone could understand me thinking of using my bladder as protection, that it might not be such an unreasonable idea to forego using the bathroom, this might make the world outside seem just too scary for me to bear.
Because if even that chance, that shock, that minute of horror could give me an opportunity to escape, to protect myself, I might never use a bathroom again.