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is it ok: to walk home alone?

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It’s 3am and my knuckles are white from holding on so tightly to my keys. A while back someone whose face and name has faded from the memory of conversation told me that it’s actually bad to use your keys as a makeshift knuckleduster, and I remember nodding and then subsequently forgetting what exactly their argument was other than it seemed to make sense at the time. Logically, punching anyone is likely to break at least some of the bones in your hand. They call it a boxer’s fracture. Holding onto solid metal objects seems to just intensify this risk, as well as increasing the likelihood of cuts to yourself.

But it’s dark, and innocuous things are looking sinister. Looking down and seeing my car key, door key and yellow submarine key ring poking out from between my fingers makes me feel foolish, and I stuff my hand into my pocket so no one passing by will see how paranoid I’m being. But fear of looking like an idiot doesn’t outweigh all the other fears and images floating through my mind so my hand stays tightly clenched and filled with metal, even though I don’t know how far a situation would need to get in order for me to consider hitting someone with it.

I’ve had two drinks, and it’s going to take me twenty minutes to walk home.  The taxi ride would cost five dollars, but it would firstly piss whoever the driver was right the way off and also I’m trying to save money. Furthermore, anecdotes from friends tell me that a taxi isn’t always the safer option. My thirteen year old self chimes in, reminding me how creeped out I was that time when coming home from a school debate, a softly spoken driver wouldn’t let me change the topic of conversation until I had correctly answered his question about the most commonly used language in the world. He drove me home a way slightly different to my usual route, and my mind raced and muddled. The answer he wanted was computer code. I forced a laugh. He wasn’t joking.

A man who looks prematurely aged holds a beer and watches as I pass. But I chose this side of the street because it’s better lit and there are fewer alleyways. On the other side is a group of teenagers who are excited that they are finally old enough to be out by themselves this late, drinking legally.

I jaywalk, and pass two more teenagers sitting outside a service station. They seem less excited than they probably were three hours ago, when they were consuming the McDonalds that is now beginning to re-appear on the pavement, sure to delight the 6am dogwalkers.

My hand is still in my pocket, and I come up to the stretch before I need to turn. No-one is around, so I run to get it over with more quickly. I again feel foolish, paranoid, and also worry that running makes me more of a target. Running is one half of a chase. Maybe someone will think I’m a bag snatcher. Maybe someone will chase me as a joke. I slow down.

None of these things happen, and I reach the corner. The 21 hour pizza place is closing up, and chairs are being pulled inside. This street is extremely well lit, and I feel slightly less tense. My hand relaxes a little, and then fills with the half pain half cold of pins and needles.

The scariest part is past, but the images still stay in my head. They will, like always, until I get home and hear the lock click behind me. I’ve done the same walk, many times, many places, and every time, any time a potential threat rears its head I am surrounded by doors showing every possible outcome, ugly, scary, and violent. I don’t know if I’m paranoid or cautious but I’ve come to the realisation that every time I face this walk, I am preparing not for if the worst happens, but when.  I hate that thought, and for the third time, feel foolish.

I don’t feel foolish however when I read or hear about beatings, muggings and assaults that happen in areas that I can identify from my own memory, and where I’ve found myself alone in.

It’s late, and only one restaurant still has people in it. On the other side of the street. Where I am, someone is heading up in my direction, hands in pockets, hood over his ears. He’s probably just listening to an iPod, and may be just as tense as I am. I cross the road anyway.

There is only one more corner to turn, and I hesitate because I can the hear voices of several people standing just out of sight. It’s by a convenience store next to a car park and people often gather there. I turn right, and the voices stop. One or two of them stare at me as I pass and I worry that it’s because of what I’m wearing. It’s a stupid thought as I’ve had unwanted attention in an array of outfits ranging from lewd comments as I yawn my way to a 7/11 in track pants, to having a 4wd slow down and a passenger ask me if I ‘need a lift’ as I walk to the shops at 7pm in a maxi dress.

The door is metres away, but I’ve stopped caring that they can see where I live. My hand comes out of my pocket and I let myself in. Tonight, I only have to use my keys for the purpose they were made.  The door clicks shut.

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