I was running through the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin in the dark, in a blizzard, as you do. My footfalls left fresh tracks in the six inches of snow on the ground and the wind whirled the flakes through the air in little funnels. Everybody else was indoors.
I turned a corner and saw a group of five very large but obviously not very adult teenage boys coming towards me. Cross the street, said my brain automatically, as it does when I’m running alone and a man or men are in sight or within hearing range behind me. As I type this, it’s eight years later and I’m still castigating myself: Jesus, Caraway, why didn’t you just cross the damn street? Why not? Because as I was about to step off the curb, a different voice in my head said fuck this and it’s only 6 p.m. for god’s sake they’re probably not drunk and did you hear me? I said fuck this. You shouldn’t have to cross the effing street. Come on. Take back the early evening, Caraway. So I kept running in a straight line.
I belong to the group of assault victims who will yell, scream, fight back, and even chase my attackers, so that’s what I did when the group didn’t move aside or let me go around them. They started yelling at me and laughing. One grabbed my arm. Another grabbed my ass, and made an insipid grab for my breast. I saw the pathetic, laughing, dog-eyed “do you see how cool I am look what I’m doing” expression on his face as he turned and implored his friends to be impressed. WHAT THE FUCK??? I yelled in English, fighting free. GET THE FUCK OFF ME I screamed, and a bunch of other expletives, probably, planting my feet as firmly as you can in six inches of snow. Four of the boys moved away. “Come on, man,” said one to Giant Assault Puppy, who was frozen somewhere between lumbering away from me, and staring at me with even bigger eyes than before. I kept screaming, he turned away, and I ran away, still screaming.
I guess I thought someone would hear me, but the street remained dark and uninhabited. I sprinted home with my heart pounding. It didn’t even occur to me to contact the police. I wouldn’t have recognized the guys again, even if they could have been located, so what would have even happened? Even now when I think about it I can imagine the incredulous reaction: you were running WHERE? In the dark? What did you expect?
Well, I’ve never run in that neighborhood since, daylight or no. And I always, always cross the street.