About halfway through 2020, my husband, Judah, and I instituted a new morning ritual: the morning walk.
Inspired by a talk I’d heard about kickstarting our circadian rhythms with sunlight first thing in the morning, combined with the increased amount of sitting on our butts we’d been doing, we began going for a 30 min walk every weekday morning.
An unanticipated benefit to our morning walk was seeing some of our neighbors that we’d never seen before. Amid the hustle and bustle of “normal life” before the pandemic, we were usually inside or in transit. We didn’t spend much time aimlessly tracing circles within the two-mile radius of our home.
Several of our repeat encounters came to include an older woman who lives on our street and leaves her house to go … somewhere … usually, as we head out for our walk. We wave hello and often get to sneak a wave to her husband as well while he stands in the doorway, seeing her off.
Then there’s another older woman who loves my red coat my sister-in-law got me for Christmas. We see her less frequently, and she walks in the other direction from the older woman with the doting husband. This lady has more pep in her step and when we recently saw her, after the weather had turned too warm for the red coat and then unwelcomely cooled off again, she lit up and exclaimed, “Bonus! I get to see the red coat!”
The most frequent overall sighting has been James. We first saw him walking along an adjacent street. Then riding his bike. Along another street a little further from our house. Near the Duane Reade down the block. On his bike. Walking. Riding. Walking. Walking. Walking.
We saw him so often, we began smiling, nodding, waving, offering a cheery hello. Perhaps a gift of these morning walks would be getting to know our neighbors, something we’ve found more difficult in New York than in our suburban upbringings.
About a week after first seeing James, I was headed to the grocery store. Alone. James was half a block ahead of me, walking the other direction. He happened to glance back over his shoulder and saw me. I smiled and waved, “Hey, how’s it going?”
“Hey, baby. How are you? You’re so beautiful. I love seeing you.”
My breath caught in my throat, and my stride slowed.
“Uh. Thanks. Good to see you.”
And suddenly I needed to be on the other side of the street.
The next time we saw James was on our morning walk. Judah saw him first and waved a friendly hello. James zeroed in on me, “Morning.”
Judah, who is often aloof in such situations, jokingly commented, “Did he not see me?”
This has happened repeatedly. So much so that Judah has started being over-the-top with his waving and saying hello. James continues to look through Judah and zero in on me.
To ease the discomfort, Judah and I joke that he must have a medical condition in which he can’t see men.
I’ve come face-to-face with James twice more when I’m flying solo. Each time, he stops to talk to me and tell me how beautiful I am and that he loves seeing me. He also gave me his name, first and last.
Two weeks ago, I was sitting on our front porch, talking on the phone. James walked by. It seems that James patrols the neighborhood for a living. He’s everywhere.
As he passed our house, he looked back over his shoulder and saw me. He stopped, spun around to face me. “Hey, beautiful.”
Our porch is set back a bit from the sidewalk, so I could barely make out what he was saying. I motioned that I was on the phone. He nodded understanding, blew me three big air kisses, energetically turned on his heels, and strutted down the sidewalk.
Less than an hour later, he passed by again. I was still on the phone, deep in an emotional phone conversation. This time, he stopped and was mouthing and gesticulating.
I motioned that I was still on the phone. He kept repeating himself.
I squinted to see what he was saying, leaning forward to strain my ear to hear him.
“I want you.” He was motioning to himself and then me.
“I want you. I want you.”
It took three times before I could fully comprehend what he was saying.
So many things happened in me at once. Alarm shot through my body. A sense of a lack of safety. Then heat, anger. Who did he think he was? He had seen me around the neighborhood with my husband! How disrespectful.
I couldn’t yell back to him because my friend was crying on the other end of the phone. All I could do was give a slow, stern shake of my head, furrow my brow in disapproval, and aggressively mouth, “No! I’m married!” I turned my gaze away from him and focused hard on my friend’s voice.
He strutted off, seemingly unmoved by my response.
I was shaken. Rattled. Pissed.
How dare he? What did he hope to accomplish? What was the desired response he hoped to elicit?
Three days ago, I was walking home from the grocery store. I saw that James was a block ahead of me, also walking in the direction of my house.
I slowed my gait. Considered walking around the block so that if he looked over his shoulder, he wouldn’t see me. But what if he turned down my block and I ended up face-to-face with him as I approached from a different direction?
I pulled out my cell phone and held it to my ear. I had sunglasses on and kept my gaze low, walking slower than my normal pace. If he saw me, he didn’t engage.
When I told Judah about this later, he said, “You’re letting him control your life.”
I hear what he’s saying, but I’m not sure what to do.
My interactions with James went from excitement that we might make a friend in the neighborhood to minor annoyance mixed with humor at his dense ignoring of Judah to distrust and alarm.
I don’t want James’s actions to control my life, dictate my actions. But I’m not sure how to navigate my emotions in relation to his advances.
What would you do?