Let’s play a game. I say, “East Oakland, California.”
You say, “____________.”
Before I moved here in 1989, I called the local police and checked in about the crime stats. After all, I would most likely be raising a family at some point and wanted to hedge my bets proactively. I was told that the neighborhood was,
“relatively safe with the occasional drive by.”
With that knowledge tucked under my belt, contracts were signed and I moved in. Two weeks later, the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit and my tiny little one story house, nonplussed, re-emerged safe and sound. It was like the airplane scene from The World According to Garp…I have lived here ever since.
The crime in my neighborhood has had its ups and downs over the years with the increases in crime seemingly in sync with economic downturns and desperation. I’ve been robbed once and on another occasion had a SWAT team (no, I’m not exaggerating or using poetic metaphor) in my back yard. But I still “hella love” Oakland.
One of the gems of this iconoclastic city by The Bay, and especially close to my heart, is Lake Merritt. The Lake is a remarkable place of refuge in the midst of a city known for its turmoil. It is a bird sanctuary, children’s playground, nature and science learning center and the walking, biking and running tracks for many an Oaklander. I joined that “team” of Lake Walkers in 2002 after a serious back injury and have been walking the 3.4 mile circuit almost daily in order to stave off the immobilizing back spasms.
I always walk in the same direction which means that I have, over the years, met about a dozen or so people who are “walking The Lake” at the same time as I but in the opposite direction. It’s amazing that hand waves and one to three word exchanges each day over the course of ten years weaves relationships with people whose names I don’t even know. But it does. When one of my regulars disappeared for a few months, my head was filled with questions about what happened to him…was he okay, had he moved, or merely changed directions? When I saw him one morning back in his regular spot, I waved, “Are you okay? I was worried about you!” He smiled and we high fived each other. Over the course of the week, as we walked past each other, I learned of his close encounter with a stroke and gradual recovery. Goosebumps ran up and down my spine as I realized that he and I are as much a part of the ecosystem there as the pelicans, cormorants and grebes who have their own special sections of The Lake and come and go with migration patterns as predictable as our daily walks.
But a few weeks ago, things changed. I was the victim of a drive by shouting. No, it wasn’t the first in my lifetime, but it was the first time at The Lake and it cut through me like a scalpel. I was happily walking my route, savoring the sun and grateful for the crisp breeze against my face. As a transplanted New Yawker, I still get a satisfied feeling each December when I can leave my house without a snow shovel and in a tee shirt. I had just passed one of my favorite regulars, a young man in his late twenties perhaps, who sports a pony tail and a black suit. It took about a year before I could elicit a brief two finger forehead salute from him and another year before the wave was accompanied by a smile. Today he actually said, “Hi!” and I was filled with a sense of satisfied connection. Suddenly a car, going in the opposite, direction sped by.
The driver aimed and fired,
“Walk it off Baby, Walk it off!”
And he was gone.
Gone before I could respond. Gone before I could recover. Gone Gone Gone. I was left fuming, stewing, hurting. Now please trust me that I do NOT take violent crime lightly nor do I think that a drive by shooting and a drive by shouting are the same. I know they are not. But if you would indulge me and work with my metaphor, you’ll understand why this type of “assault” is such a big deal to me. His words eclipsed any and all feelings of pleasure that I had been experiencing. I began to spiral down into a very bad case of the “should haves.” As I trudged along I went through a mental rolodex of: I should have said this, I should have said that. If I had his license plate number I’d find him and tell him this, or that. My imagination on fire, I was in Dr. Deah’s Hollywood.
“Hello officer, I’d like to report a drive by shouting.”
“You mean shooting?”
“Okay, yes…A drive by shooting off of a mouth.”
“Yes there were injuries.”
I even crossed into the territory of blaming the victim.
“Deah, why are you so sensitive? Why can’t you just let these things roll off your shoulders? Why give him so much power?”
I also considered his point of view… perhaps he felt he was helping. Maybe he imagined himself a male Jillian Michaels on wheels and was convinced he was shouting out supportive coach-like positive reinforcement because after all wouldn’t the ONLY reason that I’d be out there power walking around the lake be to walk off my big ol’ booty?
But in the end I kept coming back to the anger. If I saw him again I’d be prepared. I’d head him off at the stop sign. I’d lean in toward the car. I would aim and fire,
“Did I ask for your help??? What you said didn’t help. I don’t want your help! Your help is based on assumptions and a one sided point of view. How dare you intrude into my world only to wound me with your misguided bullets of support. The only thing I had to walk off, Babeee, was the anger, hurt, and humiliation you left in your so called helpful wake.”
Sigh. As if…
As a person who has devoted decades to repairing wounds inflicted by other’s good intentions, it is startling to find that I am still vulnerable when I am the target of an emotional drive by. But I am human and hence, an on-going work in progress. For a few days after the incident I noticed that I was more hyper-vigilant. There was less of a jaunt in my step, and I felt vulnerable. I wondered if everyone assumed that my walking regimen was motivated by my need to fit in to what society expects a woman’s body to look like?
I thought of T-shirts I could wear.
Walking 4 my Health NOT 2 B a Size 4
Who Asked U?
Occupy my Big Fat…
Well, you get the idea…
The good news is that my recovery time is quicker than it used to be and I no longer punish myself for not being perfect in the eyes of others. The inner “should have” voices are quiet again and the P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Shouting Disorder) symptoms have faded. I’m back at The Lake walking and reveling in all she has to offer. Yet as I write this I find myself back in Dr. Deah’s Hollywood where this post goes viral and finds its way not just to my fellow “victims” but to the perpetrators. In a cinematic montage we see the people who believe they are doing a good deed, through their unsolicited coaching and commenting, having an epiphany. In a classic light bulbs flashing scene we witness AHA moments, one after one.
- “I get it…she isn’t a project that needs fixing.”
- “Eureka! She has her own valid definition of beauty!”
- “What is that you say? A health focused approach to living life and NOT a weight focused approach?”
We see them in their cars steering clear of The Lake, or if they do drive by, they smile a knowing smile, keep their comments to themselves and do not disrupt The Lake’s placid ecosystem. Change is in the air and all body self-consciousness has evaporated; cormorants fly by and we fade to black.
But until then, here in Dr. Deah’s Oakland, when I walk, I wear my ASDAH T-shirt and if anyone asks me how I feel about walking around Lake Merritt, my answer will be:
“It’s a great neighborhood, relatively safe, with the occasional drive by.”
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