I walked over to the all-night sandwich shop tonight between network simulations. Admittedly, it was midnight, but campus is relatively safe as there are generally people around. On my way to the shop, I was approached by one of the few panhandlers GradShitTownVille can support. It was apparent from his reaction to me that I was a little startled and anxious by his approach. He tried to be reassuring that he was cool, I was cool, and everything was cool. On the way back from the shop, two drunken frat boys asked me "Ain't that right baby? Hey, where you going?" as I ran across the street to make the light.
Two weeks ago, I would have just said, "No. Sorry" to the panhandler and been on my way without any worry. Two weeks ago, I would have said something snotty to the drunken frat boys. Instead, I was just afraid. The creepy guy and his creepy letter have stuck with me. I'm unwilling to walk my dog after twilight. I am on edge when I'm alone in my house, triple-checking that I've locked my door, a horrible sequel to "As Good As It Gets." It is my hope that this is not a permanent change, just a period of unease until I recover from the invasion.
I will not travel through this life in fear.
I'm not resisting this change because of an unwillingness to change. Certainly I've changed in my lifetime. Change has happened for many reasons. In some cases, I changed because I got smarter. I learned more. I understood better what I need and want from life. Six years ago, I thought I needed the nice car, the perfectly decorated house, and the high-paying job. Now, I know I just need a job I like, friends I love, and enough money to buy cute shoes, dilapidated furniture, and airline tickets.
My tastes have changed with age. Ten years ago, given a bowl of Hershey Miniatures, I'd always go for the Krackel. Now, I reach for the Special Dark. I've put down my Stephen King novels and replaced them with Nick Hornby, Douglas Coupland, and Annie Ernaux. I used to read Discover magazine. Now I read Bitch.
In other cases, I changed because I got hurt and there was no way to regain the person that I was before the hurt. Sometimes, the hurt and its accompanying change are obvious. As a kid, I fell out of a radio-flyer wagon while speeding down a hill, and I still have the scar. I fell out of a ski-lift in 1996, and I still walk a little funny as a result, falling down stairs when my knee gives. Sometimes the change takes time. The changes that came from the hurt of the years-old cruelities of the last boyfriend continue to trickle into my persona. I'm not as kind anymore. I'm not as giving. I'm not as trusting. People have to go through a series of interviews, paperwork, and mock exercises before I hug them.
Recently, I've discovered how much greater is my fear of commitment. My dearest love mentioned the m-word the other night telling me an awkward (but funny) story about his mom, and I got angry. Who was this woman who said, "How dare you mention that word!" That wasn't me. Or, it wasn't the me that was before the hurt. At some point, the hurt won't be hurt anymore. It will be a memory. It will be a story or a patch on a quilt. I will emerge not unscathed, but with a new scar, shiny and pink. I will accept the change and the woman I've become.
But I will not accept this woman who is afraid. She must go. Now.