I almost gave myself a heart attack tonight. I was leaving work late and made the mistake of letting my imagination run a little too free while I was walking across the dark, deserted alley to my car. Which meant when I accidentally set my car alarm off while pulling out my keys it scared me half to death.
I jumped pretty high, but I've definitely been scared worse. Once, when I was about 14, I was with some other girls from church delivering cookies to girls who hadn't come in a while when we decided to doorbell ditch and just leave the cookies on the porch. At the final house we made our way through the cluttered yard to the front door, rang the doorbell and scattered. I ended up crouched in the dark among the weeds that had grown up around an old van with painted-over windows, the kind that screamed, "My life's ambition is to kidnap someone," that was up on blocks in the yard. I was just thinking that if I saw that van on the road I definitely wouldn't take any candy from the driver, when all of the sudden the van window above my head flew open and I found myself staring up at a very angry man yelling at me to get out of his yard. I've never run so fast in my entire life.
I've also never been brave enough to look up "stranger danger" in the dictionary because I'm pretty sure I'd see this dude's picture staring up at me giving me nightmares all over again.
Normally I don't freak myself out when I'm walking to my car, though. I've outgrown the phase I went through when I was a very little girl, when my parents would put me to bed and come back later to find me crying over whatever the week's fear was. Everything made me scared, and I mean everything. My parents had to stop showing me the Shirley Temple movie collection they had just inherited because I was freaking out that my parents were going to die or get kidnapped like poor little Shirley Temple's always seemed to be doing so she could go on a proper adventure without them hovering.
They finally bought me a Little Mermaid night light in the hopes that it would provide some comfort, but they found me crying a few days later, keeping myself awake because I was worried if I fell asleep the light would overheat and catch the wooden dresser on fire.
Parents with kids as neurotic as I was back then, just know there's hope that they will turn out relatively normal.
After all, who would have thought that about 15 years later I would intern for the New York Daily News? On my first day on the job when I was filling out paperwork they literally asked me to write down my eye color and any identifying markings in case they ended up having to identify my body at the morgue.
I should have known then what I was getting myself into. My days on the job consisted of assignments like "Go to this super sketchy Bronx neighborhood where there was a gang shootout last night and ask the guys hanging around if they know anything." My nights weren't always any better. Once three friends and I ended up walking through a pretty bad part of Harlem at about 1:30 in the morning (the only explanation I can offer for this life choice is that at age 21 my brain wasn't fully developed yet). A few blocks into our walk we were accosted by a drunk guy who we were sure was going to mug us, but fortunately the only thing he demanded was Ben's secret to getting "three womans."
When I went back to school in the fall I immediately signed up for a women-only self defense class. I'm not sure how much I would actually remember if I got attacked, and my then-boyfriend complained people were going to think he was abusing me based on the bruise patterns I occasionally sported that semester, but it was a really fun class.
Too bad it's kind of hard to beat up a car alarm.