FEAR AND SILENCE

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Submitted Date 11/14/2019
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My little silver sedan is humming along down the road when I notice the darn fuel gauge light up in the dash. Its orange glare is urging me to pull over at the nearest gas station. With an annoyed sigh, I comply. It's a small, dingy station with only four pumps and they're all busy. So, I pull in behind a beat-up old yellow Ford Bronco and wait. And wait. And wait some more. There's someone in the driver's seat, but they're not pumping gas. I wait a little longer. Now it's getting ridiculous, so I honk my horn. A tall, lanky black man emerges from the driver's side of the Bronco. He's looking at me. I roll down my window and ask, "are you getting gas?" I'm sure some of my irritation leaks out in my voice. He responds, "yeah," and finally starts to engage with the fuel pump. He finishes and I pull up to pump my own gas.

Later, as I'm recalling this tale to a group of my friends, I realize they're shocked at my behavior. They tell me I'm lucky the man didn't have a gun. They say I'm lucky I didn't get shot. Now I'm the one who's shocked. These women seem to be living in fear. Why aren't I, a woman who's survived more violence than most, afraid of getting shot at a gas station? I live with anxiety and PTSD that I battle every day, but I'm still honking impatiently at cars. There are probably a few reasons.

When people get behind the wheel of a car, they often get a sense of anonymity. They see other vehicles as obstacles, without considering the person inside. They feel isolated and protected within their cars and trucks. Some say that's what contributes to road rage. People certainly seem to be more aggressive in the driver's seat than they are in line at the grocery store. It's ironic that being inside a car elicits a feeling of safety, considering the rate of auto accidents in this country.

So, maybe I felt safe honking at another car because I knew I could roll up the window and drive away if I wanted to. I'm willing to admit that I often feel aggressive on the road. That's why I listen to classical music in the car, it chills me out. Even when I'm raging and hurling insults at other drivers though, I don't let that influence my driving. I don't speed up and cut them off. I don't play games because I don't want to die for stupid reasons. Being in the car though, probably played a part in my...bravery...foolishness?

The environment, too, likely played a part. The scene was a busy gas station in broad daylight in a suburban area of town. That's not to say bad things don't happen to people in the daytime or in "nice" neighborhoods, because they certainly do. However, if I'd been in a dark, deserted area, I may have been more cautious. Who's going to gun down a woman in her car with dozens of witnesses and security cameras? What are the odds this guy is packing heat in the first place? There was no heated argument between us, no exchange of foul language, no escalation of the situation.

Yes, these factors probably came into play to some degree when I decided to honk at the driver who was playing on his phone, parked in front of a gas pump. But, I'll get to the main reason now: I refuse to silence myself out of fear. If I see something going on that I don't like, I will speak out if I feel it's necessary. Sure, the gas station scenario doesn't exactly equate to civil rights activism, but it's a simple way to prove a point. I will not keep my opinions to myself because I'm afraid to speak them. It's true that I could have been shot, but if I get shot, I get shot. Anyone can catch a random bullet, even when they aren't in a fight. Does that mean I'm not going to leave the house? No.

Fear is a way to control people, to seize power from them. Politicians do it all the time. Advertising agencies do it too. "You don't want to be embarrassed by sweaty armpits, do you," is more effective than, "gee, our deodorant sure smells nice." Scare tactics are used to intimidate people into silence. "Swatting" is an intimidation tactic wherein people in online arguments call emergency services to report a crime at another person's address. The SWAT team storms into the person's home and arrests them on suspicion of terrorism or kidnapping. The message is, "don't speak out or you'll get hurt."

I'm not going to give in to fear and be silenced because I refuse to be intimidated by petty and ignorant people. Or smart people, for that matter. That doesn't mean I'm not going to forgo common sense or deliberately start a fight. It doesn't mean I won't be cautious and protect myself. It does mean that if children are being tortured in internment camps, I'm going to protest. It means I'll continue to engage in discussions of topics that are "scary." It means that, if my trans friend is getting beat up, I'm going to dive into the fray (after calling the cops). I won't let fear get in the way of standing up for what I believe in. I refuse to live in fear. I refuse to let the assholes win.

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  • Ashley Aker 3 months ago

    Sometimes acting instinctually is better than stressing the repercussions. I like your piece. Thank you for sharing. :)