It was eleven pm. We were getting gas at the last open station for the next couples of miles. No one was there. Only her and I, two twenty year old females in a small cyan toycar. We were listening to music and musing over the starry night. We were talking about nature and stars and erupting volcanoes. We were enjoying the cool night wind, tangling our hair. We were happy. But then it happened. The gas station clerk came up to my window, he didn’t look a day over twenty one. He had a soft smile on his lips and he peered into the car. The moment he takes my money, he asks the question. The question that has somehow haunted me for years in different versions through different voices. “It’s only both of you? Aren’t you scared?”
Fear. We had forgotten about fear. We had forgotten we were two beautiful young girls traveling at night. We forgot how things should be. When the clerk asked me, I reeled back. I laughed. I told him it would be okay, that nothing would happen. I didn’t know if I saying it for him or for me, but when I drove away I no longer mused about stars and nature and erupting volcanoes. I remembered the number one law all women know.
Women should not be alone.
This lesson had been imprinted inside of me for years. I remember being asked who I was going with, who would accompany me, who would help me. Not once did I ever hear a “Good luck!” when I mentioned I was doing something by myself. I would see bulging eyes and gaping mouths. “Really? Alone? Are you sure?” Going to the girl’s bathroom was in groups. Shopping was with a friend. Being a single when you are supposed to be plural is not a woman’s job.
For years, I have been pushing back on this notion that as a female I must be accompanied. I don’t need company to get my car fixed. I don’t need company to go to the doctor. I don’t need someone to walk me through the mall. Valued company is beautiful and can enhance an experience, but expected company because of cultural notions can be heavy and tiresome. My identity is being tied to another, my agency is being driven with a second. I remember, when I was younger, my mom would panic if she knew I was going to the park by myself. There is something inherently strange of seeing a woman alone.
We know of brave men who have gone on long journeys by themselves. We cheer and stare in awe, we are impressed with their bravery. But this sensation of excitement morphs into fear and nerves when we see women. We ask if they are scared. We warn them of the dark world lurking under their journey. When women go on journeys, we admire their bravery of going by themselves more than the feat itself. But trust me when I say – I know. I know the dark that lurks beyond the tinted windows of my car. But there is nothing more beautiful than being your own north and your own path.
“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” – Cheryl Strayed