I have had a couple of things happen in the past week or so that have made me question my savvy.
The first incident happened late last week. I jog my two miles in the morning, and I usually start before sunrise. On this particular day, it was drizzling. (In case you are wondering, I wear one of my husband’s reflective vests so I can be easily seen.) At one point on that route, I would run for about a quarter mile with no houses nearby. There are some buildings, but they are set back about a block from the sidewalk where I would run, not to mention that the whole area is fenced off.
While I was approaching an intersection on that houseless stretch the other day, I noticed a black pick-up slow down, and then stop. I was wary. I veered off a little to run farther away from the truck, when the man inside it got out. Now I know that southerners are friendly, but this was a huge red flag for me. I yelled at this guy to “stay the f*** away from me,” but he kept approaching and just smiled at me and asked if I wanted a ride. Now I don’t care where you are from, if a woman tells you to stay the f*** away from her, the next right action is always to immediately leave her alone. So I veered even farther away from him and yelled at him that I was going for a run, he was scaring me, and “don’t get out of your f***ing car!” At which point he got back into his truck and sped off, clearly furious, tires squealing.
This man set off my fight or flight reaction. Do I know that he was up to no good? I don’t. But do I think so? I sure do.
When I talked to my husband about it later that night, he said that he suspected that this man was just flirting with me. But we agreed that I would change my route so that there are houses around me the whole time. Plus he got me a whistle and a can of pepper spray.
Then this week, a man knocked on my door and said that he was from the local fire department and he wanted to check that my smoke detectors were working properly. I believed him, but I told him that I was not from the south and that where I am from, we do not let people into our houses. Then I posted about it on Facebook, and a handful of people I know from New York and Chicago freaked out. They thought it was a scam. They were sure this man was dangerous, or at least out to rob me. But this man did not set off my fight or flight reaction. I was simply being cautious. However, I did call the fire department and it turned out that the guy was legit. I live in an apartment that is attached to another apartment, and in those circumstances, the fire department here does, indeed, send someone out to check the smoke detectors.
The man who answered the phone at the fire department was very nice. We joked and laughed a little, and he said that it was fine that I did not let the man in the house. That my safety should be a priority and that I did the right thing.
When one lives in places like New York City, or Chicago, one acquires a set of skills for reading the atmosphere. I have long prided myself on my street smarts. But the truth is that living in a smaller town, especially a southern one, is different. People tend to be more trusting, and friendlier. And because of that, the way official business gets done is in a friendlier and less “official-feeling” way. I’m sure that the people who were born and raised here think it’s better this way. I’m sure they appreciate the neighborly ambiance of their culture. But to a Chicagoan and a New Yorker, yeah…not so much…
So these two incidents, and more specifically, other people’s reaction to them, had me start to doubt myself. They started to make me feel crazy, or at the very least, like I was losing my “instincts.” My husband thought I was overreacting to the man in the truck. My city friends thought I was not being vigilant enough regarding the man at the door. And I started to question myself. Am I losing my street smarts? Am I not seeing things clearly?
I often talk about the clarity and confidence I get from keeping boundaries around my eating. One of my favorite benefits is that I don’t doubt myself. I always felt that getting my eating under control only made those atmosphere-reading skills stronger and more reliable. But when my reactions were repeatedly called into question, especially after years of small town living, I began to call those skills into question.
When I first put boundaries around my food, people in my life (and strangers too) had a lot of opinions. People questioned whether it was healthy to give up carbohydrates. They thought I was losing too much weight. Or losing it too quickly. They thought it was “crazy” to give up sugar forever. They said I should eat it once in a while. They said I should have a cheat day. They said it was okay for my birthday, a holiday, a special occasion. They said it was just one bite. Thankfully, at that time, I had the wherewithal to realize that I was experiencing, from my strict boundaries, a peace and freedom that I had never experienced from moderation, or just one bite, or sometimes. I trusted my gut. (I mean my instincts, not my stomach. My stomach was still campaigning for cake then.)
I think what happened in the past week or so was an important lesson for me. It was a good reminder that I am still clear-headed and perceptive. It was a good reminder that I not only can, but should, trust my instincts. It was an opportunity to reaffirm for myself that, while I may ask for help sometimes, or for a sounding board sometimes, or for someone else’s opinion sometimes, I don’t have to doubt myself or question my clarity. That I am just as savvy, even after all this time in small town America. And it was a chance to recognize that I do not have to listen to the chatter that tells me to question myself.
The truth is, I was pretty sure that the man from the fire department was who he said he was, and I still did not let him in the house. You can take the girl out of the city, but it’s a damn sight harder to take the city out of the girl. But I am grateful that these incidents brought something to my attention; it was not that my instincts were getting eroded, but my confidence in them. And now I feel pretty confident. I know that the people who questioned and doubted did so out of love. And I can be grateful, and honor that. But I don’t have to trust them more than I trust myself.