It was an uneventful evening when I heard a loud noise echo through my house. BANG! BANG! Followed by the sounded of glass hitting the floor.
I raced into my living room grabbing the first item I could get my hands on—a shoe. I'm assuming adrenaline must've momentarily blindsided the portion of my brain controlling rational behavior because I don't know why instead of dialing 911 or calling the police I believed I was much better off defeating one or more unknown intruders with my favorite high-heeled shoe, but nevertheless I was prepared.
I scurried to find the source of all the commotion with heart palpitations I thought were sure signs of cardiac arrest.
"Oh God. Oh God please!" I pleaded, whispering a silent prayer.
"I looked through my front door window letting my eyes quickly dart left and right but I saw nothing. I kept my back against the walls imitating "Law and Order: Special Victims (SVU) detective Olivia Benson,
holding my shoe as if it was a gun as I checked every window, but again nothing. A sense of calm drifted through my body and I was hoping what I heard was just a raccoon rummaging through until I looked through my backdoor. Since the door stopper hadn't budged I was sure it had been unfazed. My sense of security quickly went down the drain when I opened the back door and was immediately greeted with a dented screen and a puddle of shattered glass.
Hours after the incident and the police left I still felt uneasy. I double, triple and quadruple checked every lock and ever pushed my couch against the front door that evening for added security. I stayed awake every night clenching my grandfather's switch blade for dear life just in case I would need to defend myself. Unfortunately, it did nothing to keep me from flinching at any and every rattle of the bushes and meows from the neighborhood stray cats. I was terrified, but worse, for the first time in my entire life, I felt like a foreigner in my own community.
I mean, sure I lived on the south side of Youngstown, Ohio and was far from a stranger to crime. And, yes, no home, community or town was immune from danger and crime but now it seemed the perils of my city and I had come face-to-face. I was unprepared for the meeting.
Was this neighborhood which served as the stage of such happy childhood memories now a city of terror where I now needed cutlery to feel safe enough to fall asleep in my own bed? I felt like a child who'd just learned Santa Clause and the tooth fairy weren't real.
Although the feeling of being petrified to close my eyes in my own bed was horrible, the backlash I received from my family and friends for being scared felt like a second violation.
For several nights I didn't sleep. I knew the situation could have ended terribly different, but gratitude wasn't enough to keep my mind from wandering. "What if someone had gotten in?" The residue of this incident left me questioning my safety during every stupid decision I made during my youth. For instance, like my sophomore year in high school when I walked home alone after sneaking to a house party, or the many drive-by shootings I barely scathed during summer nights as a little girl.
The realization of how much violence and crime was hidden in the shadows of my life was devastating. It's just as embedded in my childhood as bedtime stories and learning to ride a bike, but that didn't somehow exempt me or anyone from Youngstown from being afraid.
I felt ashamed and started thinking that maybe there was something wrong with me. "Toughen up, Eartha." I started telling myself.
I even joined in on a few jokes about the situation, but no matter how many pep talks I silently gave myself it still didn't help. I was afraid, and fear mixed with the shame of feeling fear was a pill I couldn't and wouldn't allow myself to swallow.
In my city we are trained to follow unspoken rules of survival that do more harm than good. We are taught to suppress our emotions, stay silent about the things that are wrong or risk community alienation.
This kind of emotional suppression is woven into our DNA, and we pay a heavy price by denying ourselves access to feel designated 'bad' emotions like fear, sadness and grief. This kind of emotional detachment circumvents our natural capability to feel and cope with the traumas we face every day. in fact, research shows when emotions are bottled-up this can lead to system-wide dysfunction, including a decreased life expectancy, mental decline and physical ailments.
To this day I still double check my window and I'm cautious when I'm home alone. I'm sure the intruders were some random teenaged boys I probably passed every day on my way to work but never again will I let others dictate what emotions I'm allowed to feel and express.
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