April 7, 2011

Letter to a Stranger

Once again it's time for me to visit the 30-day Letter Writing Challenge I've picked at for the last several months. If you're not interested in my letter, you can entertain yourself HERE. Warning, it's fast and slightly addictive.

These letters are difficult, each for their own reason. This one has been on my brain for several weeks as I tried to define the word "stranger." I have people I could write about, whom I've interacted with on-line but never met. Ultimately I followed Merriam-Webster's definition: "a person or thing that is unknown or with whom one is unacquainted." The next question was, what stranger has made enough of an impression on me I could write them a letter? I immediately thought of two, but debated about writing to either of them. Ultimately I chose the more benign encounter.

Mr. Creepy Stranger Guy:

I am not starting this letter with the standard "Dear," because you are anything but dear to me. You are creepy, or rather you were creepy 30-some-odd years ago when I encountered you. I don't expect you changed much for the better over time.

I met you when I was 10 - a chance encounter on my way home from the pool. I lived at the pool every summer, getting there early for swim lessons or swim team, only running home when they closed for the dinner hour. I was tan, fit and active, out the door every day, running, biking, swimming, and playing. At that time I had no body consciousness, no shame or even awareness of what image I presented. I was not interested in fashion, choosing my clothes for function and comfort. The only interest I had in my body was how far I could push it, and where it could take me.

I was in the early throes of puberty, and have been told at 10 I looked 15. Barefoot, beach towel around my neck, I was running past the old stone schoolhouse when you stopped me on the path. It was standard to wear just my bathing suit and a pair of shorts, all summer long. I had a two-piece suit that year. I only remember this because I was wearing it with my favorite, worn pair of cut off shorts when you stopped me. I only vaguely remember what you looked like, just that you blocked my way on the path. I don't remember what you said, but understood you wanted me to pull my towel aside.

I didn't understand then what you wanted, though I'm well aware now how it could have played out. I only knew that the situation felt bizarre and uncomfortable. You wanted to look at me. Luckily I wasn't yet frozen with the emotional baggage I picked up later in life. Not understanding, not comfortable with the situation, my fight or flight instinct set me in motion. I dodged around you, off the path, and ran all the way home.

Mr. Creepy Stranger Guy, you most likely don't even remember that day, but it has lived in my memory for over three decades. I didn't tell anyone until I was an adult, and even then it was in the strictest confidence. I attached shame to the incident as soon as I realized what really happened that day. I carried that shame for a long time, before I realized it wasn't mine to bear.

I'm guessing you didn't know my age or innocence, but I remember you as being too old for even the teenager you probably thought I was. Given your behavior, I don't think you had a relationship in mind. I don't know what would have happened that day, had I stayed. I don't want to know. I'm only glad I was able to flee when I did. I am also glad I never encountered you again, though I traveled that same path at approximately the same time every day. I hope no other young girl encountered you, or if they did that they too got away.

I don't know how else to end this, but to say goodbye. You are a piece of my history, but no longer a defining piece. I no longer blame or shame my 10-year-old self for that encounter. I do wish I'd known to report you, though. I was so completely innocent I had no clue what happened. I guess in a way that's a good thing.

On a lighter note:

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