Content Warning: Assault, panic attack, anxiety, PTSD, agoraphobia
I can still smell the humid summer air. I can still feel the sweat weighing down my oversized cotton shirt as I move one leg in front of the other, going for a walk on the nearby nature trails. My tennis shoes kick up dirt as I shuffle along, using the back of my hand as a sweatband. It is unbearably hot, which makes it hard for me to enjoy the swaying leaves and big-trunk trees. The glare of the sun beats down on me as it filters through the branches, and I fidget with my sunglasses to ease my squinting.
Suddenly, I can feel my chest sinking to the bottom of my stomach as I am grabbed by the hips. A strange man wraps his arms around my waist and I attempt to wail, only to feel his clammy hand muffle my cries. He begins to walk with me and I thrash desperately, but he holds on tight. I can feel myself losing my breath as my lungs close in on themselves, and my view of the world crumbles.
Call it an act of God or simply luck, but police sirens blare in the background, and he drops me, pushing me to the ground and running away. He’s big and blocky from the back, a large and muscled male with short brown hair. My hands are planted on pebbles as I learn how to breathe again, still in complete and utter shock. I wipe tears from my eyes as I brush off my scraped knees, little droplets of blood trickling down onto the pavement. I get up and sprint home.
Now, when I stare outside my windows, I’m paralyzed by the fear that another man will grab me, or even worse, kidnap me. I keep the curtains shut. I open my doors minimally. I don’t go to the grocery store, and Instacart my groceries instead. I don’t go shopping at the mall, I order all of my clothes online. I don’t go for walks outside, I walk on the treadmill in my living room. This is the way my life has to be now, because if I even smell the humid air, I lose my ability to breathe consistently.
I get calls on the phone now and then from concerned family and friends inviting me to places, telling me to get out more. I pretend to be interested, but never get back to them about solidifying plans. They simply don’t get the sheer panic I feel when I go outside. Over time, they started reaching out less and less.
My life is peaceful now that I’m alone. My car sits in the garage, unused. I became my own doctor off of Google. I don’t go to the dentists because I extensively brush my teeth. It’s not that I let fear consume my life, fear is my life, and fear constitutes where I can have peace. But the man is still there for me. And other men are still there. I can only trust myself. I can only trust what is in the confines of my house. I am an animal in a cage, but a happy one. I was destined to be a zoo animal, not a wild one.