My Dad had two talks with me, the first was when I was about ten and the second was when I got my driver’s license.
The first talk coincided with my starting to venture beyond my immediate neighborhood, going to the library and the movies, which were both a half-mile from home. I always went to the movies with friends, but visiting the library was a solitary activity.
Library time was sacred, and I wanted the freedom to do what I wanted for as long as I wanted. The library had the same allure as church, drawing me into its silence, scents and rituals.
At the library, I could freely live out my love of reading, and I was even praised for it. The librarians engaged me in conversations about what I had just read, asking if I had liked the book, which was my favorite character and what was my favorite part of the story. They encouraged me by offering suggestions for what I might read next.
Their encouragement made me feel normal, as if escaping through books was what one did. They inspired me to read more and to expand my horizons. The library was the place where my imagination and curiosity were unfettered. Through books, I explored other countries, peoples and cultures.
I used to wish I could live at the library, surrounded by silence and books.
My dad’s talk was about getting to and from the library.
My dad was a cop, and he believed that if his children were going to survive in the city, we had to figure things out on our own. He knew he and my mom would not be able to protect us once we left our neighborhood.
I had no curfew growing up and no defined boundaries; the whole city was mine to explore.
The advice my dad gave me was this: Always walk facing traffic—on the left side of the street—making it more difficult to be abducted. My dad explained that most children who were abducted were walking with traffic—on the right side of the street—so they did not see or hear someone approaching from behind. If I walked toward traffic, I would see who was approaching, and I would also make it more difficult for someone to snatch me because I was going in the opposite direction of cars.
The second talk, when I got my driver’s license, was this: While driving alone, especially at night, don’t stop if you see flashing lights approach from behind; it might not be a police car. Slow down, put on the blinker and drive to a public place (gas station, convenience store, etc.).
My dad knew what could happen to a woman alone in a car at night.
I’ve not had the flashing-lights experience, but I still follow my dad’s advice and walk facing traffic.
My dad would not have used these words, but his talks were building my resiliency toolkit, and I am grateful.