I had an unexpected writing prompt this morning. One of my Facebook pals (and a friend from high school, long ago) often posts the kind of questions that make you think. Today, after referencing that on this day in 1520, Ferdinand Magellan entered the Pacific Ocean, he asked, ‘Have you ever been truly lost?…really, really lost?’
I stretched my memory back to 1982, when I was 24 years old and heading to Washington, DC, for a visit with my college friend Teresa, who lived in Georgetown. I rode the Amtrak train from Providence to New York with a guy from work. Because he was attractive to me, we (I) drank too much during the four-hour trip because it made flirting easier. My friend Greg met me at Penn Station. This was a few months before he told me that he preferred men to women. After a couple of days with him in NYC (where I saw my first cockroach), I continued by train to DC.
Teresa didn’t have time off, so I used my handy Metro card each day, heading to the Smithsonian museums. One day I decided to visit the Capitol. I was so sure of myself, because the Metro was easy to navigate with its color-coded map, so I got off at a stop called Capitol South. I figured I’d see the Capitol as soon as I emerged into sunlight. But I didn’t, so I started walking. That always worked before. Within minutes, I noticed that, for the first time in my entire life, I was the minority. I walked past groups of African-Americans, some of whom stared at me as I stared straight ahead, with purpose, like I had a clue where I was going. A police car passed by and slowed down. The officer looked at me and kept going.
I arrived at the intersection with M Street. Ah! M Street, I know that road. It leads back to Georgetown. I kept walking, my purse slung casually over my shoulder, and as I walked, I noticed fewer and fewer people. The road in front of me ended in about 500 feet, leading to a large dirt area under a highway. There was nothing in front of me. But there were two men walking behind me, and I heard them making comments about the way I looked, about the clothes I was wearing, about my blonde hair. I wore shoes that were definitely not made for running, and I couldn’t imagine what was going to happen in the next few minutes. And still I kept walking, afraid to turn back and walk right into the men who were talking about me.
Just then, a little car with some kind of logo on it pulled up alongside me. The man at the wheel had on some kind of uniform; I can’t recall what it looked like. He leaned out of the window and said, “Miss, you shouldn’t be here.”
I stopped and said, “No! You’re right, I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.” I was about to ask him for directions to the Capitol but his face was very serious.
“Get in the car, please, miss. You shouldn’t be here.”
And in that split second, the only thought in my head was that I supposed it would be better to be raped by one man than by two. So I got in the car. He drove me to the Eastern Market Metro station, and asked if I needed any help getting home. I thought it best to forget about visiting the Capitol that day.
Instead, I took the train back to Foggy Bottom and walked into the first bar I saw when I emerged into sunlight.