They don’t understand what it’s like, you realize, as you try to explain–to a class of freshman males at your university, no less–what it’s like to be female and alone when you’re walking at night. You get angry, instead of explaining, and then you are silent, because what good does it do anyway? Aren’t they all the same?
Because to you, that’s how it feels, especially when you remember him, the first man who ever made you feel afraid. Each man walking close behind you on a too-quiet street is him, each man who catcalls or whistles as you walk past is him, even that pastor with the same face (the one where you left the church service early, and no one knew why) is him.
Since when did you allow him to replace your innocence with terror?
After that disastrous class and disastrous worship service, you’re shaking. You’re still shaking when you get home, and your roomate hugs you and says it’s going to be okay, even though you know it’s not–you don’t know how to breathe and the only things your hands can do are shake violently or curl into fists.
You’re angry, bitter, scared.
And now, at church again, this sharp new pastor (whose face, at least, does not trigger a full panic-and-flight reaction) is asking you what you do.
What do I do?
Later, when the pastor is on stage preaching, you hear him speak of cynicism and fear and futility and what it’s like when the only thing you feel anymore is jaded. He asks why why why and you have no answer.
He tells another story–his father, a janitor, lying on a hospital bed in the room next to a former MIT graduate and business manager. Now, though, they are both just cancer patients.
You can’t make sense of it–can’t believe that Sundays will still follow Fridays–and when he quotes C. S. Lewis and tells all of you that you have never met mere mortals, you’re lost.
Your fists are clenched so tightly that your palms are leaking blood, and you are so tiny and afraid and you are every damn bit a mere mortal.
You stay that way, until another word catches your attention, snaps your head up so that you’re staring at the pastor with a ferocity he can’t possibly understand.
Because he said ransom, and you don’t have the faintest idea what that means anymore.
You hear someone breathe in sharply, and you realize it’s you as the cool air floods your lungs with a savage, long-awaited breath that tastes like life.
You look down, and your fists are unclenched just a little. And when the pastor moves on, you just it there in wonder, holding the weight of this obscene, apalling ransom in your weary palms.
As you walk home later, as twilight deepens and shadows stretch long across the road home, your feet are lighter than they have been in years.
And when that inevitable man passes you on the sidewalk, you look twice, this time–and realize, shocked, that this is not a man, after all, but another 18-year-old kid with his youth and insecurity stamped on his young face. He looks a little bit like you, you realize.
Another mere mortal, eternity scrawled in each line of his face.
You catch eyes briefly and he smiles at you, just a little, before you part ways at the stoplight.
When you look down, your fists aren’t clenched and your hands aren’t shaking.
And you smile, fiercely, because in the silence of this city street you hear the echo of the word:
Ransom. Ransom. Ransom.