On Family, Part 1

Cursed with a Y chromosome, I fall victim to the masculine fallacy of overestimating my navigational abilities. On a crisp March in DC, I am reminded of this fact as I surface from the metro in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and it bothers me. It’s not just pride. My mother and my sister are following closely behind. They have driven from New York to visit colleges, and tonight, I am their blind shepherd.

“Honey, I don’t see the monuments anywhere.”

This stop is L’Enfant, not Smithsonian. We must have overshot the mall on the way down from Bethesda. The District’s financial sector looks like a mausoleum. Every weeknight at dusk, the best and brightest minds of the capital scatter from here, taking with them the light of day and leaving the nation’s filth to crawl about.

“Lady, there aren’t many trains at this hour.”

On the other side of the street, there is a man. He is rummaging through a garbage can, appraising the day’s leftovers with the careful eye of the desperate.  To our left, there is a bus stop beneath a lonely streetlight. As I hope, there is a map posted inside.

“We head this way for a few blocks, then once we see grass, it should be obvious.”

I turn back towards the street. Standing in our metal half-house, we can see clearly for a few blocks in three directions, and the first thing I notice is that the man has vanished. Pausing, my mother and sister linger uncertainly by my side. The city is still. We hear a rapping, soft and dull, like the sound of knuckles on a cage; claw-like fingers creep around the metal awning, and then, slowly, a deranged visage peers into our enclosure.

He grins with a humor reserved for the mad: a façade of civility, soured by years of dental neglect.

“Do we know where we’re goinggggg?”

In the time it took me to turn my back, this man hurdled a six-lane street. He must have sprinted. I feel my mother and sister huddle closely behind. The city is silent. Would anyone hear a scream?  A mile away, the President and his family are fast asleep.

His head protrudes from behind the metal- the tattered collar of his rags just peeking out- his body and a hand hidden. Is this a confused, but benevolent, show of fraternity, or is there something up that sleeve? You don’t know what you’re capable of until the moment ambushes you, and cornered in a bus stop on a deserted urban street, I knew one thing: if this man tried to touch my mother or my sister, I was prepared to do whatever was necessary to stop him. I was ready to kill him.

“We’re alright, thanks.”

I usher them away before he has a chance to respond. I am their shepherd, and I do not care to speculate on this man’s intentions. We flee without hesitating, and as the streets lead to lawns and the Monument appears high above our little heads, I am grateful for the air not in my lungs, but in those beside me. Cornered in a bus stop, I knew what I was willing to do to protect my family.

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