Yesterday Henry did it, and today it was the guy we met at the gringo party last week. With Henry, it happened as Kendra and I were walking home after class, after dark. The streets get quieter then, and the stars provide the only light. We walk fast, partly because it is cold, but mostly because we know it isn’t safe to wander around after dark. You should definitely never seem lost, or drunk, or wealthy. So we keep our heads down, walk fast up the hill and around the bend to Avenida 18, where we rush to the house, unlock the door and then pull it shut fast behind us.
But Henry snuck up on us last night. He must have seen us turn the bend, past the stone bridge and up the hill, and he recognized us and ran over and pounced on us, his hands on our shoulders. Before I could process who it was, I felt the hand on me, the unknown man behind me, and I screamed, because I was terrified. Right away I knew that it was Henry, but it was too late. My heart was already pounding after having briefly stopped. I couldn’t speak for a second. Moments like that one, the second before you know you are safe, are the ones that penetrate my dreams and make me wake up sweating. They are the instants I imagine in the darkest hours of the night, the moments I’m most afraid of, the ones that haunt my nightmares, drain my body of adrenaline and keep me up until the sky grows light again. They are the times that must mean less to a man. They must not know how it feels for us, when we’re walking alone, aware of what might be out there, aware of what could happen and the silence that would follow.
The guy from the party last week did it to me today. Under the noon sun, he came up behind me and shook my pack, a joke, but even though we were surrounded by people and there were the police, right there, my heart stopped for a second. I felt that same brief paralysis, that urge to scream, to self-defend. I turned and it was that guy's familiar face, just grinning at me, and I guess he didn’t see the flash of fear in my eyes because he just punched my shoulder, lightly, and kept walking. I had to bite back tears after that. Why do men do that to women? They shouldn’t do it anywhere, but they shouldn’t do it here, here in Guatemala where every day someone tells me what is dangerous—shopping for clothes in the market, carrying credit cards in my wallet, crossing the street, buying vegetables. Would a woman ever sneak up behind another woman? Is scaring someone really worth the laugh? That kind of a joke means terror for us. Don’t do it to me again.