My junior year of college I lived in a sketchy area; at least, what passes for sketchy in a sleepy university town. My apartment was right next to a run-down building that housed a constant influx of people. There was always some sort of a disturbance involving the police; my roommates and I called it the crack house.
One of the men that lived in the house liked to sit on the porch during the day and hit on every woman that walked by. He hit on me a couple times and was very persistent; he physically blocked the sidewalk, preventing me from just walking past him. He also did the same to my roommate Dana* and to the girlfriend of my roommate Steve*. I thought of the guy as being a nuisance but not as a threat. Nevertheless, I always crossed the street if I saw him sitting on the porch.
Then one evening I was walking home after a study session in the library. I was pre-occupied about my test the next day, when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark shape rising toward me. The shape was that of my neighbor, who had been sitting on his darkened porch. His sudden appearance surprised me as he stood on the sidewalk in front of me, blocking my way. He made a motion as if to grab my hand; there was a manic look on his face that terrified me.
My heart almost stopped at the sight of my neighbor coming out of nowhere. Then I got angry; I didn’t want to deal with his behavior. And so, in a very quick motion, I said “I am not interested in this.” and held up the back of my hand, creating a wall between my person and his. I am rarely that forthright or that quick to action. But I had seen this man’s behavior before and his actions on that dark night frightened me.
I then walked to my house as fast I could. The short distance to my front door seemed interminable; I was aware of every step crunching on the gravel driveway, every dark shadow. My hands were shaking as I fumbled for my keys, trying to get into the apartment as fast as I was able. For several hours, I paced my empty apartment, all thoughts of my test forgotten. Finally I went to sleep, hoping to forget about the matter.
I woke up the next morning, the incident still rattling around in my brain. I was still shaken and annoyed that my neighbor had caused such turmoil. I resolved to do something about the matter, even if for no other reason than to feel empowered.
That evening I called the police to report the incident. A police officer came to my apartment and I described my neighbor’s behavior. Since there had been no physical contact, there was little the police officer could do. He was patient with me but I could tell he thought my complaint was a waste of his time. He took my complaint and then he left.
About an hour later, the police officer called me.
“I just wanted to warn you.” he said. “There was an incident yesterday afternoon; there was an attempted sexual assault just a couple blocks from your home. The police haven’t made any arrests yet but the prime suspect is your neighbor.”
My neighbor was arrested a few days later for the attempted sexual assault of a girl about my age. My testimony of my neighbor’s behavior, along with my roommates’, helped the police garner enough evidence for the man to be called in for a police lineup, allowing the victim to identify my neighbor. The attempted assault happened just hours before I encountered my neighbor on my way home; I get the chills just thinking about what could have happened that night.
There are two possible interpretations of this story --- the Mormon way and the post-Mormon way. If I were a faithful Mormon, I would be telling the story one way --- I would describe how the Holy Ghost had protected me from this man. I would say that the Holy Ghost had prompted me to quick action; I might even say that the Holy Ghost had created a stupor in my neighbor’s mind, preventing him from following me to my apartment. If I were really sanctimonious, I might even think that the reason the other girl was assaulted and I wasn’t was due to the gift of the Holy Ghost.
But I am not a Mormon. And so, my telling of this story is a little different. I had a creepy neighbor, one whose actions made me uncomfortable. When he rose up out of that darkened porch to block my way on that winter evening, I reacted quickly because the situation was very scary. I also had prior knowledge of my neighbor’s behavior, knowledge that the other girl did not. All of my human instincts were warning me to get away as quickly as possible. I listened to those instincts and removed myself from the situation in a decisive manner.
I was lucky; I think my quick action surprised my neighbor enough that I was able to get away from him. And I like the second interpretation of my story better than the first interpretation. The first version assumes a dependence on the good-will of a fickle Spirit. The second version is one in which I followed my instincts and got myself out of a dangerous situation.
*Names have been changed