I carry two things with me at all times: mace and paranoia. I’m always looking over my shoulder. Always expecting the worst. Is that my shadow or a stranger’s? Is that man jogging or hunting for someone weak? Am I about to be mugged or hit on? There’s no sad back story here. I was never attacked. Everyone I love is still alive. I just remember watching the news before school every morning. There was always a blurb on the Christian Newsom murders. Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. It always showed the same picture. A young woman with blonde hair, only a shade lighter than my own hair, smiling next to a boy wearing a Tennessee baseball cap. They were young. Happy. Alive. The murder was never explicitly described on TV. They only ever said “heinous.” It was a heinous crime. It was a heinous crime that happened in the same town where I rode my bike. The same town where my dad parked his car. The same town where my mom worked late. I didn’t read the details of the crime until years later. I regretted it. The dark is so much scarier when the monsters are real. And when the monsters are people, people whose bones are likely the same color as mine.
Last night I was walking home from the park. I wasn’t alone, I had a man beside me. But so did Channon. I kept turning my head back and sizing up the men on the sidewalk. Joe watched me jump at shadows, and I could see him wondering, asking why. We were less than a block from campus and there was a man leaning against a tattoo parlor. He was watching us, his fist tapping the brick wall. My mace was buried in a bag. I didn’t have any money for him take. He would take my laptop, all of my writing, and maybe my phone. Maybe that would be all. Maybe I could leave with my body intact. The man turned from the wall and entered the tattoo parlor. As we walked by I kept craning my head back. I wanted to be certain.
When I got back to my room I told a friend about the man leaning against the tattoo parlor. She said I was just paranoid. Later that night I researched the difference between pepper spray and mace. I learned that pepper spray causes more pain. I went on Amazon to make sure mine was pepper spray. It is. And I added a purple stun gun to my wish list.
Sophie Ezzell was the winner of two Maier Writing Awards for her works in fiction and poetry. She is currently pursuing a degree in Creative Writing from Marshall University, where she also serves as Poetry Editor for its literary magazine, Et Cetera.