When I was 13-years old, I was running in the park one evening when a young man, possibly in his early twenties started to follow me around. He approached me, put his arm around me and said, “Want to have sex with me?”
I pushed him away and told him that if he didn’t want any trouble, he’d back off. I continued my run and noticed he was still right behind me. It was a big park, and it was getting dark. There weren’t many people around. I turned to the left, the part where there were no lights and almost never any people. I went to the most poorly lit corner and sat down. In that moment, I didn’t know why I was doing what I was; a strange sort of determination was taking over. As if the awareness of what I had to do had morphed itself into a physical sensation.
He followed me into the dark corner, put his hand on my face and asked again, ‘Want to have sex with me?”
In one moment, I stood up, a steam of rage escaping my ears, slapped him twice and punched him straight in the nose. He fell to the ground. I had blood on my knuckles and his nose was spewing like a faucet.
“Still want to have sex?” I asked as tears fell out of his grown-up eyes. He got up and ran away. Every giant leap he took satisfied my heart in a way I hadn’t known before. I felt empowered.
I walked home, and as soon as I got there I told my mother what had happened. She listened with a consistently souring expression and ultimately said, “You are too reckless.”
Little did I know, I would be hearing those words in that tone of disapproval from myriad sources for the rest of my life.
For a while, I took the word to mean I was irresponsible. I inferred from context that I did things that made people angry with worry and that emotion seemed so condescending to me that it was almost motivation to continue doing whatever the hell it was I wanted.
Soon enough, certain events transpired in our lives that led to circumstances where I had to take control of our household. My father wasn’t around, my mother was steeped in a deep dark pit of depression and physical disease, and my sister was a sensitive little child. Determined not to let either my mother’s or my father’s family take charge of our lives; I took over. I saw no other option. I met no resistance so I went on instinct and kept doing the things I thought needed to be done.
Years passed this way. I would spend my day in school, my afternoons taking care of my mother, the evenings making sure my sister got to classes, Friday afternoons at the bank, my Saturdays arranging to pay bills and sorting through the mail, my Sundays buying groceries, cleaning the house and catching up on doctor’s appointments for the family, late evenings walking the dogs, learning to drive, tending to the emotional issues of the family…
And my nights, mostly in bed with men who made me scream and smile.
If I were going out at night, I usually snuck out through the door upstairs that led to the service stairs, but when I came back I used the main door. One day, when I walked into my house at 6 AM to wake my sister up and get ready for school, my mother was already awake. More likely, she had never been to bed. She was sitting in the living room and as soon as I entered, she asked, “Where were you?”
“I was with some friends,” I told her.
“You’re lying; you were out having sex, weren’t you?” She asked, “Why don’t you just give it away to any man on the street?”
I was antagonized, I wanted to yell at her but I knew her, even then, it would be to no avail. So I silently started walking up the stairs.
“You know what,” she said and I looked back, “You are too reckless.”
I was confused. I thought about it, I believed that I was not irresponsible. I looked back over the past two years of my life and realized I hadn’t made a single mistake. Nothing I had taken on had negatively affected anyone due to my non-performance. Why then was I still being called reckless?
So I did what I should have done long ago, I looked up the word.
Apparently what I was, is defined as heedless of danger or the consequences of one’s actions. I sat down on my bed and thought about it.
“How many times in the past year have I mentally used the phrase damn the consequences?” I wondered.
“Only when you sing that garbage song you love,” came the response.
A few years later, I was at a wedding my friend’s house when her father who had always been very friendly, started coming on to me. His wife hadn’t lived in the house in years and by reputation he was known as slightly notorious (and that is putting it very, very kindly). Ours was a strange town; at 17 your fathers brought you drinks should you ask for them. And so he did.
One drink. Then another.
When he asked if I wanted another, I said yes. He said he had something special in his bar in the basement (we knew of everything he had in that bar, we midnight-raided it regularly) and I could come with him. I followed him away from the party and into the confines of that basement. That feeling, the feeling of unaware determination but physical awareness came rushing back. By this time I knew what to do with it, or at least it knew what to make me do. (Think felix felicis)
“Fuck the drink,” I told him as the headiness of it all came to head, “And fuck me.”
That night when I lay in my bed telling my lover over the phone about the things that I had done that evening, I realized, “damn the consequences” isn’t really a question you ask yourself. If only it had that much restraint, it might not even be a problem. “Damn the consequences” was the inexplicable physical sensation that overwhelmed in its determined quest.
Perhaps then, I was reckless.
I thought back to all the times I had done things in the heady grips of that sensation and the evidence was pretty incriminating. Reckless, as charged.
Two questions remained. Two big questions.
Based on the information I had, my recklessness had never gotten me into trouble and had at times even made me do what I still believe were the right things to do, so why did it always merit the tone of disapproval it was wielded with? And, was I in control of my recklessness or was it controlling me?
I didn’t deal with it or dwell on my questions. That is what I do; I wait for the answers to show themselves because they always do. It was a few years before one of the answers showed themselves, maybe both.
By then I was conditioned to giving into the call of recklessness unquestioningly. In fact, by this time that overwhelming physical sensation had started to manifest itself even before the situations to exercise it arose. And in the grips of one such episode when the need to indulge in reckless behavior was at its height, I got up in the middle of the night and walked out onto the streets.
It was 2 AM and exceptionally pleasant. It had rained all day and the sweet smell of moist earth was determining my path more than anything else. Or so I believed. I ended up in what can be referred to as a bad neighborhood. I had been there by night before, and nothing had ever happened. Emboldened by that information or determined by my desire to find trouble, I ventured on.
Without going into too much detail, I can tell you, I was attacked. Viciously attacked by a man whose touch I still sometimes use to induce nausea.
Hours later, drowsy, bereft of all my belongings and amazed that I was alive, I ran home the moment I regained consciousness and realized I was alone. The only question on my mind, “Had I gone out looking to be attacked?”
Something happened to me after that. I closed myself off from the world and let myself believe that recklessness was the worst trait I possessed. I denied myself everything that I needed and wanted. I dwelled on the details of the attack until I believed that not only had I gone out looking for it, I had enjoyed it.
Ultimately, I realized that what was truly destroying me was not the grip of recklessness I had succumbed to but the pit of fear I had dug for myself because of what I had always known recklessness could lead to. I had been rewarded for my recklessness so many times in life but having been punished for it once had made me regret all other things I had so enjoyed. It wasn’t my fault that the streets aren’t safe, I have the right to safety in my own country. Crime like this happens all the time, but a million factors go into making you the person it happened to. I didn’t deserve it, but it would be ridiculous to say that I didn’t facilitate it happening to me. Not by being out in the streets in the middle of the night, but by believing my recklessness could never lead me to harm. And if that meant that I was indeed the person who walked out into the night looking for perpetrators, I had to take responsibility for that. My recklessness had owned me long enough; I had to own its consequences and assimilate those into the fibre of who I am.
Having lived through that, did my proclivity to recklessness disappear? No, it did not. But over time I developed or at least I believe I have developed an ability to discern when I should indulge it and when I should deny it. Still, I never deny it; I merely channel it into activities the consequences of which will come in small dosages as opposed to outright trauma.
I am still the person who would prefer to go with it each time it appears. I am still the person who goes with the feeling of damning the consequences when it absolutely overwhelms me. But that shadow of fear never goes away. Perhaps that shadow is what makes me believe, I know better because I know what can happen. It springs up and says no with the innate ability to overpower my recklessness whenever it doesn’t trust what I am to do.
That shadow is what reminds me to consider each time I take the plunge: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger only IF it doesn’t kill you first. That’s a big if, but I have to trust the shadow knows better than I do.