Last week, my very close friend – my “soul friend” – Diana described to me a very scary experience she had had earlier that week.
“I was sitting out in front of Battery Park, by myself (she is frequently joined by various of her many friends – smoking and non-smoking), smoking my cigarettes – and I see this guy taking pictures of me. I pulled my hat down over my face.” She has been wearing a very hot, heavy toboggan hat all summer for situations just like this – though most are not this scary. If somebody in her little posse – or especially someone else who is not one of her regulars and she may not like – sometimes nobody in the little group likes them – is saying something she doesn’t like and doesn’t feel ready to confront (she does confront people sometimes) she pulls her hat down over her face and feels like she has disappeared. In this particular instance with the mysterious photographer, covering her face made very intuitive sense. “When I finally pulled my hat back up, he was gone.”
I thought it was probably all paranoia – Diana sometimes has the experience of paranoia, which she has described to me very clearly and specifically. When she does tell me about this experience – several times now – it always violates my expectations, as a once-upon-a-time psychologist, of someone who is paranoid that they would describe it so clearly, confide to a friend about it, and name it as paranoia. Diana is complicated – ever surprising.
“Diana, people take pictures of this building all the time. It is a historic property. Those stairs leading up to the front door are very beautiful. You always sit right next to those stairs. How do you know he was taking pictures of you and not the building?” She had no good answer for this – and I thought she seemed maybe at least a little comforted by my challenge.
Today around noon, several of us were out in front of the building. Diana and maybe three others were sitting on the cement block wall and I was probably regaling them with funny and interesting and heroically boundary-setting (my new fetish) stories from my morning – which I am wont to do and which all of them love.
Suddenly Diana pulled her hat low over her face. I knew immediately that she was scared, but what had scared her? All my nerve endings had woken up, as I also sensed that there was danger around here somewhere. I looked around – and directly across the street from us, in front of the Grove Arcade, were two men, one of them very clearly taking pictures of us. He was not aiming his camera at the stairs of the building – he was aiming it at us.
It did not take me a second to respond – in a way that was very unlike me. (OK, not really so unlike how I have been for the last six weeks or so – but certainly unlike me for the rest of my life before this six weeks.)
Without thinking or hesitating or planning, I was instantly at the curb, screaming at the top of my lungs: “Who the fuck are you? What the fuck are you doing? Get the fuck away from us. I’m calling the cops – I’m going to call the cops right now!”
When I then returned to our wall, Diana looked at me with big, adoring eyes: “You protected your soul friend!” “Yes I did – immediately, instinctively, not needing to think about it. I will do that every time, Diana – I promise it. Now let’s call the cops!”
“He just left.”
It had all been so exciting and brave – and so totally unlike me, Mr. Too-Nice Guy.” I let out a big belly laugh: “That was so great! And I never even really got angry – I just acted and sounded angry. I just wanted to scare him the fuck away. And it worked!”
Later I said, “I’ve got a hunch he may never come back – I think I really scared him. But, Diana, you’ve got to promise me that if you ever see him again, you will immediately call the cops.” “I promise.” I know she meant it, I know she has it in her to do this, but I’m not positive she will do it. Fear can freeze us in our tracks.
But maybe she will think about my big bellows – and the sight of him running away – and that will give her courage.