I have been chased once and I have given chase once. I mean the sort of chase adrenaline takes over.
The time I was chased, I was jogging on a path along the Mississippi. It was summer, and I had decided that by the end of the summer I should be able to run to the end of the path, maybe four miles, and still be able to run home. I would run early in the mornings when the air wasn’t hot yet and not many people were on the path. Actually, not many people were ever on that path. It was the lower of two paths—the more popular one was on the upper bank of the river, beside a road, and the path I followed was lower, beside the river. Access to this lower path was by way of a long staircase with many short flights and landings. It was maybe eight storeys or ten.
I was running along the lower path, and I was having a good run—I had made it to the end of the path and I was on my way home, still feeling strong. I was maybe a mile from the staircase I would ascend toward home when I saw a man walking along the path toward me. Because I had seen so few people coming along the path, I noticed him when he was still far in the distance. He was walking in a loose, exaggerated way, like he was making fun of walking; it looked like he might be drunk. As I got closer, I saw that his face was smiling a kind of smile that made me want to look away. It was mostly about exposing the bones in his face. Also, though he was walking oddly, I decided he wasn’t drunk though it worried me to lose drunkeness as an explanation for how he was behaving.
His body wasn’t large, yet his loose way of walking took up a lot of space, and I began to worry about whether the path would be wide enough for me to pass him. Most of all, I did not want our arms to brush or to touch him in any way. I thought, As long as I do not touch him, whatever is in him making him walk loosely and contort his face might remain contained.
When I was very close to him, I saw that it would be possible to pass him without our bodies touching. And as I passed him, a sound came out of his face. Involuntary, like a choke, and it frightened me, so I sped up. I sped up, and I heard him begin running. I looked over my shoulder and saw that he was very close behind me, and the smile that wasn’t really a smile was still on his face.
I felt myself begin to run very fast, and without being out of breath. I felt I could run any distance for any amount of time on any surface. I ran, and he was running behind me—chasing me, it was now clear. When I got to the staircase and began ascending two, three stairs at a time, he was still behind me. I concentrated on the stairs and moving my body on them in the most efficient way possible. Soon he wasn’t behind me but below me; when I would turn on a landing to run up the next flight of stairs, I would see him on a lower flight, still smiling.
I got to the top of the stairs, crossed the upper path, ran into the road, crossed the road, ran a short distance into an auto mechanic’s open garage. Men in greasy cover-alls looked away from their tools at me. Some were kind of smiling, kind of confused. One said, Can I help you? or something like that. I said I had just been chased. Then I ran out of the garage to home, where I got in the shower. It was only when I had started putting shampoo in my hair that my legs and then the rest of my body were shaking. I felt like I was going to vomit, but I didn’t. Eventually the feeling went away.
The time I chased someone, it was dark, maybe ten o’clock at night. I had been feeling restless, so I was going for a walk. I was wearing black pants a black polar fleece jacket. I was walking in the U-District of Seattle, listening to a CD, I think it was something by Miles Davis. In one pocket I carried a CD player and in the other I carried house keys. I was wearing earbud headphones.
I walked south toward a railroad bed that’s been converted into a pedestrian trail. North of the trail for about a block, there’s a stretch of gravel used during the workday as a parking lot. At night, few cars are there, and consequently few people. Between the circles of light cast by one or two streetlights, there is darkness. I had crossed a circle of light into darkness when something heavy fell out of the sky onto my back.
This is when the music I had been listening to stopped, though it may have gone on playing in my headphones. Anyway, this is when my memory of the music stops.
The heavy thing that had fallen onto my back had arms, and it had one arm over my shoulder like it was going to put me into a head lock, and the other arm was pressed into my back, and I fell face-first onto the gravel. When I was on the ground, the heavy thing on my back said, Give me your money.
Maybe the heavy thing’s mistake was that it talked, because when it did, I could hear its voice shake, and I knew the heavy thing was at least as afraid of me as I was of it. Although I was still afraid, I felt less afraid, and I began thinking about how I could reverse the situation and get the heavy thing face-first in the gravel and in a headlock.
I said that I didn’t have any money since I didn’t. I was frightened enough that I probably would have given the heavy thing my money if I’d had any; for a second I worried that the heavy thing would hurt me because I didn’t have any money. But I dismissed that idea because of the fear I’d heard in the heavy thing’s voice.
The heavy thing grabbed the CD player from my hand and pulled it, and I felt the jerk of the plug uncoupling from the player. I’m not sure whether the headphones were still in my ears at this point; if they were, I would have heard the music abruptly stop if I was even aware of the music at all; in any case, now is when it definitely would have stopped. The heavy thing got off my back, and I quickly stood up. Standing, I saw that there were two heavy things—the one that had fallen on my back, and a smaller one, maybe a child, and they were both running away from me.
Because they didn’t seem like agile runners, and because I was confused about what to do, and a little angry, I chased them. We ran in and out of another circle of light and into darkness, and I was easily catching up. I could hear them both breathing, and they were breathing harder than I was. When I got close enough to do something, maybe leap onto the heavy thing’s back, I realized what I was doing and decided it would probably be best for me not to be doing it. There were two of them, and though they both seemed incompetent, I wasn’t sure that I would be much better at doing what they had done. What would I do when I was on the heavy thing’s back? It seemed like this could go on indefinitely, us chasing each other, leaping onto each other’s backs. So I stopped running, or I didn’t stop running, but I changed the direction I was running, and soon I was home.
Someone there convinced me to call the police. I don’t remember much of that. I do remember that I was sweating a strange odor, and I became convinced that my body smelled like the heavy thing.
At work the next day, when someone came up behind me or touched me, I would jump and pull away, and my heart would race. This lasted for many days. Eventually, the feeling went away, though not without leaving a trace.