Things We Do To Keep From Dyingby Dominica Phetteplace
Self-defense class was supposed to make Janet feel better, but instead it made her feel culpable, an accomplice to her own assault.She left early, holding back her tears until she was safely in the car where no one could see her cry.
“Too soon,” said Eugene, meaning that he would try to convince to return to these awful classes.
“No!” she shouted, which at least showed she been paying attention during class.
Eugene didn’t respond.It was another argument that would have to be put off until later.Before she was attacked, Janet had a system for keeping herself safe.Never walk by yourself at night and cross the street to avoid black guys.Now all men scare her and every dog looks like it might bite.
The cupcake special was Chocolate Raspberry.First Janet piped raspberry buttercream into the center of each chocolate cupcake, then she spread a dark ganache over the top.She finished it off with a perfectly centered raspberry.She liked the meticulous and repetitive work, even though it cramped her hands into lobster claws by the end of her shift.
It was her first day back at work, after taking two days off.There was a scar on her neck where the knife had been held.She covered it up with a scarf.She wasn’t going to tell anyone because she needed an escape from pity.
Elaine came in an hour before opening to inspect all the pastries.
“Lopsided,” she said pointing to one of Janet’s cupcakes.
“What do you mean?”
“The ganache is thicker on this side than the other.”Elaine cut it in half to examine the filling and took a bite which she chewed carefully before spitting out.She was tasting, not eating, and needed to stay hungry.
Elaine proceeded to dissect one of each kind.The pear and cream cheese tartlet, the flourless chocolate cookie, the croissants: plain and almond.She prodded and sniffed them and spat each one out when she was done.
This was not the hardest part of Janet’s shift.The hardest part was the minute before the bakery opened, when all the pastries were arranged behind the counter like a Thiebaud painting.Janet wished she could live her whole life in that minute.
Eugene insisted on meeting Janet after her shift ended at noon, just as he insisted dropping her off at 4am when her shift began.They walked home together, always crossing the street if there were any suspicious looking men or dogs approaching. She napped, then ate a sandwich, then watched the episode of “Dancing With The Stars” that she had recorded.Eugene read a book on motorcycle mechanics, ate a sandwich with Janet, then went to karate class without suggesting she join him.
He went everyday, to different classes.Mixed martial arts, Thai boxing.He wasn’t really interested in self-defense; he was more interested in killing the man who raped his wife.
He spent his days hating that man, while Janet passed the time hating herself, specifically the alternate version of herself, the one who existed in a parallel universe, and who had escaped harm.Parallel Janet avoided either the wrong place or the wrong time and had no idea how lucky she was.
“I have an idea,” he said after he had returned from his karate class, “How about I take ballroom classes if you take martial arts?”
Janet said she would think about it.She was playing Wii, not because she felt like it, but because that was what Parallel Janet was probably doing right now.
“Okay,” she said, five minutes later.“I will go to fighting class, but I want a different teacher.”
“What didn’t you like about your old teacher?”
Janet couldn’t really put it into words.It wasn’t because Gracie was an obvious lesbian.No, that wasn’t the reason.It was because Gracie was overly assertive.And she had too many good ideas.Bite the ears, gouge the eyes, kick the shins, scream for help, bash your head against his nose.Things that Janet would have been too scared to do even if they had occurred to her.The unending list of good ideas added more regrets on top of the existing ones and Janet was at capacity.
“Fight back.You must always fight back,” Gracie said.
Janet hadn’t fought back.Janet thought that if she was very still and cooperative, he might let her live.And he had, didn’t that vindicate her strategy?
Rape was her worst fear, aside from cancer.That it was something her mother always warned her about only made the scar on her neck hurt worse.
“They always go after Asian women, and they consider you Asian.”Being hapa, not everybody considered Janet to be Asian.She didn’t know if her rapist did.He looked White, but he might have been a light-skinned Mexican.
On Eugene’s first day back at work, Janet’s sister Audrina picked her up after her shift.Audrina loved high heels and thus hated walking, so they drove the half-mile distance from the bakery to the apartment.
Janet used to ride her bike to and from work, before being by herself seemed too dangerous.
It had happened because she was by herself and because she hadn’t been paying enough attention.So to prevent it from happening again, she would never be alone and always be alert.Relaxed and carefree women were just asking for it.
It had happened in the evening, in the post-twilight near dark.She was walking home from the BART Station when she got pulled into an alley.
After he fled, she called her husband and she called the police.She filed a report and gave her best description.Caucasian male, about six feet, hair past his ears.White button-up shirt, or was it gray?Sunglasses and a knife with a three-inch blade.It left a superficial cut.She had a gynecological exam at the police station.Evidence was collected, photographs were taken of her injuries.Emergency contraception was administered and so was a course of anti-HIV drugs.No guarantees on the drugs, she might still get pregnant and die of AIDS, but the fistful of pills would decrease the likelihood of that, even if they made her weak with nausea.
There was never much hope of catching the guy.No one needed to tell her that. But Eugene had a plan.He would look up all the Megan’s law offenders in the neighborhood.If you are a category three sex offender (that is, both a violent and repeat offender) they will post your picture along with your name and address.His plan was to comb through this and not take any leads to the police.
But then the police got him first, when he tried to use Janet’s credit card at a pot dispensary in Oaksterdam.Of all the places to get narced.
The officer showed up at Janet and Eugene’s apartment the next day to deliver the good news in person.
“We got lucky,” said Officer Banks.
“If I was lucky I wouldn’t have been raped in the first place,” said Janet.
“That’s correct and I’m sorry about that.What I mean is that I’m glad he’s not real bright.We don’t catch the smart ones.”
“Thank You, Officer,” said Eugene.The arrest hadn’t altered his plans, just the timeline of the thing he must do.If that rapist was ever released for whatever reason, Eugene would have an obligation to end his life.It was not just an obligation to Janet, but to all the women of the world.The predator must not be allowed to hunt again.Looking over the Megan’s Law List only hardened Eugene in this resolve.The strong must protect the weak, and Eugene was strong.
It felt like the right thing to do, even in his least vengeful moments.This life was not the last life there was.Allow the rapist to be reincarnated, to be born again, to be given a chance to work off his Karmic Debt.
The special cupcake was S’more.It was a chocolate cake that had chunks of graham cracker baked in, topped with a marshmallow frosting that was singed at the edges.Janet wore a welder’s mask as she applied the industrial torch to each cake.
In the middle of her task, she paused out of sheer satisfaction.The marshmallow was evenly singed and here she was, a woman wielding a dangerous weapon.She should take this torch everywhere with her, along with the bedazzled, hot-pink mace that was burning a hole in her pocket.
Her mom was driving out all the way from Sacramento to pick her up from work.It was an hour away, more if there was traffic, and even more because her Mom was perpetually late.It was noon on a bright, overcast day.Janet could walk herself home, torch and mace in hand, and be down for a nap in less than fifteen minutes.
Instead she was sitting on the sidewalk bench in front of the bakery bracing herself for a wait.It gave her a better vantage point for the dog incident of the day.A woman walked in with a large, gray poodle.
“You can’t bring your dog in here,” said Gretchen, the cashier.
“It’s a service animal,” the woman replied.Gretchen stared at the animal, not sure how to respond to that.The poodle wasn’t even on a leash.The dog jumped its front paws onto the marble counter and grabbed a green-tea eclair with the precision of a circus performer.Why didn’t it take the even more delicious chocolate eclair, thought Janet, did it somehow know that chocolate is poison for dogs.
Janet expected the poodle to hand the eclair to its owner, but instead it exited the bakery, and ate the pastry in two bites on the sidewalk outside.Then it sat down by the door and waited for its owner to finish her purchase.Janet eyed it uneasily, wondering what to do if the dog decided to attack her.Poodles were reputed to be crazy.Could this poodle kill her or would she know how to survive a mauling?
“Your going to have to pay for that,” said Gretchen.
“No, I don’t.It’s the law,” the woman replied.She grabbed a chocolate eclair for herself and Gretchen rang her up.
“Ten dollars, please.”
“For one eclair?”
“No, ten dollars for two eclairs.They’re five dollars each.”
“Five dollars for one eclair?Are you kidding me?” the woman said, “I can go around the corner and get a donut for 99 cents.”
“Then you should go there instead,” said Gretchen, veering off script.
Sticker shock was not uncommon at the bakery.Gretchen’s usual answer for this involved a lengthy explanation about the locally sourced ingredients.
“I will not patronize a business that discriminates against the differently abled.”The woman left without paying for either eclair.Janet briefly considered putting her foot out to trip the woman as she left, but she didn’t want to start something she might not be able to finish.That poodle’s teeth looked sharp.
At 2pm Janet was tired of waiting and decided to walk home.She took the torch with her.Its heft was confidence inspiring, there were so many ways it could protect her.She found herself with a head full of good ideas, ones that would make a self-defense teacher proud.Swing the torch at his brain, kick him in the shins, mace the face, burn, burn, burn.
The bakery was on College Ave, the same street as the train station and the same street Janet was attacked on.She walked three blocks out of her way just to avoid passing that spot.She kept her eye out for any dogs or men, and locked the deadbolt and fastened the chain after she got home.
She thought she would be nervous to be alone for the first time, but she was relieved.She was only able to enjoy the quiet and her distance from the rest of the world for a few moments before her cell phone began to buzz.
“Where are you?”It was her mom.
“I’m at home.I got tired of waiting.”
“You had me so worried.How could you walk home by yourself after what happened to you?”
Janet’s mom showed up at the apartment with good news.
“We found you a car!”
Janet was silent.
“You don’t look happy,” her mom said.“Look, it’s beautiful.She pulled out her cell phone and showed blurry pictures of a bright gold SUV.“It’s your favorite color.”
“I hope you didn’t buy it already.”
“Why do you care more about saving the planet that saving yourself?”
Janet’s bike was gold.She had spray-painted it herself.Eugene thought that for safety’s sake, a bike should at least have brakes, if not gears, but Janet preferred the clean lines of her fixie.Nothing extra and gold all over.And she was safe on her bicycle, from rapists, but not cars.So the answer was more armor.
The next morning wore baggy clothes so that she would look like a boy.She thought about cutting off her ponytail right then and there to complete the look, but hair decisions are best not made at 3:54 am.Quietly, so as not to wake him, she removed Eugene’s motocross helmet from the closet.It was lightweight and it covered most of her face.Her good disguise was made better by the bandanna she tied around her face to cover her nose and mouth.The scar was left exposed, in that moment, she didn’t mind.A scar makes you look weak if you are a woman, but tough if you are a man.
She admired her self in the mirror.She might be Shaun White or a bank robber from an old western.Her backpack had a special compartment for a yoga mat.This is where she put the blowtorch.
The special cupcake was cocoa nib, a chocolate cake topped with a vanilla buttercream that was studded with roasted cocoa beans.The topper was a shard of nib brittle that Janet had made from scratch.Elaine had nothing bad to say about the cupcakes, either with respect to their taste or design, which was especially gratifying since the recipe was of Janet’s own design.She was beginning to feel like a real chef.
“Do you have any other ideas for flavors?” asked Elaine.
Janet beamed.She had millions of other ideas for flavors.
The dog incident of the day occurred when a woman tried to bring her mutt into the store.
“We don’t allow dogs in the bakery.It violates the city health code,” said Gretchen, bracing herself for a fight.But the customer surprised everyone by leaving.
“Surprise ending,” said Gretchen to herself.
The customer tied her dog to a parking meter the re-entered the store to browse cupcakes.Her dog howled at her as she peered at the day’s offerings.She didn’t seem to notice, not even when her dog would bark or growl at passersby.Gretchen frowned as she saw a mother with her toddler cross the street to avoid the unhappy animal.
“You shouldn’t leave your dog like that,” said Gretchen.
“He’s fine,” the woman replied.The dog yelped at the sound of her voice
“It may be convenient for you, but it’s inconsiderate to everyone else.Heck, its inconsiderate to the dog.”
The woman left without buying anything.
At the end of her shift, Janet again donned the bandana and motorcross helmet to ride home.She fell right into her nap, then was startled by the sound of the doorbell.Janet’s heart raced as she considered who might be at the door.If it was UPS or the mailman or any other type of man, she would just pretend not to be home.But what if it was a burglar, who would then break-in because he thought no one was home?Janet grabbed the phone, ready to dial 911.No, she would need a heavy object to defend herself.She grabbed the blowtorch from her backpack and held it in her hand.But when she faced her would be attacker through the peephole, she saw her sister Audrina staring back at her.Janet’s heart rate did not return to normal right away.It never did.
They were learning the foxtrot.Eugene and Janet were both stiff, but he was trying his hardest while she was scared to try.Eventually the male half of the instructor couple came over to help her.
“And one and two and…” he said, but she wasn’t paying attention.She was dancing and simultaneously marveling at the fact that she was dancing.It was easy with a partner who knew how to lead, you didn’t even have to think of what to do, you somehow just knew.
Audrina was teetering in her too-high heels, stumbling and then falling into her boyfriend’s arms at least once every eight count.Janet got a tiny satisfaction from out-dancing her sister, though she wasn’t out-enjoying her.
Audrina came knocking again the next night, again without calling first.How did she even know Janet would be available?Was her life that empty and predictable?They went back to the same gym, but it wasn’t ballroom night.
“Welcome to Flight or Fight class,” said the instructor in a thick, Russian accent.
Another self-defense class.But this one was different and fancy.The Flight part of the class consisted of Parkour.Vaulting, somersaulting, hitting the wall and bouncing back and balancing on the beams and pipes strewn about the studio.Audrina and Janet were too scared to try anything crazy.They jumped and ran, but didn’t flip over anything.
The last half of the class was devoted to fighting the way they do in the movies, with flying kicks and spinning punches.Nothing that would necessarily save your life, but the frivolity was liberating in its own way.
Janet did have one question, but she waited until after class to ask it.
“If you were attacked by a dog, how would you fight back?” she asked the instructor.And he told her.
It was knowledge she needed.She hated passing by one of the dogs on the street.They made her sick with fear, she would cower to her corner of the sidewalk, and the owner would be smug knowing that the way ahead had been cleared by their own personal attack dog.These dogs and these owners were trying to put her in her place and she was sick of it.She would learn how to fight, she would learn how to get bit and scratched and how to avoid being killed and after she learned those things she would be able to take up as much space as she wanted on the sidewalk.
She was safe on her bicycle, not from cars, but from rapists and hounds.Her bicycle that she had spray-painted gold to make her go faster.It helped to be outfitted in a helmet and bandanna.These things disguised her and protected her.
It was noon and she had just finished her shift.The residential streets were overcast and deserted.She slowed as she approached a crosswalk to allow a man with his pitbull to cross the street in front of her.He took a tight grip on his leash, but it wasn’t tight enough.The beast lunged after as she rode past, breaking free of its owner and chasing her.It didn’t bark because it didn’t want to scare her away.It wanted to kill her.She could sense it there, and she knew what it was she had to do.
She stopped the bike.The dog ran up to her, teeth gleaming.She kicked it in the face.It bit her, but was not able to sink its teeth in.She swung her backpack off her shoulder and towards the dog.She could hear the blow torch tank make contact with its skull.The impact knocked the dog on its side.
She swung her self around the dog’s body and caught its throat in the crook of her elbow.She was almost riding it, as if it were a tiny pony.It thrashed, her blood dripped from his teeth, but he could not escape.She bashed her helmet against its head, causing the dog to go still.Then she choked him until she was sure.She needed to be sure.