The picketers saw me.
One of the men noticed my approach, causing the others to turn an icy gaze toward me. This singular glance wordlessly signaled the collective protest to escalate.
First, the lifting of the handheld crude signs. Then, a raised cacophony of angry shouting.
Shame and vitriol.
And I was now the target. To them: surely an upgrade from the detached pedestrians merely passing by.
Although I had the practiced gait of a New Yorker, the confident clicking of my footsteps in leather soles against the sidewalk abruptly stopped.
One of the protestors, satisfied, raised his “Stop!” sign higher, making his dollar store cardboard dance.
Individuals ceased to exist in my vision as the mass of men became a singular “them.” They screamed louder at me to stop.
I was already frozen in stillness. They didn’t notice.
Their voices, although at first registering louder to my ears, dissolved to a numb din—mercifully erasing individual voices or words as the blood rushed to my ears.
They implored me to stop. I couldn’t even find an inhale.
My breath first caught in my throat before ceasing completely.
Breath felt like a threat to my mental capacities.
It’s what they wanted.
Stillness fell to every strand of the fiber in my jeans. Yet, my face was in motion as tears welled up in my eyes. The building sensation of suffocation amassed in my chest.
My eyes dilated as I sought to take in the details around me, seeking escape.
The shouting continued. My breath did not.
I muttered to myself in run-on words-without-spaces:
The brick wall on the sidewalk behind me was the only place to flee.
In a swift motion, I pivoted, my back now to the din. My face found a moment of brief solace in the crumbling vintage brick and the gum stain marks on the sidewalk.
A tear threatened to fall onto my white rabbit-fur jacket.
And in this momentary interlude, one breath entered my body.
And with that intake—a thought.
“This is not how I’m going to make this decision.”
Although sure I was going to be suffocated by the presence of my stomach in my throat, I located an exhale.
It was enough.
I turned back around to face them.
My body unfroze. My jeans again in motion. My leather soles took a soundless step.
Three more steps. Directly toward the undifferentiated mass.
Step. Step. Step. My body moved closer to the crude signs.
The fur on my jacket moved as the mouths shouted, now inches from my ear.
The signs pushed chaotically close to my hair.
I turned a sharp corner and arrived at the door. I reached for the heavy rounded handle on the metal door, and my knees buckled. Above me: an unmarked door, only silently advertising “Planned Parenthood” to the street.
The tear hanging from my eyes finally unfroze and moved down my face, following the line of collapse in my body.
In a rush of motion, a security guard sped toward me and gruffly lifted me by the armpits to haul me past the next set of doors.