I am 23 and walking along the LA River. A man walks over to me and asks me about the fish in the river. He asks me if I’ve seen the tadpoles but he forgets the word and says baby frogs what are they called? I say tadpoles and I am excited to talk about tadpoles. I love the river and I love looking at it and I love learning the names of the things that exist there. I am excited to talk about tadpoles. I am excited to talk to a stranger, to have a conversation, to be open and living my life unguarded. I am thinking about not being guarded which is itself a leftover vestige of being guarded, of being anxious since birth, and being a “shy kid.” and of being followed at 15 and offered money and drinks at 16, and photographing being asked where is the lake and replying that I don’t know where the lake is and can I walk with you and saying sure even though I did not want to because at that time I wasn’t even trying to not be guarded and then you are so beautiful you are like an angel and how old are you? 17 and I hope it’s not creepy I’m 26 and then I call my partner to pretend that I’m meeting a friend to end this conversation and then they were upset that I had the courtesy of pretending but it wasn’t courtesy it was fear. And anyways I had to learn to be guarded and I am by the river excited to be unlearning it and talking about tadpoles.
And then you are beautiful do you want to hang out and I say thanks I’m gonna go and I wish we were still talking about the tadpoles or maybe the other fish or maybe the pigeons or the great blue herons or the double-crested cormorants or my favorite the black-necked stilts but instead I walk away and consider that he has a bike but it’s okay because he doesn’t follow me.
None of this stops me. I walk around alone at night, my whereabouts accountable to no one. Growing up I never had to report where I was and I'm not going to start now. Maybe this is because nothing truly That Bad has happened to me but I have the feeling that it would only make me more stubborn and maybe I would finally take the self-defense class I've been thinking about but I won't stop being alone at night and I won't start assuming the worst in people. And I won't stop seeking unguarded conversations with strangers even when they are disappointing again and again. I would rather die walking around alone at night than stop doing it. And besides the tadpole guy happened during the day and it’s not even about the tadpole guy it’s that no one just wants to talk about tadpoles.