Last night, while I was rugged up in a fluffy doona and ugly crying to an episode of 13 Reasons Why – a big bowl of chicken pho gurgling in my stomach – my apartment’s intercom phone rang.
The lights were off, the room lit only by the bluish hue of the TV. My boyfriend was at his parents’ house for dinner. Our apartment building was otherwise silent, the air pierced only by the ringing.
I muted the television and dialled my partner’s number, thinking maybe he had come home early and needed help lugging our washing up the stairs. He picked up.
“Are you at the door?” I frantically whispered (I don’t know why) without bothering to say hello. The ringing subsided.
No, he wasn’t, he told me. He had just jumped in the car to drive back home.
“Maybe it’s just a friend, dropping something off? Or a deliveryman? Or a neighbour locked out?” he suggested.
I pointed out a friend would tell us they’re coming over at 10pm on a Tuesday. He agreed.
Deliverymen do not deliver at 10pm on a Tuesday. He agreed.
A neighbour could dial the other apartments in our block. He agreed.
“Okay, well why don’t you answer the intercom and see who it is?” he said.
It was a fair suggestion. An obvious, rational one.
The intercom rang again.
Answer, you bloody idiot, I thought to myself. Just see who's there. The front door is locked, anyway. If you don't want to open the door you don't have to. It's probably nothing at all. Look down the window and you'll be able to see who it is.
I thought all of these things, and I didn't move. I didn't do anything. I couldn't. I sat still on the couch, the TV splashing red and blue and white light on my face, staring at the stupid intercom in the stupid hallway.
But who on earth would be ringing our intercom at 10pm on a Tuesday?
Something about this felt bad. It felt quiet and eerie and bad.
It rang again. I waited in the darkness for it to stop.
Once the third ring died, I made my boyfriend promise to stay on the phone with me, frustrated by my own irrationality that I couldn't just answer. I was protected by two locked doors, after all. And the person downstairs might have needed something. Whoever is down there almost definitely means no harm.
This was ridiculous and dramatic and total unnecessary.
But it was also night time. And I was alone. And despite all logic and reason, I just couldn't do it. My fear was enough to not care.
LISTEN: The episode of Girls every man needs to watch. (Post continues...)
I was resolute in the fact I would not answer. They would leave, I thought. Nobody rings more than three times, right? They will leave and I can go back to sobbing at Hannah Baker's unfortunate life.
"Oh my God Mitch, he's ringing again. What the F*CK?"
I scurried into the bedroom and closed the door.
The ringing died, then it started again. And again.
It rang again, and died again.
It rang 12 times, for 15 seconds each time, over 17 minutes. Then they finally stopped and the mystery person walked away. I stayed on the phone with my boyfriend, neither of us really uttering a word, right up until the moment he opened our door to find me curled in a ball at the top of the bed.
He was equal parts concerned and bewildered.
"Mish, why didn't you just answer? You're so safe in this apartment," he rightly told me. "You didn't need to be scared at all."
But I couldn't explain it.
So many of my experiences informed the belief that I should not answer that door.
Hours before, I had written an article about Cal Wilson being physically and sexually intimidated by the boys at her high school. The episode of 13 Reasons Why I had just watched featured a graphic rape scene.
Then there was the naked man who stood outside my primary school class window in Year Five.
There was the time I was followed to school by a truck driver in Year Eight.
The time when I was 15 and a boy crept up behind me at a party and tried to stick his fingers inside me, only to touch a sanitary pad.
The time when I worked retail, and was cornered in an off-site storeroom by three strange men, and was lucky enough to have a security guard walk by.
The times I was groped in a nightclub.
The times I felt unsafe walking the 100 metres from my tram to my apartment.
The times I felt compelled to check the backseats of my car before I started driving.
The times I walked with keys wedged between my knuckles, just in case I needed to protect myself.
The countless times I felt unsafe and scared... like the world is littered with predators, and my species is the prey.
I feel stupid for not answering that bloody intercom. But if it happened again tonight, I'm not sure I could.