I carry a claw hammer in my car.
Everyone thinks it’s funny. Like, why would any sane human have mints, Kleenex, Dramamine—and a mini cudgel—in their glove compartment? They tease me and try to pinpoint my motivation. I need a hammer, they say, in case I see some wood slats by the side of the road and want to build a shanty. Or, maybe I have that fear-of-drowning-in-a-car thing (called “submechanophobia,” if you were wondering), and, in the case my Honda might actually be blown into the Mississippi, I could use my window breaking tool to help me escape a watery grave.
Nope. They’re all wrong. I keep my hammer close by because someday I might have to smash someone’s teeth out with it.
I’m not joking.
I am 5’2” and 128 lbs (on my driver’s license, anyway). I am not a weakling, but even an average-sized man could crumple me up and toss me in the trash.
That’s what I think about every time I get behind the wheel and transfer that hammer from its storage spot to the crevice between my seat and the gear console. Or, to be brutally honest, I think of rape.
As I drive, I systematically check that the hammer’s handle is positioned correctly and that the claw is not caught on some part of the seat underside. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I were taking in the scenery, avoiding potholes, or even paying attention to my speed? In a perfect world, I would focus on those things. But, in my world, making sure I can access my means of protection is number one.
Am I going overboard? I would say no. I have a spare tire in case of a blow out; my Yeti in case I get thirsty; an umbrella in case it rains. And I travel with my hammer in case I get attacked. If I also equipped myself with an iron mace or a machete, I might agree that my approach was excessive. But, I’m a realist and that arsenal would be difficult to house and transport in a way that makes either weapon easily accessible. A hammer, though, is a practical alternative that can inflict a degree of damage. My motto: better safe than sorry.
I realize, by the way, that my planned method has limitations. The interior of a car is not an ideal place to create the momentum necessary to crush an eye socket. Same problem with a knife—plus the fact I can only have a three-inch blade legally in the state of Illinois. And, while a gun might be more immediately effective, I can’t very well keep a loaded pistol within arm’s reach. (Fumbling for ammo in crisis mode doesn’t sound realistic for someone who has dropped her car keys down a sidewalk grate. Twice.) So, hammer it is.
I sometimes worry that reacting too quickly might cause irreversible damage. After all, the man who jumped in the passenger seat might have innocently thought my Mazda was his Über. Or, maybe my purse is all he’s after. Is it worth blinding a person to protect $11, a maxed out credit card and some hand lotion? Possibly, this man is unhinged, but not 100% convinced he does want to hurt me. Can’t I try to appeal to reason or humanity instead of bludgeoning him?
It is that second-guessing that could decide whether I walk away shocked and rattled—or whether, wholly broken, I can never walk away.
So, I practice in my head. I listen to my Mom, who always said to go for the eyes first, to “pop those eyeballs out like a couple of olives.” I aim for blood and bone cracks and teeth shards. And I don’t stop, even when I see a mask of raw flesh and pulp and hair clots. It is a gruesome scene, yes, but I have to desensitize myself if I don’t want to risk that slight—but potentially definitive—pause.
I doubt there is much concrete data regarding how many women are viciously violated in their own vehicles per year. The actual number could be infinitesimal. Actually, statistical improbability doesn’t really matter to me; it’s the possibility of being brutalized that terrifies me.
And what about when I step out of the car? How’s that cloistered claw hammer going to help me then? Well, that’s why I tuck a screwdriver neatly next to my wallet.
I know I sound crazy. Most likely, neither of us know anyone else who packs hand tools to defend themselves. For me, though, it’s not a question of who does. It’s more a question of who should.