Braver Than I Knew
“I have a gun,” he said in a low tone. “Keep walking.”
I was headed home from an after-school program and feeling so alive. It was 6:30 pm. November. I was 12.
I was in a good, well lit, neighborhood near Central Park.
I calculated: just one avenue to cross and three-fourths of a block and I’ll be at my building. In my head: A gun, a gun, a gun, okay keep walking. I can pull away at the right moment.
It didn’t work. We passed a doorman and I mouthed the word, “Help!”
“Have a good time kids,” was all he said.
I was shocked. That doorman saw me playing outside just the other day. Was he out of his mind? I was 12 and looked at it; the gunman looked about 17.
We crossed the street. The Central Park side of 5th Ave. I told him how ugly I was, how my father was a cop, how my parents would come looking for me. It was clear he didn’t want money. I had just learned what rape was that year when my cousin and I had snuck away from a family gathering to read True Confessions magazines.
Sometimes even terrifying information comes at exactly the right time. I knew that if we walked into the park entrance I was done for. I had to find a way to talk him out of whatever he wanted.
It was kind of like being in a car wreck. Everything slows down but moves super-fast at the same time. I kept talking to him about how he could do better than me, that I had a friend who would really like him, that I had my period, that my parents would find me in a matter of minutes.
Steps away from the park entrance he inexplicably turned us around. We began walking back to the crosswalk near my building. It had begun to rain. He pushed me up against a car. Whoever invented dresses that zipped up the front unfortunately never thought of this situation. He began to feel around. I had long before left my body. I was totally in my head. How do I escape?
Then he kissed me on the lips, and I came back to myself and screamed.
“I have a knife,” he said.
And then I knew he had nothing, and I knew I would get away. I must have kept screaming because he zipped my dress up all the way to my throat and ran like crazy. Suddenly I noticed that I was still holding my schoolbooks in one hand.
Someone had been sitting in a car nearby the whole time. When he saw the guy run, he got out of his car and asked if he could help saying, “Get in.”
ARE YOU CRAZY?!?, I thought and took off across the street almost getting hit by a bunch of cars. I got home and called my parents who were at their Tuesday night get-together with friends and said, “I really think you should come home.” Well, that sounded ridiculous until I said, “I wasn’t raped but…”
So, I was brave. I didn’t crumble. I got away by using my wits and finally my screaming voice. What if I had screamed at the beginning? I never thought about those “what ifs” until I started writing this. It doesn’t matter. I managed to escape.
The terror that continued within me was relentless for quite a long time. More powerful in some ways than the moments I spent trying to get away. I refused to go anywhere on my own for a year. Eventually, I found a different kind of bravery: Taking baby steps.
Each time I did something on my own was a test. Would I be safe in the world?
When people are afraid it really helps to look at actual facts. Not what we think could happen, but what did. Then slowly take one step at a time toward health. It also helps to talk.
At the time though counseling was taboo and my parents, as well-educated and loving as they were, didn’t understand how counseling would help in this situation. No one talked about this kind of thing back then.
Most importantly, know you have inner strength. That even in the aftermath of the most traumatic experiences, you have the strength you don’t even know you have.