Next weekend is my 10-yr college reunion. I'd like to go, but probably won't, because we can't find a petsitter for Bailey.
Anyway, it occured to me that if it's almost been 10 years since I graduated from college, that it has also been ten years from the scariest night of my life.
Ten years ago this weekend, I was attacked.
My senior year, I lived off campus in a beautiful, brand-new apartment complex. It was about a 15-minute walk from campus. You walked along a well-lit main road until you got to the outskirts of campus. Then you arrived at a cluster of research science labs. Walk past these buildings until you get to a courtyard in front of the Levine Science Research Center, then walk up one flight of steps to Science Drive. Cross Science Drive and walk behind the chapel until you get to the main quad.
I did that walk every day. It was pretty easy. In fact, I never really gave it much thought, which was probably a big mistake.
Anyway, that night the ballroom dance team was hosting a dance-a-thon to raise money for travel to upcoming dance competitions. I was on the organizing commitee and was supposed to be there to help set up, but I'd had a hair and wardrobe emergency that evening, so I was running late.
As I walked through the courtyard of the LSRC towards the steps up to Science Drive, I noticed it was a bit darker than usual, but didn't really think anything about it. After all, I was in a rush. What did I care if it was dark? Of course it was dark...it was getting late.
I was almost to the stairs when I heard footsteps. I turned around and saw a young man, maybe about my age. Maybe a little older. I don't know why he attracted my attention, because he could have been any random student, walking around campus. Just like me.
But for some reason, my heart started beating faster.
Almost as soon as I'd decided I had something to worry about, I decided to ignore it. He wasn't doing anything wrong. He was just walking. Just like me. It's a college campus. Students walk. So why was I scared of him? There was no reason for me to be scared.
The only possible reason I could think of at that moment to explain why I might be scared was that he was black. And that utterly disgusted me. I was thoroughly appalled at my behavior. How could I be so prejudiced? So horrible?
So I turned around and started up the steps.
About halfway up, the footsteps behind me turned into a run. And before I had a chance to react, he was upon me.
He grabbed me with one arm around my neck, and the other reached up my dress. I screamed and tried to swing my purse at him, but I couldn't, and it went sailing out of my hands.
(I'm pausing here to gain composure. Just talking about this is getting me agitated.)
I struggled out of his hold and spun to face him. He was standing below me on the steps, so I wasn't sure if I would get a good aim at him. So instead of kneeing him in the groin like I should have, I decided to kick out and up, towards his face.
And I connected. Hard.
But because I was on the steps, I lost my footing and fell to my knees. Through the pain, I could sense him standing above me. He growled "You b@#$%!"
And then suddenly, I heard another voice. "Stop! Get away from her!"
The attacker and I both turned and saw a guy standing at the bottom of the steps. He wasn't very big -- he certainly wouldn't have won in a fight with the bully who'd attacked me -- but he was incredibly brave.
The attacker looked at him, then at me, then back at him, while he decided what to do. I guess he weighed his options and decided it wasn't worth it, because there was a witness. So he ran back down the steps, shoving the witness as he raced past.
He then spun around (and here's where this whole thing gets fuzzy...remember, it was incredibly dark around there -- we later learned the perp had busted out all the streetlights) and pulled what appeared to be a gun on us. The reason I say "appeared to be a gun" is because we really don't know. It could have been a gun. Or it could have been his finger held in the shape of a gun.
He then said "Don't move. Don't even think about it." He held that position for what seemed like a couple of minutes, but couldn't have been more than about ten seconds.
Then he was gone.
So why did I just tell this story? Because it's so very important that all women (and men!) know how to protect themselves. Please do yourself a favor. Take a basic self-defense class.
Here are some tips from Defend University, a research and development group dedicated to self-defense:
1. Stay aware of people in your surroundings.
2. Stay with people, go to people.
3. Keep a barrier between you and the bad guy.
4. Attract attention.
5. Control his hips and his hands.
6. Use your strongest weapons against his weakest targets.
After the attack, I refused to live in my apartment for about a week. I stayed on the floor of my friend Lauren's dorm room on campus. In fact, it took several days before I would even leave her room. I was a zombie.
And when I did eventually start going to class, I would jump whenever I could sense someone walking behind me. My Italian class was located in the LSRC, site of the attack itself. I actually refused to go to that class, and eventually the dean of students moved the location to a different building, to accomodate me.
But the dean suggested that I see a counselor. The therapist told me that during the attack, my subconscious was trying to warn me. I got a weird feeling about that guy I saw. I should have listened to my subconscious. Instead, I ignored it, afraid that I was being racist.
But our subconscious doesn't lie. It's almost always right. In his bestselling book, Gavin deBecker calls this the "gift of fear." This book helped me get back on track, so that I could actually attend class and end up graduating a few weeks later. Without this book, I doubt I ever would have left Lauren's dorm room.
So please, learn how to protect yourself.
As a first step, I will give a copy of "The Gift of Fear" to one person who comments on this post between now and 11:59 pm, Sunday, April 12. I'll announce the winner on Mel's post on Monday.
P.S. To my mystery hero that night...I don't think I ever got a chance to properly thank you. You might have saved my life. So if you're reading this -- although I doubt you are -- THANK YOU.