Saturday, July 19, 2008

The second time they came

The second time they came, I was on my way home from tennis. It was early evening, just at that point when darkness starts to be really dark and lights have to stay on. They were expecting me. They knew my comings and my goings. They had studied my movements closely.

I lived then in a beautiful garden apartment, the bottom level of three, the road up at the top. The people in the middle had moved away to Australia. I hadn’t liked them and they hadn’t liked me, but their absence reinforced my aloneness. I would walk past their dark apartment and curse the habit of electricity companies of cuttting off the power when people moved out. That stretch of staircase had become unnaturally dark.

Really, it was not a safe place for a woman alone to live. But I had not been a woman alone for most of the time I lived there. My aloneness had been recent, that too unexpected, shocking really, but not traumatic, not then. And at the time, I had been sad, grieving this unexpected loss. That night I had come home, full of tears. I was tuned into myself, into my own feelings, my sadness, as I lumbere
d down the steps, burdened with tennis gear, and grief, and the groceries I had picked up on the way home.

As I rounded the corner past the darkened apartment, my right foot in mid-air, I felt someone lock my neck from behind; his muscled arm like a steel beam wrapped itself around my throat. It happened so quickly that I was unable to pull my foot back, and remained suspended, choking, unable to breathe. He had been hiding in the darkness behind a pole in front of my upstairs neighbor’s apartment. He had been waiting for me.

I quickly became limp, dead weight in his left arm, and we went straggling down the steps, my tennis bag grating against the railings as I landed in a heap at the bottom. Get up, get up, he said. You coming with we. I touched my throat and struggled to breathe. I was disoriented, light-headed. I knew that I was in serious danger.

My landlady said afterward that it was my screams that alerted her. I have no memory of screaming.
That memory is lost, gone, completely disappeared into that part of the brain that blocks out trauma and turns on the instinct to survive. I remember whispering hoarsely that I was unable to move, that I was feeling so weak. Sorry, I whispered, sorry, I can’t move, I can’t breathe. Oh God, I said, I can’t move. I was exaggerating. I was buying time, trying to figure a way out a way to avoid being kidnapped. On this island, kidnapping had become a profitable business; as a doctor, I was an attractive target. Get up, get up, he commanded. You coming with we! You coming with we! He started pulling at me to make me stand. I made myself limper, heavier, more pathetic and helpless.

A neighbor’s light went on. That startled him. I sensed the shift in his body language. My landlady came out on her balcony and started shouting Fire! Fire! Her voiced seemed weak, thin, distant. But in that instant he decided not to bother. Gimme the bag! Gimme the bag! He wrenched my tennis bag roughly from my shoulders, and grabbed the car keys that I still clutched in my left hand. Then he walked down the steps, and, as he reached the bottom, another man emerged from around the side of the house. I realized that he was the one who had given the signal to call it off. Together they strolled casually out of the yard as if they had just been paying me a friendly visit. I hurried up the stairs to my landlady’s apartment, and together we watched them saunter up the hill, two young men, one in white, the other in red. That’s all I could later tell the police.

It was my landlady who noticed the blood dripping on her carpet. I was not even aware that I had been cut, that he had locked my neck with one arm and held a knife to my throat with the other. And this too is part of the body’s amazing mechanism for dealing with physical trauma. He had cut me on the side of my throat but I had not bled. I did not start bleeding until it was all over.

I fled the island as soon as my contract would allow. I have never gone back. I will never go back. I am aware that this avoidance is not good. I know that the sooner you get back on the horse, the sooner you can recover from having fallen off it. Avoidance only makes it worse. It keeps the arousal at a heightened pitch. It keeps you hypervigilant, looking always for signs of danger. It keeps you numb, trapped, living in fear.

But I have worked very hard on my recovery. I live in a ground floor apartment again. I play tennis at night. My sleep is undisturbed. I do not have PTSD.

But I know that my complete recovery ultimately rests on some day making a trip back to that island. On some day driving up the hill to that apartment, the one where my landlady subsequently installed razor wire and motion sensors around the periphery of the property. On walking down those stairs and facing the demon hiding in the dark behind the pole and the other lurking in the bushes, and on knowing that they are not really there, just the memory of them, and that memories though painful, cannot kill you. If I were my client, that’s what I would tell me to do. But I probably won’t.
(Part 2 of 2)


helen said...

I'm really glad you had certain things working in your favour which made you come away safe, such as your screaming, the neighbour's light coming on and your landlady being at home and alerting others nearby.

tennischick said...

well, let's not forget my Oscar-worthy acting performance. :-)

helen said...'re right!! pretty darn good thinking in the middle of a situation like that! :-)