Today’s post is the first part of a three-part series. It is a guest post by Elenamia.
Content note for graphic description of assault by a stranger.
What is your worst nightmare? Killer bees? Going naked in front of strangers? Zombie attack?
Mine was being stalked by another human being. Having a stranger imbued with intelligence and malice coming for me, trapping me, me getting away, him coming at me, again. Almost always a male, always with large hands and quick movements, often silent. Immune to reason. Coiled, like a rattler but silent like a cobra, powerful like an anaconda, silently coming coil after coil from out of the dark.
And there it was. My worst nightmare. On the clean, well-lit corner of 2nd and Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, springing at me from amidst the crowd.
A short time ago, on a Tuesday night, after a great program on cognition downtown, I walked alone to Union Station. My boyfriend and I were going to go together but he worked late that night though there quite a few people I knew there I walked out on my own.
The Red line was delayed so I changed course to walk along Massachusetts Ave to the bus. The Avenue was well-lit and well-trafficked, at 9:30 that night, so I got on the phone with Ben.
At 2nd Street, across from Georgetown Law School Library, there is a small park. I entered it because the sidewalk was blocked by 8 foot chain link construction barriers. Unknown to me, the barriers stretched around the whole park.
“Hey, it’s blocked!” A group of guys hanging in the park called to me. I thanked them. And turn to go back as I had come.
I turned around and started walking the way I came when I heard footsteps. I turned around and saw a woman or girl and a man running towards me. I told Ben, “Something is happening, will talk to you later” and dropped the phone in my bag turning towards them. They tussled near me and moved to the side of the large walk. The woman was laughing and swinging a long umbrella at the man and telling him, “No, don’t do it.” Like high school kids playing, I thought. Half-joking, half- worriedly I said, “do not hit me with that umbrella”.
Then it began.
Thank God for my subconscious because everything else that happened moved faster than reason.The man turned to me and opened his hands on either side of him and did a slight crouch. Years of sports and a very active childhood helped me to recognize that position, a pre-tackle posture. But it was the expression on his face that clued me to what was happening. I have an ex-friend, let us call him Ak, who is a prankster. He plays mean tricks, even on strangers. When he is about to engage in one he had that same look on his face. Slight squint, slight smirk. I thought, he looks like Ak.
“Get the FUCK AWAY FROM ME. Stay the FUCK AWAY!!” I yelled in the loudest voice my rather mighty lungs, made strong from yelling over NYC street noise and ocean waves at beaches. The words mattered. I wanted him to know I saw him, knew he was coming, did not want what he intended and planned to fight. I was partially trapped between the 8 foot barrier and the park behind me. He was blocking the way out of the park. Surprised by how quickly I escalated the situation to a full blown scene, he hesitated long enough for me to run towards him and around the barrier to the still under construction sidewalk.
Once on the sidewalk, under even brighter street lights and in full view of the many people across the street, I spun around to find that he had followed me. My spinning on him so quickly made him hesitate for another split second giving me time to yell again, “Stay away from me!!” He feinted towards me and I jumped without hesitation into the largest and busiest trafficked road in this city.
Low traffic so I made it to the elevated divide in the middle Massachusetts Ave. I spun around again.
He stopped right behind me on the median.
Not looking at my hand bag or my pockets, he had not said a word but it was clear, he planned to grab me.
Without a conscious thought, I jumped into the path of an oncoming car.
“STOP” I yelled at the car, “GET AWAY FROM ME” I yelled at my assailant, “CALL THE POLICE,” I yelled at the people now stopped on the sidewalk 3 lanes away, across the cars screeching to a halt in the East bound lanes of Mass Ave.
I spun to find him on me.
He grabbed me by my upper arms and threw me on the asphalt in front of the cars. Twisting, I landed on my back with my head nearly in the next lane, I saw a dark red car panel flash past me as the last car moving swerved to avoid me.
Then He jumped on top of me.
Again, lessons from sports and an active childhood informed my subconscious. My kick is much stronger than my punch. As he threw me down, I twisted to land on my back, tucked my head in to avoid hitting the back of my head on the hardscape and pulled my knees in. By the time he was jumping onto me, I was already kicking him off. All the while I yelled, “Call the POLICE, Call the POLICE.”
And then it was over.
My rescuers came from all around. 3-5 men pulled him off me and it took all of them to pin him to the ground as he lunged at me again.
People lifted me up and checked me for knife wounds. I was OK.
The police came. Witnesses came forward. They took my assailant away in an ambulance. I made it to Chinatown, where I awaited my boyfriend who came from Virginia. He had heard the entire attack through my cell phone in my hand bag. He gave me a ride home.
I had faced my worst nightmare and lived. Years of training, preparation, thought and advice had all come to the fore just when I needed it. I did all that was necessary to regain my safety and I succeeded.
So, why am I telling you all this?
Because most of this Spring, I have been learning and re-learning the lessons of violence, masculine aggression, healing, victim blaming, the criminal justice system, public care for the mentally ill and the effect of misogyny on the psychotic. Lessons we all have been dealing with as yet another set of shooters, overwhelmingly male, attacked yet another set of innocents, mostly female, going about their lives.
Here are my initial lessons from the attack:
1) I have been preparing for an attack by a deranged male stranger all my life. Literally.
Most women have. Every time I walked down a street looking over my shoulder, every time I asked a friend to walk me my door, every time I left my house with the rape whistle on the key chain. While stranger danger is something common to all, men do get attacked, but that women live with it to a much larger extent than most men even realize. (for those with lingering doubts about the gender imbalance posed by stranger danger, educate yourself through #yesallwomen. I’ve got other stuff I want to talk about.).
2) Much of what I learned from self-defense classes is what saved me (though many thanks to my bro, cousins, sisters, boyfriends, dear friends and other wrestling partners.):
- Confront your attacker. Make a scene, it may buy you time. At worst, you may be mistaken and will look crazy in front of strangers but what is embarrassment to saving your own life? Do you want to die of embarrassment?
- Ask, no, DEMAND what you need. If you call for help, tell the onlookers what help you want. The first car to stop told me that she thought the assailant and I were playing until I told her to call the police.
- Always run towards help, never just away from the assailant. Had I turned and run in the direction he had left open for me, rather than towards him, I would have run deeper into the park and away from the street lights, the road, help and safety.
3) In times of stress, it is your gut brain that takes over. Afterwards, do not second guess your gut. Whatever you did to save yourself was the right thing. Other people may shake that faith. The police will ask you questions that all sound like, “why you?” They will ask: did you know him? (NO), Did you speak to him before he came at you? (NO), are you his social worker/girlfriend/relative (NOOOOO). Several of them will ask you the same question at different times. It is not that they doubt you, it is that they are looking for evidence and need to find patterns and explanations. They do not want this to be something that came out of the blue, they like explanations that fit their world view. Try not to take it personally. Even if it is.
The next day, a person I turned to for comfort instead grilled me, “What did you do? Why did he attack you? WHY YOU?” You will likely ask yourself those questions, too. Not to be crass but: nip that shit at the bud! More on victim blaming, shaming and comparing traumas and how to protect yourself from all of that in my next article.
4) Show yourself the love you would your best friend if attacked. Rest, warm tea, good company, take a trip somewhere, forgive yourself if you cancel social engagements, whatever it takes to feel better. And forgive yourself for minor social explosions afterwards. PTSD is a bitch and a half. Get help dealing with it. Even if you do not think you have to. Do not try to do it on your own. You would not leave your best friend to handle this alone, do not make yourself handle it alone.
- The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker is one of the best books on how to deal with stranger danger I have ever read.
Postscript: Editors have suggested I add an explanation as to why I feel the use of the term ‘madman’ in this article and in subsequent articles in this series would not be an ableist usage. Ableism is the use of a descriptive term normally used to refer to those with a particular condition or set of conditions as a pejorative. That is, the use of such a term to insult, demean, disparage or belittle. In this title, I use the term as a descriptor not a perjorative; it is used similarly to the term ‘angry man,’ which, of course, does not come close to describing my experience. My experience was of fearing and then meeting a man driven mad, in the throes of a violent psychotic episode. More on the source of that madness in the 3rd article in this series.
Elenamia is a storyteller, writer, social activist, deep thinker, lover, dancer, philosopher, cook, gardener, sister and friend. A reformed workaholic, she can be found actively simplifying her life in a 1920’s rowhouse in Washington, DC.