Taking on the Darkness

A bright spring morning. The boat haven is abuzz with industrial activity, the parking lot in front of the nearby diner, full. The scent of frying bacon follows me up the trail before dissolving into the stench of low tide rot.

 

When I first pass him—me walking at a fast clip, he sitting on a bench, head surrounded by a black hood—my internal radar begins pinging hard. The glance I take from my periphery reveals a face contorted in rage, his hands gripping the edge of the bench, a coiled thing. He is shouting, incoherent, words garbled, but enough of the syllables take shape to understand they are directed at me. I have no choice but to keep going. Coming toward me, about 300 yards up the path, are a cyclist and runner in tandem. I wait until they are close, then turn around.

 

As a runner in Seattle, my guard was always up. I ran in the early mornings, often in the dark, often around Green Lake, where there was safety in numbers—it’s one of Seattle’s outdoor fitness Meccas—but also trees and restrooms and secluded areas to be aware of. Two weeks before we left Seattle for the Olympic Peninsula, a man began attacking women in the early mornings at Green Lake, precisely on the trails I ran, at the times I was there. What a relief, then, to set myself loose on the trails in this idyll of beaches and mountains. My whistle and pepper spray remain in my pack for the occasional coyote or loose dog, or, most troublesome of all, the roving pairs of raccoons, who hiss and charge and move in slinking, snakelike speed if the mood strikes. IMG_0215

 

It happens so fast.

 

I feel as much as see him spring off the bench, words spilling out in growls, nasty and lewd. I don’t run, I don’t turn, I just keep moving until I feel him at my shoulder, smell him behind my back. And then there is shouting from different voices. The cyclist skidding to my side, the runner’s pounding steps. And the young man, retreating. He returns to the bench, face again behind the hood, rocking back and forth, already imprisoned by drugs, alcohol, his own demons.

 

The couple walk me to safety, and seeing that I have my phone in my hand, offer to stay as I call 911. I brush them off. “I’m fine,” I say. “He was high, it doesn’t matter.” I am ashamed. Ashamed that as a physically strong woman, I didn’t try to take him down. Ashamed that I’d been so afraid. Ashamed of my vulnerability. Ashamed, perhaps, of my own body, that someone would say the things he said to me, that I could attract such ugliness. Because I’d been walking, with no intention of heading into the woods, I had carried only my phone and my innocence.

 

And then I see two women, separated by a few dozen feet, making their way up the trail, in the direction of the man who had come after me. In the distance, I see he still sits, waiting. What am I thinking? Of course I will call. If not for myself, than for all the women behind me. I hold out one hand to stop the first woman, even as I dial 911 with the other.

 

The officer who responds to my 911 call sees me out walking two mornings later and stops to give me an update and a bit of the man’s story. The 28-year-old is well known to local police. He was arrested twice on this day—once for accosting me and then again a few hours later for unrelated charges. Drunk. High. Unhinged. I’m sure there is much more that I’ll never know. Frankly, I hardly care.

 

~

 

In nearly six years of blogging, I have never received a negative comment. WordPress does a great job of catching spam, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean a comment from a real person that is intended to wound and harm. But it happened recently, in response to my post Getting Ready To Exist. What this woman, who identified herself as a writer and mother, wrote does not bear repeating. But in a space in which I shared my grief at having literally lost my chances at motherhood through multiple miscarriages, someone thought to express their conviction that because of my obvious weaknesses, the flaws in my character, I couldn’t handle motherhood, anyway.

 

In thinking through how these two events have affected me, with their immediate and latent anger, hurt, and shame, I recognize the destructive power of the untold story. Sitting on shame and regret only allows those feelings to fester and infect perspective. Conversely, when we share our truths, reveal the things said and done that wound and harm, we open ourselves to empathy for others, we allow in healing. Our personal narratives become shared connections and conversations that hold value beyond our own lessons learned.

 

My safe places are no longer safe. Were they ever? Of course not. The trolls, whether they lurk on park benches shrouded in black hoodies or in the virtual world behind the anonymity of a computer screen, have always been there. But I haven’t stopped my early morning hikes or my blogging. I reclaim these spaces. I reclaim my voice.

 

 

“I’m not interested in blind optimism, but I’m very interested in optimism that is hard-won, that takes on darkness and then says, ‘This is not enough.’ But it takes time, more time than we can sometimes imagine, to get there. And sometimes we don’t.” Colum McCann, author and founder of Narrative 4, a non-profit that trains schools, students, community leaders in storytelling and storycraft as a way to foster empathy and build community.

11 thoughts on “Taking on the Darkness

  1. While I have never experienced anything like what you describe here, your post really speaks to me. Your words are so beautifully written. Thank you for giving me a little insight into myself with the insight about yourself.

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  2. Julie, I am glad you are okay! As it happens, I was just writing a post for my blog talking about the physical dangers of presenting female in this world and decided to take a break and see what you’ve been up to…

    I am most struck by your compassion for your attackers. It’s a rare quality in this world. And you’re absolutely right to call it out for the safety of others, as well as yourself.

    I find myself thinking of being alone in a subway car with a drunk beggar that accosted me…and how I didn’t do anything other than yell at him. Then I watched him do the same thing to the next pair of women that he saw. There was no one other than us to call to for help that situation, but we could have done better after the fact. No one was really hurt – just a slobbery kiss (on my arm, as it happened, as I raised them to block him) – but we all lose when we don’t work together to make this a safer world.

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  3. I’m esp. appalled by event 2. KK ghost writer expressed it better than I could, but who is this judgemental and mean woman? Her behavior is outrageous! You just have to shine on people like this, knowing that you are above such remarks and that she is in the minority.

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  4. First off, I am thankful that you are ok. Secondly, I applaud the honesty, the courage and the steely determination of this post.
    I too have been in the same situation, re a vulnerable woman, and it is frightening and yes the fear and the feeling of vulnerability is a feeling I know only too well.
    But that fear and vulnerability is also a gift because it sharpens our instincts and warns us when we’re in danger. As they say bravery is not the absence of fear, it is the courage to embrace the fear.
    As for the hurtful comments, unfortunately the Internet has allowed the cowards of the world to bully people from behind their avatar. That woman, although her words would have hurt, is obviously full of her own malice and poison.
    So yes on both accounts I applaud you for reclaiming your space and I applaud you more for speaking out.
    As always, your post is inspiring my sweet friend.
    Hugs x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Julie, my dear, too frightening! God, I’m so glad you’re okay. I know it doesn’t solve the problem, but please don’t go alone. That fear is not worth it. How does your cat feel about big dogs? As for the on line hurt, some people never learned civility or decorum. Pity them. In one ear and out the other. Your friends know who you are and love you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is the most powerful story I’ve read on a blog, and one of the most powerful I’ve read anywhere. Many people write of the chasms in their lives, some write about overcoming the drop into darkness and climbing back up. Your strength and honesty are admirable.This story will stay with me.

    Liked by 2 people

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