With fists, with words, with kindness
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For eight years my husband and I lived on the twenty-second floor of a high-rise in Houston, Texas. A doorman, a concierge, and a secure elevator stood between us and the sprawling city outside.
Eventually I started to feel disconnected from the natural world. I wanted to grow my own food and raise animals. So my husband and I sold the apartment and moved to a farm.
These days I reach into a bag of sunflower seeds every morning to feed my Angora goats. Once, I found a snakeskin at the bottom of the bag. I wondered if the snake had ever been near my hand when I’d reached inside.
Danger is a part of life on a farm. The goats will shun one of their own at any sign of weakness that might attract a predator. The black cat stalks mice near the goat feeders, but it avoids the large white dog that barks in the night to protect the farm from coyotes. The chickens run for cover when a hawk glides overhead, while a wasp drags a spider across my vegetable garden to her nest.
The brown recluse, the black widow, and the coral snake all have a place here. My role is not to hide from danger but to pay attention to what is in front of me.
New Ulm, Texas
On an October morning in 2002, a man was shot dead at a car dealership in Rockville, Maryland, a short distance from my home. Within two hours or so, three more victims were shot and killed in other suburbs of Washington, D.C.: a woman on a bus-stop bench, a taxi driver pumping gas into his cab, and a motorist vacuuming her car at a gas station. Area police quickly announced that the shootings were the work of a serial sniper.
During the ensuing three weeks the sniper shot nine more people in the D.C. area, killing six. The victims were all going about their usual activities. One was a thirteen-year-old boy walking to school.
The only apparent pattern was that several of the shootings occurred at gas stations. Some stations erected tarps to shield their pumps from view. Authorities encouraged drivers to avoid buying gas near interstate highways or places where a sniper could hide, and to slouch down in their car while the pump ran.
Late one evening my wife and I had to stop for gas not far from the scene of the first shooting. We were close to two interstate highways, at well-lit pumps, and across the street from a large parking lot and a construction site. I nervously got out and started the pump. When I looked up, I was surprised to find my wife not slouching in the car but standing beside me.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked.
She responded, “It’s not right for you to be out here alone.” And with that, she crossed her arms and stood facing the darkness.
In a self-defense class during my freshman year in high school, I was taught to always walk as if I knew where I was going, even if I was lost. That year I would sometimes tell my mom I was spending the night at a friend’s house, then roam the streets instead, trying to look as though I had a destination in mind.
If I had enough money, I would get a cup of coffee or go see a late movie. At 3:54 AM I would take the first bus from Petaluma to San Francisco, a long route with frequent stops, and sleep along the way. At the terminal I would wait for the bus back to Petaluma. By the time I arrived home, it would be eight or nine in the morning.
It was dangerous for a teenage girl to be out all night like that, but not as dangerous as being at home when my dad returned from the bars to assault his only daughter.
After receiving my university degree, I went to work as an intern for a tire company in India. On my first day at the manufacturing plant I noticed two signs everywhere: DANGER and SAFETY FIRST. The workers were expected to operate milling machines and red-hot molding presses at a furious pace for eight hours a day, with only one short break. The floors of the factory were slippery, and the workers’ protective gear looked old and worn. During a briefing our bosses had told us that keeping the workers safe was the first priority of the company. I wondered if that was true.
I voiced my concern to a fellow intern, Ari, but he scoffed. “Are you a woman?” he asked. All men’s jobs carried risks, he said, but that was what made you strong.
Three weeks later I was scalded by a steam pipe. When I told Ari that the pipe wasn’t insulated, as it easily could have been, he chided me for my carelessness and put the injury down to bad luck. “It certainly didn’t threaten your life or limb,” he said.
A couple of months later Ari was learning how to use a mixing mill when his knife slipped from his hand. Instinctively he reached to retrieve the blade, and his hand was dragged into the mill. By the time the foreman heard Ari’s scream and stopped the machine, Ari’s arm had been largely crushed. A surgeon saved his life, but it took him years of recovery and practice with a prosthetic arm to return to his normal activities.
Years later I read an article by Ari in the company’s journal, advocating the installation of safety devices that would better protect factory workers.
On the final night of a girls’ camp in Zimbabwe, I joined my two co-leaders and sixty teenagers around a bonfire for the evening prayer. I looked around at our campers and the prizes we’d strung from a tree for that night’s dance contest. The logs crackled and sprayed sparks into the air, and I sensed camaraderie among the group.
Before we finished the prayer, the cook hollered from a cabin a hundred meters away, calling for my friend Bridget to come see a rhino. Because this was Bridget’s first trip to Africa, the cook would call her whenever a wild animal came into view. But we had already seen the resident black rhino and her baby several times during the previous week. Rhinos have a reputation for being aggressive, but this two-thousand-pound creature had seemed harmless as she’d nudged her calf along.
A moment later the cook screamed for us to run for our lives. The girls sprinted from the fire circle and into the darkness. With no idea what the danger might be, Bridget and I joined the stampede to the cook’s cabin, where the girls crammed inside. The cook told us she had seen the mama rhino stomping her feet and charging in our direction.
I agreed to return to the bonfire with one of the other adults to get the dance prizes and tend to the flames. The two of us started back, freezing in place at the slightest sound. Halfway to the fire we altered course, ran to the park ranger’s house, and hammered on his door. He was eager to help — excited, even — as were the other men in his home. Smelling of alcohol and with rifles slung over their shoulders, they stumbled out to search the camp. It occurred to me that it might have been a bad idea to invite drunk men into a camp full of girls on the brink of adulthood.
Later — bonfire smothered, dancing done, and prizes distributed — I lay in bed unable to sleep. The cabin doors didn’t have locks. Every sound outside my window was suspect. I listened through that long night not for the charge of a mother rhino, but for the approach of men.
Minutes after the call went out — “The fog man’s here!” — children flocked into the streets. My mother carefully tied a bandanna around my head so that it covered my nose and mouth. My sisters did the same for themselves before dashing outside.
Youngsters from nearby houses converged upon the fog truck. The bravest jumped onto the rear bumper and clung tight. The rest followed behind the truck, frolicking in the cloud of DDT mist.
DDT was still used as an insecticide in the 1950s. It wasn’t until Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962 that the public began to acknowledge the dangers of DDT exposure: breast cancer, male infertility, and nervous-system and liver damage.
The fog truck was summoned regularly to our vacation colony to reduce the pesky mosquito population. My parents had no idea their children were dancing in a cloud of poison.
Ithaca, New York
In the 1970s I worked in a mine in Colorado. The women’s liberation movement was in full swing, and the mine had been forced to hire women. I was young, the pay was good, and I welcomed the chance to show that I was capable of handling a “man’s job.” The reaction among the older miners was mixed: some were agreeable to the change; others thought women had no business there.
Even mines with good safety records were dangerous places. Blasts were carried out underground, and a miner could accidentally be killed by the explosion or by flying rock. You could also hit “bad air,” which could take your life if you didn’t quickly put on a protective mask. Occasionally there were other accidents, like electrocutions. And women faced another sort of danger.
During one graveyard shift I was assigned to work with a sullen, unfriendly man. He led me to an unfamiliar part of the mine, far from where the others were working. Then he grabbed me and pushed me down near a huge ventilation fan. Feeling powerless and terrified, I didn’t yell or fight him as he undid my belt, jerked my pants down, and molested me.
Afterward, in the lunch area, someone noticed I was teary-eyed and asked what was wrong. Nothing, I said. I opened my can of sardines and silently ate with the others.
Decades later I still recall how the fan roared.
When I was five years old, my grandfather hung a thirty-foot rope, knotted at regular intervals, from the limb of an oak tree. He and my father encouraged me to climb the rope, which I did, following their instructions.
I felt afraid at first, but, bolstered by the confidence my grandfather and my father had in me, I pulled myself up knot by knot until I could touch the tree limb. By then my fear had transformed into exhilaration. I could see the Chesapeake Bay in the distance, beyond the creek near our house, and below me I could see pride in the faces of my mentors.
Had I fallen, I could have been severely injured or even killed. My trip up that rope was a rite of passage. A million encouraging words couldn’t have changed me the way that climb did.
I have a well-developed sense of caution. I don’t get too close to fires, or stand on the edge of cliffs, or fully trust dogs or strangers when I am alone or on unfamiliar turf. I turn the circuit breaker off when doing electrical work, and I always look both ways before crossing the street.
But there is a different kind of danger I face in my life. I grew up in a physically and psychologically abusive family, where punishments were not only severe but often inexplicable. I came to have an explosive temper. Under certain circumstances — such as when I was bullied or physically threatened — I felt as if I could have killed someone. Sometimes I scared myself.
In my first years of college I had a wonderful therapist who taught me how to handle my anger, how to pause and really consider what was happening in the moment. To this day, at the age of sixty-four, I have never injured, much less killed, anyone.
And yet my anger is still there. Thirty years ago, under a lot of stress, I picked up my cat, Stanley — who was clawing the furniture again — and threw him across the room, knocking the wind out of him. The image of him slumped against the drapes, gasping for breath, still haunts me. Two decades ago, when a very close friend with AIDS was nearing the end of his life, another friend who was sharing caregiving duties with me challenged my judgment. I ripped into him verbally, attacking his personal weaknesses, his character, and what I believed to be his sinister motives. He reacted with tears and shocked silence. Not long after that, another friend slapped me lightly on the face, saying something like “You silly boy,” and I put my hands around her throat and said menacingly, “Don’t you ever hit me!” I have thought many times of taking my own life because I was angry at myself or furious over circumstances beyond my control, though I have thought less about it as I’ve gotten older.
I’m still afraid of what I might do. I have to carefully monitor my reactions — not just to perceived hostility but also to displays of affection and humor. I cannot trust myself to respond appropriately. If this vigilance is the price I must pay to avoid hurting anyone, then I will pay it.
Mark A. Hetts
San Francisco, California
The men who visited my mother were dashing young Marines and Navy pilots. Their sports cars would pull up in our driveway whenever my father was away on a mission. He was a flight instructor and an officer on the USS Lexington, and he would often be deployed for six months at a stretch. When he was home, he demanded silence while he read his Navy Times and my mother cooked dinner, but when he was at sea, my mother’s visitors would show up.
One man, Uncle John, started coming around more than the others. My five-year-old brother, Neil, would beg him to do tricks. Uncle John would drape Neil over his shoulder and spin around while Neil screamed with delight. At the age of nine I was too old to be thrown around, but I liked Uncle John, because one day he gave me his copy of Meet the Beatles! I was dumbfounded. No pop music had ever been played in our home before. My parents usually listened to classical and big-band records. The Beatles upended my world with their reckless, energetic tunes.
One afternoon Neil and I were outside climbing a tree when I decided to fetch some grape soda from the house. My mother wasn’t around. I wondered where she was, so I went looking for her. I opened her bedroom door and saw Uncle John lying naked on top of her. He grabbed the bedspread, and I slammed the door shut.
Soon afterward, the Lexington came into port. My mother, my brother, and I waited on the pier while my father strode down the gangplank. As we walked together to our car, Neil hopped around, holding my father’s hand and shouting, “Daddy, do tricks!”
“What tricks?” our father asked.
“Tricks like Uncle John does,” Neil said, attempting to climb onto our father’s shoulder.
Our father glared at our mother and asked, “Who’s Uncle John?”
In 1970 I lived in New York City, in the reputedly dangerous neighborhood of Harlem. Around midnight I would travel home from my second-shift job on Staten Island — first by ferry, then by subway — arriving at my street around two in the morning. I always made it home without incident.
Two years later my friend Christine and I hitchhiked 1,200 miles across the Central African plains from Lusaka, Zambia, to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The two of us — both young white women — stood with thumbs out along the Great North Road, where the only traffic was Somali truckers hauling oil to landlocked Zambia. We made that journey twice.
Another time, my boyfriend and I planned a two-week trip on our mopeds into Zambia’s Northern Province. The roads would be unpaved, and the trip would require a tricky border crossing into Zaire, where the guards were rumored to demand bribes. On the third day of the trip I hit a sandy patch of road, lost control of my moped, flew into a thorn bush, and hurt my jaw. I was afraid I had broken it. We were forty-five miles from the closest town. There was nothing to do but drag the bike out of the bush, cinch up the helmet strap, and keep on driving.
By evening I felt better. When we arrived at the border, the guards were impressed that a woman was making this trip and waved us through, laughing.
Now I live in east Tennessee, in a small town surrounded by hills and hiking trails. Folks are friendly, but the charm of the place is deceptive. Meth, “bath salts,” and Oxycontin change hands daily here. The teenagers I work with are often hungry, dirty, and bitter. Their parents may be incarcerated or using. Many people carry guns. Just last week an SUV swerved in front of my car, and I was afraid to blow my horn for fear the driver would retaliate with violence.
I feel more afraid here than I ever did in Harlem or Africa.
Five weeks ago I was released from my second hospitalization for suicidal depression. Today I am rubbing chalk into the palms of my hands and listening intently to the trapeze teacher’s instructions. When it’s my turn, I climb to the top of the twenty-four-foot platform and gaze into the net far below. My gray-haired teacher stands behind me.
“You got this, kid,” he tells me. “When I say, ‘Hep,’ you’re going to step off this platform and fly. . . . Hep!”
I take the step. At the top of the first swing, my teacher shouts, “Knees up!” and I pull my legs over the trapeze bar. Then he shouts, “Hands off!” and I release my grip on the bar. Hanging by my knees with my arms outstretched, I glide toward the “catcher” on the other trapeze. His hands wrap around my wrists, and we soar through the air together. At the final command, I let go and drop into the net.
When I am flying on the trapeze, I do not feel as though my existence is meaningless. Instead a primal instinct to keep from falling kicks in. The rush of triumph over danger reminds me that there is still much joy to be had in life.
When I was sixteen, I had a part-time job as a cashier in a Manhattan department store. My shift ended at 10 PM, and I’d walk with some co-workers to the nearest subway station, where we’d go our separate ways. I always rode home alone to Brooklyn in the first car of the D train. The commute gave me time to study and finish my homework.
As the months went by, the train engineer began to blow his whistle at me when he pulled into the station. Embarrassed, I would politely wave to him before boarding.
One day when there were few passengers on the train, the engineer approached me. I couldn’t imagine what he wanted. His hands clenched as he made small talk, and he looked anxious despite his smile. I felt relieved when he returned to his compartment. Then an older woman moved from the other side of the car, sat next to me, and sighed.
“Honey, you should ride farther back in the train from now on,” she said. “That man has no business messing with you.”
I took the woman’s advice, not only riding farther back but also requesting an earlier shift at work. A few months later I saw a newspaper article about a subway engineer who’d been arrested for sexually assaulting a female passenger. When the police searched his work locker, they found photos of young women on station platforms along his route, all of them alone.
Santa Rosa, California
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that muggings, kidnappings, or drive-by shootings are far less of a threat to me than my own clumsiness. I once badly sprained my ankle just getting into my car. I was on crutches for two weeks.
Karen L. Crowley
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was difficult for Americans to travel in Siberia, even with the required permits. The United States was feared and resented by many there. I had traveled to Siberia for a scientific research project in the Oka and Tunka valleys. After completing our work, a friend and I were driving south with three Mongolian colleagues to a border crossing. We had learned that it was best to avoid other people along the route. When it grew dark, we pulled to the side of a muddy road, pitched our tents, and made a small fire to boil water for tea.
We were getting ready to turn in when a large truck came to a halt beside our tents, and four rough-looking men piled out. They were drunk and demanded to know who we were and what we were doing. We talked to them long enough to find out that they were recent veterans of the Soviet Union’s disastrous war in Afghanistan and were now unemployed. They said they hated Mongolians, whom they considered degenerate and inferior, and they hated Americans even more. Becoming increasingly aggressive, they asked for cigarettes, money, and something stronger than tea to drink. One of our Mongolian companions produced a half-full bottle of vodka. Cursing us and kicking dirt on our fire, the men took the bottle, staggered back to their truck, and drove away.
Afraid the former soldiers would return when the alcohol ran out, we hurriedly picked up camp and drove to a nearby forest. We parked the jeep among the trees and concealed our tracks and the vehicle with brush, then walked farther into the woods and repitched our tents.
It rained heavily that night. Above the steady patter we could hear the roar of a truck cruising back and forth on the road, as if searching for us.
Robert McCracken Peck
When my son was diagnosed with autism, he was not yet two, and I was eight months pregnant with his younger brother. We were thrust into a world of speech therapy, social-skills groups, and developmental pediatricians. I installed U-shaped foam wedges on the interior doors of our home to prevent my toddler, who liked to open and close doors repeatedly, from crushing his tiny fingers. I assessed playgrounds based on whether they were enclosed by a gate. I gripped my son’s hand tightly anytime we walked near the curb. For our first family trip to Disneyland, my father gave me a harness and leash to keep my boy tethered to me at all times, but I couldn’t bring myself to use it.
My son is thirteen now and doing far better than the experts predicted. Most outward signs of his autism are gone, and people who don’t know his history are surprised when they learn it. Like any teenager, he advocates for his independence, and I try to give it to him. But I still can’t imagine the day when, as my boy says goodbye and walks away, I won’t feel compelled to yell after him to look both ways before crossing the street.
Melinda Gordon Blum
Los Angeles, California
On my way to work before dawn, I heard someone running. Thinking it was a jogger, I kept walking. Then a man grabbed me from behind and clamped his hand over my mouth.
I was in a neighborhood I knew well and had thought was safe. “You want my purse? Take it,” I managed to say through the fingers pressed over my lips. My assailant didn’t respond. He just dragged me down the sidewalk.
“Don’t scream,” he hissed, at which I instinctively let out a shriek.
A light went on inside a nearby house. The man shoved me to the ground behind a parked car and took off.
I ran to the house with the light and pounded on the door. A man in a bathrobe answered. A woman stood behind him. I struggled to tell them what had happened as they led me to their kitchen, gave me a cup of tea, and sat with me until I calmed down. We called the police, but I couldn’t give them much to go on. Was my assailant tall? Short? White? Black? I didn’t have a clue. It had been dark, and he had been behind me.
I kept this experience to myself for years. I didn’t want to think I couldn’t walk freely in my own town. I didn’t want to acknowledge how powerless I had felt.
Iowa City, Iowa
© Joseph Sass
My husband’s parents moved in with us because they could no longer live on their own. My mother-in-law, Josie, had Alzheimer’s, and my father-in-law, Howard, was in failing health. Right away Josie was cantankerous; she didn’t want to swallow her pills, take a shower, or eat the food we prepared for her. We hired a professional caregiver, an assertive young woman named Beth who, among other tasks, drove Josie to adult day care and Howard to his many doctor appointments.
The arrangement seemed to be working until one day Beth took Howard with her to pick up Josie from day care, as they had done many times before, but on this occasion Josie began to howl as soon as she saw Beth. My mother-in-law shut herself into a supply closet and refused to come out until “that woman is gone!” The day care had to call a taxi for Josie and Howard, and Beth went home in the car alone.
From then on Josie refused to be in the same room with Beth. In her confusion she believed that Beth was her rival for Howard’s affection.
One afternoon Howard had an appointment, but Josie wouldn’t get in the car, choosing to stay home with me rather than go with Beth and Howard. Just as they started to back down the driveway, she tore out of the house and began hitting the car and screaming. I finally caught up to her and wrapped my arms around her. I saw fury in her eyes. Then she struck me across the face.
Back in the house, Josie paced in and out of rooms, slapping the walls. She asked repeatedly what I would do if my husband were lying to me. Nothing I said calmed her.
I followed her, afraid to leave her alone but fearing she might harm me if I got too close. At one point she told me, “If I can figure out how to kill myself, I will.” She ripped Howard’s clothes off the hangers and threw them to the floor. She hurled his shoes at the mirror. Lifting one of his wooden canes over her head, she said she would hit him with it when he came back.
I called my husband at his office and told him, “I need you home. Now. We can’t do this anymore.”
Chula Vista, California
In December 2011 I was living in an ashram in Rishikesh, India, studying Hindi and taking yoga classes. Every day I crossed a suspension bridge high above the waters of the Ganges River. The bridge was long and narrow and swayed in the wind, which blew ferociously most days, but the crossing provided spectacular views of the Himalaya Mountains, the river, and a thirteen-story Hindu temple. People often stopped to take photos at the halfway point, despite the bridge’s constant movement and the surging crowds.
One day a large bull was standing in the middle of the bridge at the peak transit hour, refusing to move. He stamped his foot and snorted at anyone who came near. As I waited for someone to placate the bull, a few monkeys began creeping down the metal cables of the suspension bridge, eyeing me and others, especially those carrying food. A shopkeeper had told me the monkeys were dangerous and should be avoided. I gripped my bag tightly and kept walking.
Suddenly a monkey jumped from the cable, landed on the head of a woman in front of me, and then leapt to the other side of the bridge. People gasped and stared, but one man said, “It is a blessing from Hanuman,” referring to the beloved Hindu deity who is part monkey, part man. Amid the chaos and the threats of that crowded bridge, he, at least, was able to see that we were also blessed.
Outside the Bronx apartment where I grew up lurked drug dealers, hookers, and hustlers, but the greatest threat to me was inside the building.
My mother looked harmless in her faded housecoat and slippers, body bent over, face drooping, and eyes sad. But she was filled with bitterness and anger.
She had reason to be. My parents rarely had enough money to buy food and pay the rent, and they fought all the time. “What did you do with your paycheck?” she’d shout at my father.
“That’s none of your business,” he’d say and head for the door.
She’d hurl a dish at him. Afterward he’d disappear for weeks.
The last time my father left, I was eleven. Then my brother joined the Navy, my oldest sister went away to college, and my other sister moved in with her god-parents, leaving only me, the youngest, to face our mother’s wrath alone. When I came home from school, I’d listen at the door for any signs that she was in a foul mood before I walked in.
“You’re late,” she would say, her eyes cold and piercing. “You were talking to those Puerto Rican boys up the street, weren’t you?”
Then she’d smack me across the face, drag me into the kitchen, and hit me with a wooden spoon, or a metal ruler, or a cord that left welts on my legs.
As a teen I was forbidden to talk to the young men in the neighborhood. When my boyfriends walked me home, we’d part ways a block from my apartment, in case my mother was looking out the window. If she did catch me with a boy, she’d run down the street after me, cursing. “This time you’re really going to get it!” she’d yell. I believed her.
Even at my mother’s funeral, when I saw her in the coffin looking serene and benign, I sensed danger. It has taken a lot of time and therapy for me to accept that I am not that helpless child anymore.
It was June 6, 1967, the second day of the Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbors. My husband and I were Americans working odd jobs in Beirut, Lebanon, and living in a boarding house near the center of the old city. Like our Lebanese neighbors, we prepared for the nighttime citywide blackout by painting our light bulbs blue and covering our windows. Then we scurried to the market to buy staples before the shopkeepers boarded up and went home.
Back in our rooms, my husband and I sat in the dark and talked in hushed tones. The night was eerily quiet without cars or people in the streets. When we heard loud explosions to the south, we followed the other tenants to the roof, where we saw the sky lit up with flames.
The next morning we learned that the Shell Oil storage tank by the airport had been targeted by anti-Western forces. We decided to reassess our strategy in case the situation got worse. If we might need to be evacuated from Lebanon, we first had to be registered as visitors with the American government. So off we went to the U.S. embassy.
As we entered the embassy building, a crowd of students was gathering out front to protest American support for Israel. It occurred to us that we had just walked into the most dangerous spot in the city for us, but it was too late to turn around.
Inside, the halls were crowded with American diplomatic families who had fled Egypt. They sat on the floor surrounded by their belongings. Word went around that the protest outside was growing larger, and we heard the popping sound of Molotov cocktails. Someone said there was an underground gas-storage tank in the embassy yard: if that was hit by explosives, we’d all be dead.
Next the lights went out. Two MPs ordered us to lie on the floor and crawl toward the central staircase, away from the windows. We did as we were told. The stairwell was lit only by flashlights. Someone warned us all not to speak, and in the quiet that followed, I heard the muffled whimpering of a young child. I sat as still as possible, listening for the explosion that would seal us all in a concrete tomb.
It never came.
U.S. Virgin Islands
I came to the airport this morning under the guise of catching a short flight for a business meeting, but really I am buying a one-way ticket across the country. I explain to the ticket agent why I am paying with a friend’s credit card. I can’t use mine, because I’m afraid of being tracked, and, besides, my husband has run it up nearly to the limit. He’s also drained our bank accounts. The agent talks on the phone to the cardholder — who is not only paying for this flight but also giving me a place to stay when I arrive — and then prints my boarding passes.
When I told my boss of my plan yesterday, he wasn’t surprised. Apparently I haven’t been fooling anyone with my attempts to cover up my abusive relationship.
There were warning signs from the time I first began dating my husband: he was controlling and jealous and had a substance-abuse problem. But I was hopeful. We dated, then lived together, then married. I became the enabler, and my sense of self-worth eroded. As long as his desires were my priority and I didn’t defy him, I survived.
For years I fantasized about getting away, but I was afraid of what he might do to me. He can be violent, especially when he is drunk, high, or both — which is most of the time. He will surely fly into a rage when he figures out I am gone. The only people who know where I am are my boss and the friend who is helping me.
With an hour to go until my flight leaves, I am terrified my husband will find me. I duck into a gift shop and buy a T-shirt and a ball cap, then change into them in the bathroom. I return to the gate area and sit with my back to the wall and my sunglasses on, scanning the walkways and seating areas, half expecting to see my husband charging toward me. I feel an urge to run, but I remind myself that the safest direction to run is onto the plane. So I sit and wait.
Finally I hear my flight being called, and I board. The plane taxis and then lifts into the air, and I start to cry. After fifteen years of abuse I am reclaiming my life.
I have read many stories of sexual abuse in The Sun over the years, most recently in your December Readers Write on “Danger.” My initial reflex is always to turn the page and move on, but, having been the victim of sexual abuse by my father (who was himself abused in an orphanage), I read every difficult word, blessing and thanking the writers for their courage. By offering their stories, they bring their brokenness into the open, where, piece by tiny piece, healing can take place.