It was late – almost midnight. My friend John and I had gone to the theater in downtown Seattle. We were waiting for buses to arrive, to take us home in different directions. He offered to ride on my bus, to see me safely home, but I discouraged the idea. For heaven’s sake, John, the buses hardly run at this hour. You’d be on a bus all night long if we did that. I’m a big girl, so go on your way. I appreciate your concern, but no. It’s not at all necessary.
John’s bus came and went, while I waited and waited for my own. After fortyfive minutes, I decided to stop waiting and walk. It was a five mile trek, but I knew the exercise and night air would do me good. Besides, I reasoned, if I got tired I could grab the next bus that went by. I was within a mile of my house, when I began to have an unsafe feeling. Suddenly, the road seemed a little too dark, and I felt a little too alone. To remedy this, I left the well lit main street and headed toward the residential neighborhood I was familiar with. I was weaving my way past historic moonlit houses and enjoying the architecture, when a shadow of a man burst from the bushes, heading straight in my direction. I stopped walking and yelled at him.
Please stop. Don’t run at me like that. You’re scaring me.
My head hit the pavement with a thud as he pounded fists against my face. Blood ran from my mouth and tears filled my eyes as he continued to pound and kick. So, this is how I will die, I thought, murdered on the streets of Seattle. It was all happening so fast. My body was reacting to each new blow with stunned shock. Where, I wondered, was the superhuman strength I had read about when mothers lifted cars to free trapped children? Where was the superhuman strength that would kick in to defend me now? I felt my bladder release and the unwelcome warmth of urine against my legs. I was wearing black Chinese slippers, a long black skirt and taffeta jacket. I remember because I later burned them.
Scream, I told myself. You can do that much. Come out of alarmed silence and scream. Do it! Do it! From somewhere inside a blood curdling scream rose from my throat and filled the air. I screamed as loud as I could, while he ran his hands along my bruised body in search of a wallet, jewelry or anything else of value. Porch lights flashed on in neighboring houses as men and women ran into the street in pajamas and bathrobes. The attacker fled as quickly as he had arrived – a dark man, in dark clothes going back into a dark night.
Within moments, police lights flashed up the street. A woman in her nightdress lifted me from the sidewalk, my eyes swollen and painful, my mouth bloody and my jaw tender to touch. The woman wanted to bring me inside for comfort, but I felt the wet against my skirt and declined. Two policemen propped me up. What did you see? Exactly what happened? Could you identify him if you have to? Do you need to go to the hospital? Are you sure you are okay to spend the night alone?
They drove me the final mile to the storefront and ushered me inside. This is the worst possible lock to have, the older policeman said, and these windows, why anyone could come right through these windows.
I couldn’t believe he was lecturing me. Could we discuss this another time? I asked. They agreed and offered to check on me the next day.
Thank you, I said. I’d like that. They piled fear upon fear, left their business card on the table, and walked out. I closed my flimsy door with the inadequate lock behind them. I think I might have been able to spend the night alone, if their words hadn’t pushed me to the edge. I sat for a long time wondering what to do when I remembered a street musician I’d met at Pike Place Market, a black man with beaming brown eyes and strong arms. We’d laughed together and shared stories over lunch. I liked and trusted him, so I rang him up. I knew he was getting ready to leave for Holland, hoping to permanently change his residence, but he hadn’t left yet.
Tyrone, this is Karen.
He was yawning, his voice full of sleep. Karen, girl, what’s up? It’s 2 o’clock in the morning. You sound awful.
Would you come to my house and sleep on the couch for a few nights, that would comfort me. I’ve just had a crazy experience on the street. I’m afraid of being alone right now, if you could bring some things and stay two or three nights. I would greatly appreciate it.
Give me directions, he said. My son is staying with his mom this week-end, I’m free. I’ll be right over.
To his eternal credit Tyrone transported himself in the middle of the night, tucked his large framed body into my very small couch and went off to work in the morning.
My face was swollen in shades of pink, black and deep purple. It hurt when I talked or moved, neither of which I was inclined to do. I was afraid to leave my house. Crossing the street to Rip’s Market became an ordeal. I stood in the doorway for long periods of time, looking both ways. Waiting, heart racing, wondering who would jump out next. Was I really that hungry? I’d ask myself. Can’t you wait a little longer to go? I cracked the door open slowly, fearfully looking each way before stepping out. I soon realized that others were avoiding my gaze, taking me for a battered women. I no longer made eye contact.
Sleep was no escape. I woke repeatedly lurching in bed, my body covered with sweat, my dreams full of terror and knives. Tyrone stayed on the couch, while I kept the phone inches from my pillow. It took two weeks and a trip back to New York to recover, but recover I did and began scheduling clients again.