You’re gonna have to kill me first

It was a Wednesday morning like every other Wednesday morning that fall. I faced a long day of classes and research ahead, beginning at 8 am and ending at 9 pm. I couldn’t go to the gym on those days, so I always got up at 5:45 and left my house by 6:00 to go for a run. There was a three mile loop that began just a few blocks from my house. I lived in The Woodlands, the northern-most suburb of Houston. It was called The Woodlands because it was a community built into woods so thick you barely knew you were in the middle of an urban area. There were numerous trails to run and bike on, all of which ran parallel to a quiet residential street but were separated from the street by a shallow ditch about 15 feet wide. The trail couldn’t be seen from the road because the ditch was comprised of untouched woods, thick with trees and brush and vines. The trails were great for people like me, who liked some solitude during their run. But I didn’t realize until that Wednesday morning that they were dangerous for that same reason.

I always walked the three blocks to the start of the trail to warm my legs up and get my blood pumping before beginning my run. The streets were always empty, except for this morning. As soon as I left my house I noticed a young man, riding a bike in circles in the middle of the first intersection near my house. It was one of those small bikes you can do tricks on. The young man was wearing tennis shoes, jeans, and a gray hooded sweatshirt. The hood was pulled up over his head. It wasn’t cold outside… I was in shorts and a tank top. Curious, I thought to myself. I wonder what someone like that is doing out at this hour?

When he saw me walking toward him, he took a quick look in my direction and then broke out of his circle to ride off in the same direction I was going. I didn’t think much of it.

I reached that intersection, took a right, walked a block, took a left, walked another block, and that brought me to the street where the trail started. Here is where I usually started running.

But a quiet siren was going off in my head as I started down the trail that began my three-mile loop. Where had that guy on the bike gone? Instead of running when I entered the trail, I walked. And I began walking slower, looking around me, looking for him. I took my head phones off while at the same time, wondered why I was pausing. For some reason, my senses were heightened.

And then I saw him. I stopped in my tracks. He had stashed his bike in the trees and was crouching down in the bushes about 50 feet ahead of me. He was waiting for me.

You mother fucker, I thought to myself.

He didn’t see me yet.

I felt the temperature of my blood rise and rush into every one of my limbs, preparing me for action. I felt my face flush. I felt the adrenaline. I could have jumped over a building at that moment. But I just stood and stared at him. Then he turned his head toward me and saw me. He startled and stood up. Flustered, he began fidgeting; reaching into his pockets, acting as if he’d had a purpose for crouching in the bushes. Then he grabbed his bike and set it back on the trail, facing away from me, and he started walking it away from me. But after a few steps he realized he wasn’t fooling anyone, and he threw the bike down and spun around. He started running toward me.

Fuck.

In a split second, I reacted, fueled by the adrenaline that had pumped into my system. But in that split second, time froze. He froze. I froze. And this was my thought process:

You’re gonna have to kill me first, mother fucker. But in order to do that, you’re gonna have to catch me.

So… if I turn around and run back to the trail entrance, I’ll probably make it to the street but he WILL catch me. I’ll never make it the three blocks home, and I doubt anyone will see me before he has time to pull me back out of sight. The nearest public place is a gas station about a block away, down the street that runs parallel to the trail. There’s a ditch full of brush and shit between me and that street, but there’s a better chance that a car might come by on that street than on the one back to my house. That possibility alone might deter him. Ok….

Now RUN.

A gun went off in my head and bolted me into action. I dove into the ditch and felt vines and branches snapping, trying to catch my feet with every step forward. I was probably getting cut up but I couldn’t feel it. I ran up the other side of the ditch and out into the middle of the street and began sprinting down it toward the gas station. I could hear him behind me, pushing through the brush. I heard his steps on the pavement. And then the noise was drowned out by the sound of my heart beating in my ears. I couldn’t feel my legs. I just ran. And at some point, he gave up the chase and turned around. He had weighed the odds and decided against it.

I all but tore the door to the gas station off its hinges and ran inside, yelling for a phone. First I called my brother. Then I called the police. Dan beat the police there… God bless him. And he brought his gun with him.

I didn’t start crying until I climbed into Dan’s pickup, where I felt safe. And then I let myself think about what could have happened. When the police arrived, Dan helped me file an official report, but I didn’t have much information to give them. I never saw the guy’s face—it was hidden behind the hood of his gray sweatshirt. I didn’t know how tall he was—I never had perspective to gauge it. I knew he was probably in his early 20’s and on a bike. That’s all I knew. The cops drove around the neighborhood for a while but there wasn’t much they could do. Dan drove around the neighborhood for a while longer. Then he took me home and I went on with my day… shaken.

Someone had been watching me long enough to learn my routine and I was completely oblivious to it. That Wednesday morning, he learned which house was mine, because he saw me coming out of it. I would end up calling the police on the guy twice more after that. About a week later, he was hiding in the bushes across the street when I went out to my car. Again he started coming toward me. I made it back inside the house and tore through it, locking all the doors and windows, calling 911, and wishing I wasn’t there alone. I waited in an upstairs bedroom for I-didn’t-know-what… shaking. He didn’t break into the house. The police came and took another report. They told me that even if they caught him, there was nothing they could do because he hadn’t hurt me and we could only guess at the guy’s intentions.

I’m fairly certain that he wasn’t hoping for the opportunity to ask me out.

I saw him once more, about a block from my house. This time I was in my car, and rather than going home, I kept driving and called the police. Once again, he disappeared before they got there. They never did question him, and I moved shortly thereafter. But his memory re-emerges every time I think about going for a run outside or when I catch myself developing a pattern that someone might be able to learn. The memory of that day has caused my blood temperature to rise and my adrenaline to kick in again when walking through dark parking garages and being in office buildings alone at night. I’m thankful that my intuition served me that day and I pay close to attention to it now.

Ironically, the reason I was living in Texas was for a Clinical Forensic Psychology PhD program. I was studying sex offenders and psychopaths; doing research in the prisons where they were held. The work I did was in risk prediction, with the goal being to better identify sex offenders who were likely to commit future offenses if released from prison. The “civil commitment” law allows for the indefinite incarceration of federal inmates considered mentally ill and sexually dangerous, even after they have served their time in full for criminal charges. Megan’s Law requires law enforcement authorities to make information available to the public about sex offenders who are released. And Texas doesn’t play around.

This story has a happy ending but many aren’t so lucky. One in four women report surviving rape or attempted rape during their college years. One in five women will be raped at some point during her lifetime and the vast majority knows her attacker. Fifty-five percent tell no one about the incident, so the perpetrator suffers no consequences and is free to do it again. More than half of all rape and sexual assault incidents occur within one mile of the survivor’s home or in her home.

Do your daughters a favor and talk to them about the dangers they face. Make them learn self-defense. Teach them what can happen when their judgment and response time are impaired by alcohol. There are no guarantees, but knowledge is power.

And if you ever sit on a jury for a sex offense trial, keep this in mind… Research shows that most convicted sex offenders have committed many, many assaults before they are caught.

Deuteronomy 19:21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.