I walked across the highway and stepped back in time

This is my second day at the ranch and it’s a beautiful day as South Dakota winter days go. Forty degrees and sunny, with a chilly breeze. I decided it was a perfect day for a walk, and even before I made it up the hill leading away from the house, I knew it would be more than just a walk. It would be healing. It needed to be healing.

I’ve been heartbroken once. Recently, I went through another failed relationship, and while I can’t say that I was broken, I was bruised. I was hurt enough to have a few tearful days and some bitterness. Today I’m content, but not yet at peace. I’m limping back into cautious optimism, but I’m not there yet. So I set out on today’s walk, seeking healing.

I first walked south, past the barns and shops, past all the ranch vehicles and horse trailers and tractors, toward the mailbox at the highway. It’s about a mile long walk to the highway, and all the way there and all the way back, I just thought. I looked inward and I thought. I searched for fault in my actions and lapses in my judgment with this most recent relationship. I searched for the answer to the question ‘what should I have done differently’. I didn’t find the answer, maybe because I was not at fault… or maybe because I can’t yet see the forest through the trees.

I made it back to the barns and shops and decided I wasn’t done yet. So I headed west, up the other gravel road that leads away from the house. I walked past Dad’s cows on my right. They barely looked up at me as I walked by. Then I walked past the two-year old heifers on my left, on the other side of a barbed wire fence. They’re young, pregnant for the first time, and “spooky”. I sneezed and one heifer jumped, causing the entire herd of them to turn and run away from me, toward no particular destination. A few hundred yards later, I came to the highway again, and the “Blair ranch” sign leading into Dad’s place. I stopped and waved at a semi with a load of hay bales driving by. Then I crossed.

Halfway across the highway, I decided that I would walk to the old house… my childhood home… and see what state it was in after being empty for a number of years. So halfway across the highway, I had the distinct feeling of stepping back in time. I had made that walk a hundred times as a little girl, between our house and Grandpa’s, and here I was, walking it again. I slowed down and took it in. I walked past the little pond that I skipped a million stones across. It was iced over, but a layer of water was over the ice. I picked up a stone and threw it high in the air to see if it would break through the ice. It didn’t. I picked up a bigger stone, and then a bigger one.

The ice was solid though, and I walked on, leaving rocks scattered across the frozen pond. I walked up the hill above the pond toward the old house. As I walked up the hill I asked myself what I was searching for, not just today, on this walk, but in general. The answer I gave myself was ‘the happiness I felt as a child’. But even as the thought crossed my mind, I knew that I’d never find it. The happiness that children feel comes from being innocent and unburdened by life’s stresses (if they’re lucky enough to have a stable home life). But after the first broken heart… after the first wound that leaves a scar… that happiness can’t be regained. A new one must be found.

I found myself standing in the shop at the old house. This is where my first buck was mounted on the wall. This is where my dad taught me to fix a flat tire before I was allowed to drive a car. This is where we built Mom’s picnic table and where Dad came running from when I crashed my bike into the cattle guard nearby on the day I (sort-of) learned to ride a bike. I kept walking, and crossed that cattle guard, looking down at the iron slats that permanently scarred my forehead. I walked up the driveway to the old house. The little shed where our dogs always slept was still there but the tree house Dad built us was gone. The lawn had turned to weeds and the house didn’t look welcoming anymore. I went in anyway. I didn’t shut the door behind me.

For several minutes, I just stood inside the doorway. It was my house, but it wasn’t. It smelled musty and unlived in. It was dirty and empty and different. But I stood there and allowed a million memories to wash over me, and I let the new sights and smells give way to the old ones. Once again I could smell lemon Pinesol from Mom’s cleaning. I could smell supper in the oven.

(In rural South Dakota, the meals are breakfast, dinner, and supper. If lunch is a home-cooked meal, it’s called dinner. If it’s just a sandwich, it might be called lunch.)

It was no longer there, but I could see the TV stand Dad made and mounted, holding up the old TV with knobs to change channels and rabbit ears to find stations. I could see the orange carpeting and ugly wood paneling on the walls. I could hear laughter at the dinner table. I walked into my old bedroom, just past the kitchen and turned a circle in the middle of the room, amazed at how small it seemed. Even the closet seemed tiny… the closet I made into my personal hideout where I would read. I stared at the floor of it, seeing myself as a little girl, with a lamp for light, a pillow and blanket for comfort, and a stack of books that I couldn’t wait to soak up. It didn’t seem tiny then.

I did this with every room in the house, until I was thoroughly lost in a previous lifetime, and I was hesitant to stop when I made my way to the end of the second story of the house. No more house to walk through. So I slowly made my way back out, and stood just inside the door for a few more minutes before stepping back outside. I closed the door, put my headphones back in, and started walking back toward the highway. Back toward today.

I said before that I was seeking healing… and happiness. As I made my way back to the highway I brought God into the introspection I was doing. And I started saying my favorite prayer, the Our Father. There’s a part that always resonates with me.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….  Lord, forgive me and help me forgive. Help me let go of the bitterness, because it feels like poison inside me.

Lead us not into temptation… God there is so much temptation in the world. I struggle to recognize what temptations I should avoid. In seeking love, we face temptation. Isn’t it ok to move toward it? So far, that has only led to pain. How can I recognize when it is right?

…but deliver us from evil. Deliver us, Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day.  I pray for peace for others, but never for myself. Lord, today I’m asking for peace in my day.

In your mercy, keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety.  I always say that part twice. Lord, protect us from all anxiety, because I feel like once we leave childhood behind, it’s one anxiety after another, and it’s exhausting. This, I believe, is the greatest challenge we face as human beings. I believe it’s the reason we’re here… to accept the life we’re given and let go of the anxiety we feel. Trust in God that He has a plan for us, and that it is never what we assume (or want). That is the happiness I now seek… the freedom from anxiety.

More than an hour has passed and I’m about to go back down the hill to the new house. It’s time to bring this healing session to a close. It’s been good. I could use another hour but it will come, all in good time. Before I go home, though, I put one last song on my iPod (and think to myself that my iPod doesn’t belong in such a peaceful place).

Galileo.

“And as the bombshells of my daily fears explode, I try to trace them to my youth.

…I’m serving time for mistakes made by another in another lifetime.

…How long till my soul gets it right? Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?”

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…or maybe more appropriately, I DON’T hunt like a girl

Just a quick follow-up to my last post…

We returned home from our whirlwind trip to Dad’s ranch last night. We met a blizzard on the way there, so the 8 hour trip turned into almost 10 hours. We made it through snow drifts a foot high on the interstate for the last 100 miles of the trip, and pulled into the ranch just shy of 3 am. I didn’t make it out of bed for the first hunt two hours later, but the guys came home empty-handed so I didn’t feel too bad about it. I did go out the rest of the day, but with temperatures in the single digits, I didn’t stray too far from the pick-up.

Actually, I didn’t even chamber a round over the weekend. Neither did Dan or my Dad. The only successful hunter in the group was Connor, the youngest son of my high school debate coach (and close family friend), Bob Speirs. Connor is 12 years old, and this year he scored his first deer tag. So this year, it was all about him. That was fine with the rest of us. We were just  happy to be together and content to send Dad to shoot a doe for meat when the weather warms up.

The weekend went by way too quickly, and by Sunday afternoon, we were packed up and headed out again. Next year we plan to give ourselves more time, and hopefully the weather will cooperate a little better. I was called a “fair weather hunter” this year when I didn’t even get out of the pickup after seeing three “shooter” Mule Deer bucks in our south pastures. I would have gotten out… but my feet were cold.  🙂  One of them would have been a trophy though! Hopefully he’ll survive the next week and be there next year.

Sunset on "Hall Draw", facing the river from the old house

Connor's first buck

Dan, Jack, Marybeth, Dad, and me, forcing smiles in the single-digit temperatures

I hunt like a girl

I can count on one hand the number of hunting seasons I’ve missed since I was about three years old. When I was little, I just tagged along. Dad would leave the pick-up running so I’d be warm, and I’d eat candy and drink soda while I waited for the men to come back. I remember feeling like I needed to at least look for deer, so I would have something to report upon their return. Just tryin’ to be helpful. But usually I crashed from the sugar and fell asleep across the binoculars and ammunition boxes that were scattered around on the seats of Dad’s work pick-up.
 
When I got a little older, it became my job to “walk the bottom”. Two people would sit at the end of a draw and wait for the rest of us to walk it, pushing deer toward them. The walkers would spread out, with one person walking the top of each side, one person walking the middle of each side, and one person walking down through the bottom, crawling over dead branches and wading through creeks. The person walking the bottom made a lot of noise, got a lot of exercise, and saw very few deer. It was a perfect job for me.
 
When I was in college, my dad gave me my first rifle, which to this day is one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received. It’s a small .243 with a good scope. It has almost no “kick”, so I wasn’t scared to shoot it, and the size doesn’t weigh me down. I didn’t know it then, but it’s a pretty small gun as far as deer rifles go. But that’s ok. It just means I have to be a good shot. And so far, I have yet to shoot at something and miss.
 

My rifle

But I don’t want to mislead anyone. I don’t deserve any praise. Because the truth is…

I hunt like a girl.

Every time I raise my rifle to look through the scope, my heart starts racing. I’ve only killed two deer… only shot twice. And both times, I was terrified. Scared to pull the trigger. Scared to miss. Scared to not miss. Scared for the deer. Scared to make a fool of myself. But I suppose that’s part of the reason people hunt—to overcome the fear. (Try getting a man to admit that.)

I get cold faster than the men do, or at least I start complaining about it sooner. My feet freeze in the South Dakota cold and I start wishing for hot coffee and a fireplace. It’s a production when I have to go to the bathroom, not only to find a place out of sight of all the men and their binoculars, but to get out of six layers of clothing and… you get the idea. I have not and will not ever “gut” my own deer. I couldn’t saw through the pelvic bone if I tried, but mostly, I just don’t want to. I may have just killed a wild beast, but thankfully, the men recognize that I’m suddenly a damsel in distress once it’s on the ground. And I’m happy to let them be my heroes.  🙂

You see, the real fun of hunting for me is not actually in the hunt. It’s in everything that comes along with the hunt, such as the whispered conversations I have with Dad as we sit in the snow and wait for the sun to come up and the bowls of chili we eat around the dinner table to thaw ourselves out. I look forward to deer season all year long because it’s time with my dad and brothers and family friends that I cherish. Dad beams when his kids are home. It’s his livelihood—his ranch—that brings us together for a common purpose. It’s the time when we bond together for a shared goal. We scout and plan and strategize. And while we do that, we eat and drink and laugh at stories from deer seasons past. It’s our family and our time. And while each hunt is an opportunity for all of us to bring home a trophy, we always make it mostly about one person. “Let’s get Dan that monster whitetail. He’s overdue for a big one.”

I remember the first year I hunted to kill—the year after Dad gave me my rifle. The whole weekend was about getting me a deer! After a day and a half of missed opportunities, it was the afternoon of the second day. It was our last hunt before sundown, and we would be leaving the next day to drive back to Denver. I felt pressure to not let everyone down after the effort they had put into helping me. We had our plan. The deer would be coming out to eat before sunset, and we were going to put ourselves in position to see them on the alfalfa field. There were four of us on the hunt: Dad, my big brother Dan, our friend Troy, and myself.

We parked the pickup at the top of the hill above the alfalfa field and walked, out of sight, down to the haystacks near the field. We must have spotted two dozen deer as we walked slowly, quietly into position. And then we spotted it. … The Big One. … The one we were hoping to see. My heart raced. We huddled and Dad whispered the plan to us. But before we could execute it, The Big One took off. He dropped into the draw near the alfalfa field and was out of sight. We started running to where he disappeared, hoping to see him come up on the other side. And we did! We crouched in the snow, watching him slowly climb the hill on the opposite side, waiting for him to come into a clearing.

And then he stopped. Broadside. And Dad said exactly what I was praying wouldn’t be said. “Pam! Shoot him!”

I took my gloves off and settled into the snow, stabilizing myself. I drew up on him and found him in my scope. He still looked tiny. “Dad,” I whispered. “How far away is that??”

“You can shoot him at that distance,” he said.

I looked again. No better. Shit. Deep breath. Holy shit. Ok.

I tried to remember everything I’d been taught about shooting a gun. Very little emerged through my adrenaline clouded consciousness. Let out all your air, I remembered. So I did. But that was no good because then I had no air. So I took a deep breath and held it. And aimed. And prayed. And fired.

The deer bucked. HIT!! As soon as the men confirmed that I had hit him, they all opened fire. World War III erupted on Dad’s ranch. I didn’t fire another shot. I froze. They all emptied their rifles while the deer slowly made its way up the hill and out of sight. None of them could land a second shot. The Big One was wounded but not even scared. But there’s a rule on Dad’s ranch. You never leave a wounded deer without exhausting all efforts to put it out of its misery. And so the hunt was on and chaos ensued. Dan sprinted nearly a mile back to the pickup and came tearing across the prairie to pick us all up and take us across the draw to where we last saw the buck go out of sight. Dad nearly fell out of the pick-up when Dan punched the gas before he was able to close the pick-up door. We bounced around with all the guns and binoculars and ammo, speeding across trenches and ditches, where no vehicle should go. When we got to the other side of the draw, one-by-one, we bailed out of the pick-up to try to pick up the deer’s trail in different places.

I bailed out last. And saw The Big One! This time he was running. I fired and hit him again but he kept running. Dan fired his last bullet at him and missed. Then he grabbed my gun out of my hands and ran after him. I just laughed at the ridiculousness of it. Dan fired and hit him this time but still didn’t stop him! Finally, Troy fired and hit him, and it was bullet number four that brought him down. It was my deer… but it was our kill.

We went home that night wired from adrenaline and high on success. It was a shared victory and a story that would be told for years to come. We even named part of the ranch after that story. The place where I sat in the snow to take my first shot became known as Copper Hill because of all the bullets that were fired there. As the story spread over the months to come, the neighbors teased me about running the town out of ammunition. I just smiled and reminded them that I only fired twice. And both shots were hits. Blame the men for the rest of it. 😉

My next deer hunt went much better but was much less exciting. One shot, meat. I learned my lesson after the first one. My little rifle is not meant to kill a deer at 350 yards. Or 400 yards… or 450 yards. (The distance grows every time the story is told.)

I leave on Friday to go home for another hunting season and I can’t wait. This time my brother is bringing his little boy, who is old enough now to sit in the pick-up and eat candy. Dan is passing the tradition on through the generations, and I look forward to doing the same with my kids. I hope I have a daughter.

So she can hunt like a girl too.

Deer season 2010

Maybe it'll be big enough next year

Perfect By Design

I’ve noticed a trend among my fitness-enthusiast friends lately, which culminated in seeing a giant tractor tire propped against the wall in a small 24 Hour Fitness near my office recently. The way people work out is changing, with the new school workouts actually being very old school ways of staying fit. Now it’s not uncommon to see a group of people in a gym parking lot pushing cars, carrying buckets full of weight either in their hands or hanging from a bar across their shoulders, moving big tires from point A to point B, and so on. And the kettle bell phenomenon is the same idea. They are a bunch of weights of varying sizes with handles so people can do explosive movements designed to imitate throwing stuff, usually over their heads. (Anyone else reminded of square hay bales?) New research has also taught us that the optimum cardiovascular exercise is moderate enough to raise your heart rate, but not so much that your body switches to anabolic mode and begins burning muscle for fuel. In other words, walking at varying inclines (like you might find outdoors) is pretty ideal. Who’da thought?? So it seems that the science of  exercise has come full circle, and we are now doing what people have done since the beginning—moving our bodies in the way they were designed to move before innovation made it possible for us to be lazy all day long.

And so I started thinking… and I realized… pretty much everything comes full circle. We, as a species, keep getting smarter. And we’re learning that the changes we make as a result of new discoveries often need to be undone because when we finally uncover the whole picture, we realize that things were better off left alone.

Remember when everyone thought that eggs were bad for you because of the cholesterol in them? And red meat was banned from the list of acceptable foods for anyone hoping to lose weight. Innovative companies started producing sugar substitutes and fat-free everything. The goal was to allow people to eat and drink to their heart’s content without adding pounds. Fruits and vegetables were genetically engineered to be bigger (but somehow lost all taste). Preservatives were added to everything so no one needed fresh food, ever. Chemicals were sprayed on crops to kill bugs and produce the maximum output per acre. Hormones were given to animals so they would be bigger and produce more milk and meat. The wonder of innovation!

What has been the result of all that innovation? Staggering increases in the rate of mental health issues, including among children. More people than ever are dying of cancer. Dysfunctions that mimic MS are seen among diet soda drinkers. The rate of Alzheimer’s has increased dramatically. Society is depressed, can’t concentrate, is malnourished and disease-ridden, and there’s more obesity than history has ever seen. Innovations in curing disease haven’t kept up with the rate at which innovation has caused disease. So now we’re being told to revert back to the way humans ate a century ago. Eat organic food. If you need to sweeten something, use real, raw sugar. Avoid the fat-free stuff, because it actually causes more weight gain. In other words, eat and drink the way people used to eat and drink… the way God intended us to eat and drink. We haven’t improved upon his creation at all. As it turns out, eggs are one of earth’s perfect foods. We should eat whole grains, lots of fruit and vegetables, and avoid processed stuff. “Stay in the outside aisles at the grocery store” is the modern-day advice. God even gave us caffeine and alcohol! What more could we need?? Food was perfect by design.

Humans seem to have a need to understand and then alter everything. Scientists discovered the smallest particle on the planet, the atom, and then wanted to break it into even smaller pieces. What did that lead to? Nuclear fallout and atomic weapons of mass destruction. Chernobyl and Hiroshima. Oops! Granted, nuclear power is nice, but I’ll still argue that we should never have messed with it. It was perfect by design.

We have even decided that the human body wasn’t good enough as it was. I won’t get into the topic of whether or not it’s morally acceptable to grow organs from stem cells. If I ever need a new organ I’ll make up my mind about that topic. But let’s talk about this on a smaller scale. I grew up in the 80’s, and as a little girl, I remember seeing actresses and models that didn’t look like any  of the women I encountered in daily life. Don’t get me wrong… my mother and her sisters were beautiful women who took very good care of themselves. But they were real women. They didn’t have visible ribs or porcelain skin. I got a very clear message that it was important to be skinny. And just as women were shrinking, men were growing. (Thank you Arnold Schwarzenegger.) It become just as awful to call a man “skinny” as it was to call a woman “fat”. Both genders began using substances to help them achieve an unnatural appearance, some legal, some not. And I’ll admit, I fell victim to the pressure to achieve the “ideal” body. I held myself to an unrealistic standard and hated myself when I fell short. Thankfully, those days have given way to a much more content place of moderation. I personally have come full circle, and while I still work out and eat healthy, I also indulge in my favorite things. That includes the occasional burger, sweet potato fries, movie theater popcorn, Crown Royal, and of course, ice cream. You only live once!

There’s more media attention given to the pressure put on women to be “ideal” than the pressure put on men. But they feel it too. A lot of men put a great deal of time and energy into being bigger and more muscular than their genetics intended. I can’t say that I speak for all women, but I think I represent the vast majority when I say that women don’t like the “steroid look”. When I see a man who looks like a real life version of Johnny Bravo… who might tip over and not be able to get back up because he’s so top-heavy… it’s not attractive. You know the look. It’s as if his shoulders and arms have been inflated with air. Sorry, but I don’t want to cuddle up to that! There’s no room for me! I can fully appreciate a man’s physique when he takes care of himself, and has that V-shaped torso, with broad shoulders and a lean waist. But his delts alone should not command attention. It’s distracting. An overall athletic appearance will win out every time. So guys, chill out! It’s ok to weigh less than 200 pounds. You’re still bigger than us and can carry the heavy stuff that we can’t, and that’s all we need.

Regarding my own gender, I read something written by a man about the things he loves about a woman. He wrote about the way she smells and the primitive manly thing in him that ignites when he sees her in his shirts. He wrote about “the look” that she  reserves just for him, when she suddenly realizes she adores him and is wildly attracted to him all over again. He wrote about the fact that it’s slightly more charming than annoying that she worries about his health and safety. He wrote about the way she fits in his arms, with her face buried in his neck when he hugs her, as if she was designed just for him. What he didn’t write about was physical perfection. In fact he said he liked that her body was soft, and he thought she was crazy when she criticized herself in front of a mirror. She was womanly, with womanly parts. And the “flaws” she saw in herself were the things that made her different from him in exactly the ways she was supposed to be. She didn’t need cosmetic procedures or Botox or even make-up to be beautiful in his eyes. In fact, lots of makeup makes women less approachable rather than more attractive.

My girlfriend took a trip to LA recently, with plans to go out every night and enjoy the LA “scene”. She packed really tall heels and really short skirts. She took every beauty product and tool in her arsenal, planning to be dressed to the 9’s. And when she came back she told me that she was so busy having fun that she spent no time getting ready for the evenings. She went out to nightclubs in jeans and a tank top, with barely any makeup on. And she got more attention from men than she’d ever had in her life. It was probably a breath of fresh air for the guys (especially in LA) to see a woman… I mean really SEE a woman undisguised by all our crap that we think makes us beautiful.

So this blog kinda started as one thing and ended as another. But I guess it all relates. And it all stems from an idea that I was mulling around in my head, which is this:

The world and all things in it are perfect by design. God designed us in a way that is functional, and we are attracted to each other because of the very things that help us get by in the world and produce more human beings. The food he gave us fuels us and keeps us healthy and lean. The improvements we’ve tried to make have actually been steps backwards. God must feel like the parent of a  two-year old… patiently waiting for us to grow up and stop make messes everywhere. But then again, he designed us to be slow learners, so I guess that’s perfect too.

Finding My Nurturing Side

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve thought to myself, “I don’t think I’m very good at being a woman.” I’d have a lot of dollars. I don’t really believe that I’m BAD at being a woman. I just seemed to have missed the boat on a few things, and some of them I’m glad to have missed. For example, I never think to buy a cute card, fill it with words of encouragement, and send it to a female friend of mine after talking to her about a difficult time in her life. Women have done that for me and it’s wonderful. Instead I fully engage in a good conversation and then try to infect her with my “do-er” mentality. Forget about it and DO something. I’ll help. If we can do something to fix the problem, great, but if not, let’s find something different to throw our energy into and get our minds off of it. This approach is not exactly nurturing.

I never wake up on a Saturday morning and have the urge to fill my house with the smell of freshly baked pastries for people (I’m not sure whom) to enjoy over the weekend. I have a mother and aunts and cousins who do that and it’s wonderful (but not good for my waistline). Instead, I wake up and decide whether I’m going to work out before or after breakfast, and I hurry to the gym to put my body through as much physical strain as possible while I pump the week’s stress into some iron and then sweat the rest out on the stair climber. When I am sufficiently exhausted, I go home and eat a high-protein meal, clean up, put on more workout clothes, and get on to the next physical activity, preferably outdoors. At no point am I fixing my hair or shopping or doing my nails or tying on an apron. Those things are irritating necessary evils to be avoided whenever possible.

I do not give off an impression of softness and sweetness. I’ve been around women like that, and they’re calming and wonderful. They have sweet voices and a tenderness about them that makes you want to be gentle toward them. When I’m around women like that I become acutely aware of the fact that I sometimes sound like a foul-mouthed sailor. My movements and thoughts and voice are not like that at all. My drinks of choice are beer and whiskey. I love muscle cars and motorcycles and hunting deer in the frigid South Dakota cold. I own power tools and a shop vac. I prefer black coffee over tea and hiking boots over high heels. And I’d rather throw away a pair of pants than get out a sewing kit and mend them.

So you see, I have plenty of reasons to think that I’m not very good at being a woman.

But a funny thing happened when a man came into my life recently.

I wanted to feed him.

I’ve been contemplating this phenomenon… examining this funny urge in myself that seems to have come about since I met this irresistibly handsome and oh-so-manly man who is wonderful to me. From the very first time we had a meal together that wasn’t at a restaurant, I have wanted to prepare and serve food for him. I couldn’t help but chuckle at myself a little bit as I shop-vacced the dust off my spice rack (kidding) and tried to remember how to make food look and taste good rather than simply act as fuel. I found myself spending time thinking about meals ahead of time and taking twice as long in the grocery store as I resurrected mom’s best recipes. Soul food. Hearty food. Fill him up and leave him satisfied. Nurtured.

Make no mistake, I’m just as rough around the edges as I’ve always been. I still haven’t pulled an apron out. But I found a nurturing part of myself that hadn’t shown itself in a while. Maybe I’ll fill my kitchen with pastry smells someday soon…

after my workout.

When communicating with the Universe, is it appropriate to use sticky notes?

I have bought into the Law of Attraction. Your thoughts will manifest your destiny. You will bring about the exact outcome that you expect to receive. If you have a pessimistic attitude, problems and obstacles will find their way to you. If you see your glass as half full—or as I like to think of it, always full enough—then the moons and stars will align in your favor.

I can honestly say that I am happy the vast majority of the time. There are people in my life who have told me they have sympathy for me… because I’m not married. My reaction is to look at them like they have two heads. Why on earth would you be sad for me?? I’m happy every day. And I’ve managed not to marry the wrong man while I wait for the man who’s perfect for me. Meanwhile, countless others are brushing their misery under the rug because they can’t relate to, communicate with, understand, or even make themselves like their spouse. My goodness. I’d so much rather be standing in my shoes. The man I marry will be fantastic and so worth the wait, so I don’t mind a bit.

In the meantime, I’ll continue communicating with the Universe, which is an art that I’m still trying to master. Without knowing it, I began doing it as a child. My vivid imagination pictured scenarios that would ultimately play out. I imagined myself throwing strikes in my little league games. I visualized good report cards. I pictured myself delivering a flawless performance in piano recitals and in high school, flawless speeches in debate tournaments. (You didn’t know I was so nerdy, did you?) I imagined myself going away to college… and being accepted into grad school. I imagined myself as a woman who walked into a high-rise office in heels every day, although I had no idea what people did once inside those buildings. I just knew I wanted to be there. And so it came to be.

Now that I recognize the power we all hold to determine our own futures, I am starting to play with it a little. Starting to be more specific. A couple years ago, a cousin of mine told me that she wrote down a dollar figure on a piece of paper once—the salary she wanted to make the following year. It was far-fetched given what she currently made, but she had faith. And lo and behold, the following year she filed taxes for slightly more than the amount on her piece of paper.

This morning I decided that I wanted to ask the Universe for a few specific things. One involves my career and a certain type of opportunity that I would like to be given this coming year. The other involves personal growth. I grow every time I travel and there are certain parts of the world that I haven’t seen yet. Certain traits of certain cultures that I would like to understand and adopt. And so I decided to write them down and carry them with me—both the career opportunity and the travel destination—so that I would not forget my goals and the Universe would not misinterpret them.

I pulled out the nearest small piece of paper I could write on, out of habit. And then I stopped and stared at it. It was a pink sticky note. Hmm. I wonder…

When communicating with the Universe, is it appropriate to use sticky notes?

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.

 

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