Monday afternoon, fantastic husband and I took the smalls to CF and went for a 3 mile run while they were in class. We finished just shy of 30 minutes, which I felt good about considering we took 2 walk breaks (one of which was longer than it should've been). It was a lovely afternoon. This time of year is tricky because it goes from GAH! SO BRIGHT! to umm...where is the light? in about 2.5 seconds. Since I work nights I don't worry about the darkness much as far as running goes. I'm almost always able to run when it's light out.
Monday night was long, so I spent most of Tuesday sleeping and then got up and was lazy. Wednesday I gave some thought to WODing while the kids were at CF, but it involved overhead lunging and squatting and I've learned that anything overhead is a shit idea when I'm tired (barbell to the brain, anyone?). So instead I went for a 4 mile run when I work up. Nice and slow, just enjoying the day. Until a dbag in a jacked up truck felt the need to comment on my shorts.
Thursday I came home and took a nap before hitting the box at 1230 for a workout that looked okay on paper, but ended up being ugly as fuck. Also I got videoed because I'm shitty at double unders and had the good fortune of being used as an example of what NOT to do. Then I laid on the floor and sweated for a while. I did get all my toes-to-rings. 6 pack, here I come.
Friday was a 3-a-day. I went to the #fiveonefive for the partner WOD. My hands were dirty from tire flips and bleeding from snatching when we were finished, but I can't say it wasn't fun. Highlight of the workout? When the coach asked if I could do burpee box jumps any slower and I said "Sure can, wanna see?", because I am an asshole.
Fantastic husband and I went to noon yoga and sang along to the playlist. I'm hoping the instructor was entertained and not alarmed. It was a good stretch, but even so my shoulders and legs were heavy afterwards and I was a little concerned about running in the evening. Sometimes I get lead legs and even an 11:30 mile feels hard. That makes for a long 6 miler.
So. I went for a night run that wasn't on a Ragnar. I can't remember the last time I ran in true darkness that wasn't during an event. I've run in the early morning, but usually just as dawn breaks, so it's initially dark but gets lighter as the run progresses. Well, now that DST is over, it's dark at 5pm. Full dark. Since fantastic husband is at work today, my planned 6 either had to wait until Sunday or happen on Friday night. Fortunately, one of my gym buddies volunteered to go with me, so we decided to run the Fox River Trail with headlamps blazing. It ended up being a beautiful night for a run. Barely any wind, perfect temperature. I felt pretty damn incredible the whole run. My legs weren't heavy and my breathing came easily. We managed the 6 miles in 59:14 which is very respectable, especially seeing that at the moment I'm only supposed to be maintaining. Speedwork will begin sometime in late January.
My running companion. A gift from my husband.
Fits just right in my palm.
I don't think I could've run that trail in the dark without a companion. Parts of it are very, very dark, and for me the dark is menacing. It's funny. When my kids tell me they are afraid of the dark, I tell them "there's nothing in the dark that isn't there in the light", and in the safety of our home, in the confines of their rooms, that's true. Outside, at night, it's not true. I know that firsthand.
When I was in college, I was attacked. Most of my close friends (at least the ones I've known for a while) are aware of this. I've divulged it to others when it was relevant, but it's not something I bring up casually in conversation. That experience changed me. For the worse, and I think also for the better, but it changed me.
I've always felt somewhat invincible. Young people generally do, I suppose, but I had always been healthy and strong and I was always tall and somewhat imposing. People don't generally fuck with you when you're big and bitchy looking. Women in our society are trained to fear. To fear the dark, to fear being alone, to fear men. I never really felt that way. Until one night, in my 20th year, when I went with some friends to the West End bar on a Thursday night before my senior year of college was about to begin.
I wasn't 21, so I left my ID at home and figured that since I didn't plan to drink, just smoke and play darts, that the bartender would turn a blind eye. He didn't, and made me leave. I was hocked off because 2 of the guys with us were underage but had fake IDs and were allowed to stay. One offered to walk me back to the dorm, but I was pissed off and invincible, so I declined his offer and just left the bar. I was only about 3 blocks from my destination. The street I needed to walk down was well lit. I lit a cigarette and set off.
About a half a block away from the bar, I noticed footfalls behind me. I didn't think much of it and crossed the street into campus. I saw a man who remained on the other side of the street bend down to tie his shoe. I realize now he was casing me, and watching to see what route I was going to take. As I passed the biology building, I heard a voice shout "Hey, do you know what time it is?", and being invincible I replied "Sure, it's about 9:15." and kept walking. Suddenly he was in front of me, his hand on my shoulder and a knife point close to my jaw. And do you know what I thought? "Fuck. This is a new shirt and I'm going to get blood all over it."
What I said was "You've got to be fucking kidding me."
Knife man was not amused. He instructed me to empty my pockets and remove all my jewelry. I had about $6 on me (I wasn't drinking, remember?) and 6 silver rings worth around $40. The fucking watch I used to give him the time was an $8 Wal-Mart special. I removed it all and gave it to him. He was mad. "This is IT. You fucking white bread Princess? Lily white with Daddy's money and this is all you've got?"
He stuffed my cash and jewelry into his pockets, spun me around, grabbed me by the back of the neck and started marching me back the way we'd come. He decided that I was lying, that he was going to teach me a lesson. He wanted to know if I'd ever "fucked a black man" and other assorted vulgar bullshit. He pressed the knife into my side as we walked past a campus security guard. He said "Go ahead and scream. You'll be dead before that fat shit can get across the street." He continued to walk me around the block, back toward the bar I'd left what seemed like years ago, the whole time calling me "Princess". To this day, hearing anyone called Princess makes my lip curl. At this point I started to get mad. What the fuck was this asshole's deal? Who was he to judge me? He didn't know me or anything about my life. The 3 jobs I worked to support myself. The crushing debt I was incurring to get my degree. My fucking broken family and jacked up worldview. So I started yelling at him. In hindsight that may have saved my life. We'd come full circle back to the bar I'd left. Apparently, a screaming bitch wasn't what this guy bargained for. A car pulled up in front of us and instead of forcing me into it, he shoved me down and jumped into the passenger seat. They sped away and I tried to note every detail of the car. Make, model, color, license plate. I'd spent the whole time under his power trying to memorize everything about him. His face, his clothes, his height.
I stumbled across the street and back into the bar. I screamed at the bartender to call the police, the whole time repeating the plate number aloud so I wouldn't forget it.
The police came. I gave a report. I went home to my dorm and spent the remainder of the night chain smoking with my best friend and feeling numb. I felt numb for a long time after. And then, I felt afraid. Cold, dark, stifling fear. I worked evenings at my internship, and often returned to campus after 10pm. This usually meant I had to park far from the dorm. Every time I got out of my car, my heart hammered and my hands went cold. I would shake the whole walk home. One night I got close parking, but when I got out of my car there was a group of men standing on the sidewalk between my spot and my dorm. I felt the fear rise up and clamp down on my lungs. I forced myself to walk past them and onto campus, the whole time fighting down a wave of darkness that felt like it would crush me. One of them called out to me, and I started running. I spent the rest of that night in my room, shaking, with tears sliding down my face.
I started calling campus security when I needed to walk from my car at night. The female officers were sympathetic. The male officers always made me feel like a child. I wanted to tear their faces off.
Then the nightmares started. Every night I was walking home from somewhere west of campus. Every night I would be accosted by a man. Tall, short, stocky, thin, white, black, latino. The man was different every night, but he always, always had a knife. A long, slender blade with a wicked point. He would rob me, then march me back to campus. Some nights he killed me. I would feel the knife slide between my ribs and I would fall. Sometimes I would crawl and claw my way into The Library (a campus bar) and someone would call an ambulance. I would choke on my own blood and die before it arrived.
I started to fear going to sleep.
Ultimately, I sought therapy for the dreams. It helped to talk it out. But my main method of dealing with the event was avoidance. I rarely left the dorm at night if I didn't have to. I tried to never go anywhere in the dark, and if I did I went with other people. I pretended to be fine when I wanted to scream and hide. For years I feared the dark. I feared isolation that didn't involve locked doors. I feared men.
I won't pretend that I'm not still afraid. I deal with it. I confront it as often as I can, and that helps. My first Ragnar found me running through Kenosha at 2am. I had my knife, and I had to pull it. Seeing my weapon made the man in question turn and go back the way he came. Possibly also when I hissed "You want a piece of me?". I'll remind you that I'm kind of big and ugly (well, I certainly am 3 miles in at 2am on no sleep). I was afraid, but it didn't shut me down. I've done many dark legs since, and I've only felt that crippling fear a few times. Each time I've fought through it. Every time I set off on a dark run, it's a big "fuck you" to the man who made me afraid of the dark. I see his face every time. I could still describe him to you, 18 years later.
When I pulled into the parking lot at the trail access point last night, it was very dark, and I won't pretend I didn't feel slightly sick. I locked the doors in my car and turned up the radio. It helped.
Last night I had my knife, even though I had a companion, and I was mostly fine in the dark. There were only a few places that made me feel the familiar tightening in my throat. I focused on the river and the lights and the conversation and ran through it. And it was fine. More than fine. It was fun.
Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever get over it. I might argue that I have. The fear that once crippled me is now fuel for the fire. People have told me that I take too many risks, running alone on the roads, on the trails, or through the arboretum. I've lost my sense of invincibility, as most of us do as we age, but I won't live my life fleeing from every shadow. I can feel the fear and embrace it. I can look it in the face and beat it back. I can let it sharpen my focus and my awareness without letting it destroy me. Isn't that what bravery is? Feeling the fear and doing a thing anyway?
What do you fear? How do you face it?
Would a knife help?