silver Gerber knife

Running with Knives (Part 1): Reflections on a Traumatic Experience

*TRIGGER WARNING – trauma, attempted assault

I know normally it’s a bad idea to run with knives, but every time I go jogging, I always have one in my pocket.

Many times when I go running, it will be early in the morning, a little before sunrise. It’s dark outside as I head off down my road, the occasional street lamp helping to light my way. I’m acutely aware of my surroundings, looking out for anything suspicious or unusual. I check behind me often to make sure I’m not being followed. The irrational side of me (or is it actually my rational side?) feels somewhat unsafe and the warning bells are ringing loudly inside my mind. The other side of me pushes those feelings aside and thinks “what are the odds that something bad would actually happen?” The problem is, I’m all too familiar with those odds, because all it takes is one time, one event – and that event happened to me when I was a junior in high school.

Our family had a dog growing up, and by dog I mean a little chihuahua-dachshund mix that weighed about 10 pounds. Her name was Peanut. Every day my dad or I would take her on walks around our neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona. One evening, I don’t remember why, I decided I was going to take Peanut on a short walk. It was around 9pm, and the sun was long gone. The warning bells were softly chiming in my mind – it’s dark, you shouldn’t go out by yourself, yes YOU, the skinny 17-year-old girl! – but I brushed the thoughts aside and told myself, “what’s the worst that could happen?”

Our house in Phoenix was unusual in that it had an 8-foot stucco wall surrounding the entire front yard. (All the houses in this neighborhood were like that – I guess to offer more privacy.) So I walked out the front door of my house, and then unlocked the front gate in the outer wall that led out to our driveway.

I walked along the sidewalk past all the stucco-surrounded homes, carrying my pooper-scooper and plastic bag on one hand, and holding Peanut’s bright pink leash in the other. The next block over (continuing straight) was just a big empty dirt field, and on the other side of the street were various apartment complexes. I wasn’t that far from home, I had just made it to the dirt field in the next block over, when I noticed a man walking a ways behind me. But he was gaining on me fast.

I didn’t like the way he was walking or how fast he was catching up to me. The warning bells were now full-on blaring in my head, I knew this was not good. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that when I’m in a bad situation (real or perceived) my personality initially wants to do something to try to fix it. In other words, I’m not going down without a fight. That being said, the LAST thing I really wanted to do was get into a fight with a strange man who might be out to harm me. But I wasn’t going to go down easily either.

I decided to cross the street and turn back towards home – so now the man and I are on opposite sides of the street, but walking towards each other. He stayed on his side of the road thankfully, and as he passed me, I looked over and made eye contact with him. I wanted him to know that I knew – I knew the kind of man he was and what he was trying to do. And I wanted him to know that it wouldn’t be worth it.

We both kept walking, and I breathed a sigh of relief that nothing had happened. Peanut and I quickly made our way back home, but apparently it wasn’t quick enough. I should have started running when I saw the man coming after me the second time, but something inside me didn’t let me. Maybe I didn’t want him to know how scared I was, or maybe I wanted to look nonchalant.

The man caught up to me right as I made it to my house, standing on the sidewalk in front of my driveway. Fear started to overwhelm me, and my body felt heavy, like I was underwater. I wanted to run to the gate, but I worried that I wouldn’t be able to unlock it fast enough before he got to me. And I also didn’t want this creep to know where I lived, I didn’t want him coming back to look for me again.

We both stopped and stared at each other for a second – both of us just waiting, waiting for the moment we knew was coming. “Do you know what time it is?” he asked me.

“Around 8:30, I think,” I said, as I watched the man inch closer and closer to me. Then it happened. He lunged forward to try to grab me. I bolted for my gate with one thought in my head: ring the doorbell. That way hopefully my dad would come outside in enough time to help me. Peanut, bless her heart, was barking at the man, she sensed the danger too. I don’t remember unlocking or opening the gate, but I guess I did because I remember looking past the open gate into my yard and thinking “I made it!” But before going in, I turned to see where the man was (all this having happened in just one or two seconds). He was still standing on the sidewalk, next to the pooper-scooper I had dropped in my hustle to get away. We stared at each other for another half second, and then he turned and ran away.

I got to the road in time to see him jump into a car that had been waiting for him – the car that I could have been in. My dad made it outside about the time that the car, and my attempted kidnapper, drove away. “What happened?” he asked.

I am so thankful to be able to say that my story essentially ends there. I am all too aware that it could have ended very differently. I’m grateful that my body didn’t freeze up when I needed it most, and that the man didn’t continue to chase after me when he realized I was at my house. I’m grateful the man didn’t have a knife or a gun when he attacked me.

But I’m also very mindful of many other women, and men too, who have stories that didn’t end well. Maybe their bodies did freeze up in shock – maybe their attackers did keep pursuing them – and maybe something truly terrible happened after that moment.

If that’s your story, I want you to know it’s not your fault. You are a victim, and it’s not your fault that someone attacked you. Our bodies respond in weird ways to trauma, and we don’t always have full control of how our bodies or minds react. Sometimes there may not always be an escape route. I am confident you did the best you could with what you had.

Even now, 17 years after the experience, this was difficult to write about. Literally my heart rate went up and my hands began shaking as I was writing it. Trauma, (whether it’s big T or little t), sticks with you. Sometimes processing trauma, whether it’s writing about it or talking about it, can be healing. But as my husband (a licensed counselor) reminded me, it can also be harmful to relive trauma. If you have trauma that you need to process through, make sure you’re doing it in a safe way – preferably with a licensed therapist or mental health professional. The road to healing is long (sometimes seemingly endless), but it’s worth going on the journey.

Thanks for reading.

Up next: Running with Knives (Part 2): the Self-Preservation Instinct
In my next post, I’ll focus on the aftereffects of my traumatic event, how it changed me, and how I’m trying to strike a healthy balance between being overly fearful and feeling safe.

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