Many years ago, after the man who had promised to love me ’til death do us part was arrested while trying to make the death part my reality, I came back to Calgary for a visit. It was my eldest daughter’s 18th birthday and I wanted to be here, no matter that he was out on parole. I needed to be here for her big day.
That particular evening, I had dropped my daughter and her friends off at a bar to celebrate and driven back to my girlfriend’s where I was staying. I parked on the far side of the townhouse complex where she lives and took a not-well-lit shortcut between two houses.
I remember my thoughts were full of the joy and happiness of being with my daughters and friends earlier. I wasn’t thinking about ‘him’ or the dark spaces through which I walked.
And then, one of ‘a woman’s worst fears’ materialized out of the darkness. A dark figure separated itself from the deep shadows of the bushes lining the path and called out to me.
My response was immediate. Visceral. I did not stop. I did not listen. I screamed and ran.
Fortunately for me at the time, my girlfriend seldom locked her front door. (she does now)
I threw the door open, slammed it shut behind me. Locked it, crouched down on the floor and began to sob.
My girlfriend came running. I screamed between sobbing breaths, “He’s out there!”
She knew immediately who the ‘he’ was. She dialed 911. Police came. Hawcs helpicopter. Dogs.
And all the while, my girlfriend held me as I sobbed, just as she’d done so many times throughout that 4 year 9 month relationship.
We’d hidden together in her powder room once while he pounded on the front door and then the deck door looking for me. She’d listened to my endless fears and worries, tried to coax me out of my inaction. Tried to encourage me to leave him. I kept going back after every beak-up until I came to believe he was all I deserved. His abuse was all I was worth.
And then, he was arrested and went to prison and I got the miracle of getting my life back.
I had no intention of letting it go. This time, when he jumped out of the bushes, I screamed and ran.
And still, all these years later, stories of women being abducted, of being murdered by strangers or those known to them, awaken those memories leaving me with no recourse but to write myself out, back into balance, back into the light.
To use my words to let others know, “You are not alone. You are not crazy. Abuse hurts. Abuse tears apart your peace of mind, your sense of self, your belief in your worthiness, your capacity to stop it.”
You cannot change an abuser. You are not that powerful. You can stop abuse in your life. You are that powerful. To stop it, you must run in the opposite direction and never look back.
All these years later, when I step out for my nightly walk with Beaumont, I still feel tiny fissures of anxiety, particularly when stories like Sarah Everard’s are in the news. Those tiny sparks of fear whisper (at least they no longer howl) at me to go back. Go back. Stay safe inside.
I will not let fear dictate my life.
I will not be held ransom to the past.
And so, I walk. In the dark. I used to walk up the hill along the tree-lined edge of our property and the ones beyond, until one night I happened upon a man sleeping in the bushes.
It wasn’t his fault he startled me. He was just looking for a place to rest, out of sight. But when Beaumont the Sheepdoodle caught whiff of a stranger in the dark, he barked and pulled at his leash and the man woke up.
This time, I didn’t have to run. He stood up, gathered his backpack and took off. Fast.
I started walking in the other direction after that. Out our driveway, down the hill towards the avenue where Beaumont and I walk along the well-lit road. When we come to the pedestrian bridge I hesitate. There are huge planters on the bridge. Great places to hide between the pools of light cast by the streetlamps along the walkway.
I hesitate and then I take a breath and keep on going. I will defy the darkness. I will defy my fears and maybe, one day, I’ll be able to walk that path without its company.
Until then, I persist and keep walking with Beaumont by my side. He looks like a big fluffy marshmallow, but he’s got a wild bark.
I like that. It makes me feel safe.
Full disclosure: I have not been as keen to walk at night lately. Without my realizing it, fear had overridden my desire to defy the dark.
In writing it out, I see what fear has done.
Beaumont and I will be walking after dark, tonight.