Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Truth About Bravery Is...We Get It AFTER We Face Our Fears

The year was 2002 and I was a naïve 20 year old traveling through Europe with a girlfriend. I have a list of all the places I want to see and this trip covered four countries. We were traveling around Italy, France, Spain and Switzerland. I felt so independent, so adult, and so alive.

I remember seeing the Coliseum for the first time almost dropping my gelato as it literally took my breath away. I remember seeing the David and the Vatican…being taken back to a time where new thoughts and new insights were welcomed.

Barcelona was exhilarating. Parks where Gaudi designed things and those things reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. (He had to be on drugs). Parties and nightclubs. Tapa tasting and locals.

Of course…shopping.

Most of my backpacking trip was some of the best memories I have ever created in my lifetime.

And then…the bad thing happened.

My girlfriend and I were back in Bordeaux (she lived there) sitting in her apartment planning the next day’s activities.

“Hey I am going to go down to the payphone I have got to call O,” I said as I got up.

“Rach, screw it that guy makes you call all the time and you want to break up with him anyway.”

“He will worry” I say as I head out the door, “I won’t be long”

I had to make my call at midnight because of the time difference.

The payphone was only two blocks away and knowing the neighborhood a bit I felt fine in going alone.

Hey I said I was naïve…carrying on…

As I finished up my phone call to my boyfriend at the time I shivered a bit as the night air chilled my skin. I pulled my thin jacket tighter and began my walk back to the apartment. The streets and alleys were empty as it was early in the week and we were not near any bars.

A block later I noticed the footsteps and the shadow that darkened the area in front of me from the streetlights. Was I being followed? I quickened my step and as I did so I heard a slurred voice ring in my ears

“Hey pretty American girl, you lost”?

I glanced behind me. A tall man, probably over 200 pounds loomed behind me. He smelled of alcohol and cigarettes and sourness.

“Non merci” I said trying to quicken my step enough but not so much as he might start running.

Too late.

He caught up to me

I searched in my pocket for the apartment key but European keys are tough buggers. I was 5 feet from the door when he grabbed me and turned me around to face him. He slurred some words I did not understand and grabbed onto my shoulders. His grip was hard and strong.

What was I feeling? Was this fear? Was it anger?

At this moment I still did not think anything bad would happen. I said I was naïve. This stuff did not happen to me. It never did. I was from Orange County, the land where doors are kept unlocked..this just didn’t happen and my brain did not know how to process it.

As he pushed me against the cold hard stone of the wall, so close to the door that promised my safety, he slurred something in French I could not fully understand. Something about having a good time was all I could make out.

Then the fear came.

Was I to be one of THOSE girls?

I broke out into a sweat despite the cold as his drunken fingers tried to open up my jacket.
Quick Rachel think of something, I thought to myself. What to do??!?! What to do?!?! He had at least 100 pounds on me and had me pinned to the wall. There was no escape.

I felt stupid. I felt doomed. I tried wiggling out of his grip but nothing worked. So I did what my impulse told me to do.

I took me knee and brought it up to his family jewels, which were probably freaking tiny if he thought he would get lucky with me. He doubled over in pain as I ran to the door and impulsively began pressing every single doorbell to the building. It had to wake someone up. Someone had to be up already. My friend would call the police and all would be ok.

As I continued to pound my hands on the doorbells he regrouped and grabbed me once more. Then I was seeing red. As his fist hit my face all I could see were red spots and black night. I fell to the ground and he reached down to take another swing. The taste of blood took over and the view around me got blurry.

Suddenly the door opened and a shocked young man, seeing me on the ground and a drunken man standing above me, took over from his instincts and lunged at him. He was tall and strong and, as I would find out later, home on vacation from the Army. As he pinned this man to the ground he looked at me and yelled, “Get inside now”!

I ran inside and by that time my girlfriend, the Army boy’s father, as well as a few other tenants who had heard my pounding had gathered in the lobby. The young man’s father took me in his arms and lead me to a chair.

I was safe at last.

The army boy pinned down my assailant until the police arrived and as my girlfriend hugged me tight the father put some ice on my face. I could do nothing but thank that family for I don’t know what would have happened if he had not been there. After the police came and I gave my report I just stood there and hugged that young man. And, to this day I never even got his name

I was shaking and crying. My face felt numb and all I could think about was what could have happened.

It was not until later that the feelings set in. I felt weak. I felt vulnerable. I felt stupid and naïve. I felt like a failure. I felt I had let that happen to me and was a fool for it. A couple of days later, on my plane ride home I vowed to myself to never let that happen to me again. And, for a long time after that I never went out alone. I always made sure I was out with a group or a guy, even if I was just going out for a short while. But as many things, that could never last…

Two years later I was stopping at a gas station on my way home from a night out in LA. As I was filling up on gas I heard my passenger door open and before I could blink my eyes and man just slipped into my car.

“Hey sugar” he smiled as if it was just this normal thing to do.

For a moment that fear, those flashbacks, all those feelings and the pain of the punch came flooding back. For a moment I felt vulnerable, wished a big strong Army man would come save me again. I felt weak and stupid and WEAK.

And then a little voice in my head whispered to me….never again.

Never again.

Never again.

Before I could even think I bolted my hand out and did my best death grip on the assholes nuts. I grabbed them hard and then TWISTED them around. With all the strength I could muster at that angle I dug my nails into his groin and twisted them until they would not twist anymore. He screamed like a girl but I did not let go. I clenched my teeth and dug in even further.

“ Would you kindly get the FUCK out of my car?” I yelled.

He grabbed the door handle as fast as he could as rolled out of the car staggering away with his hands on the front of his pants, almost crying.

I sat there panting as a guy who had been filling up his car ran toward my car.

“Hey are you ok?” he asked, “I just saw what happened”

Still breathing heavy I caught my breath and replied, “Yeah I am ok Mister thanks. I took care of it on my own.”

I took care of it on my own!

I locked all of my doors and drove off into the night. A content smile across my face I said to myself, “Never again… Damn right! Never ever again”!

I wasn’t that vulnerable naïve girl anymore. I did not need an Army man to swoop down and save me.

It was then I learned what strength really was. Strength is facing your fear head on and stomping it into a grave.

We are scared to fight back because we fear failing if we do. In life, we may get beat up physically and we may get beat up mentally. Someone may break our nose and someone may break our hearts. We can always fall pray to what we are afraid of. Trotting through life always afraid we will get hurt again; putting us in a protective bubble.

But if we learn the lessons and go forth into life fighting, even if we are matter what the outcome, no matter if we win or lose….we win in the end. We release the fear.

So what are you afraid of??


twobuyfour said...

Fabulous post.

You are absolutely right - there is amazing strength and power in living through a traumatic ordeal and facing up to one's fears. You were lucky both times. But you thought a lot more clearly and quickly the second time. The first experience gave you the strength to handle the second.

You cannot live in a bubble. Life is about taking risks, and learning from failures.

You ask what we're afraid of? I'm afraid of stagnation. I fear no person or situation because I have faith in myself and know that I will do my best. I do not fear death because I know I have lived a charmed life. I'm afraid I'll get complacent and no longer enjoy my life to it's potential. I'm afraid something unspeakable will happen to my children, but I know they are being raised right and are smart, good people. I have faith in providence and humanity and beauty, so I don't fear destiny or evil or ugliness.

work in progress said...

Wow. Incredible post...I'll have to get back to you on the fear thing, this will take some pondering...

Kellie said...

First time reader and love the blog!

A similar situation happened to me in college. Like you, I was lucky enough to get away. From then on I've taken steps to protect myself, but I will say that walking to my car alone in the dark, or running with my dog in the evening, sometimes that same fear strikes me again. It strikes and makes me aware of everything around me. Which I think is a good thing.

Oh. And I'm afraid of bees. :)

Nigel Vossap said...

These stories always send shivers down my spine, because I think these dickwads make it look bad for all of us, and also make it very difficult to have normal (if there is such a thing) relationships with victims of abuse and/or rape. My best friend from college happens to be a woman who was raped, and I remember helping her through the trauma at the time. We were only 19 or 20 back then. It was awful, and to this day I remember the creep's name and I would remember his face if I saw him. An excellent, yet sad, post indeed.

On a happier note, thanks for coming by my blog. Feel free to link it and I will extend you the same courtesy. ;)

Thomas said...

I am sorry this happened to you.

On the good side of the coin, from what I have read, you are a very good writer.

D said...

I know that too a lot of courage to post this and you constantly impress me. It's not that anyone should actually be surprised that you are as strong as you are but it's still a bit surprising.

you will never be a victim

Rachel Heather said...

TwobuyFour - Once again I agree with you. That was sort of the point I was trying to get across. Risks are a good thing no matter what the outcome. All of this happened a four and two years ago and I am so happy I went through all of it because of the strength I have now.

When we face that which we fear the death of the fear is certain (crap who said that?) Was in Twain?

work in progress - yes take your time :)

Kellie - You are right it is a good thing, as long as the fear does not keep us from walking the dog in the first place :) And you have a dog? lucky!!! What kind?

Just Some Guy: :( It was not meant to be sad but rather as a metaphor for getting rid of fear :) That is horrible what happened to your friend and I think it is possible to have normal healthy relationships with those girls but only after a lot of healing.

Thomas: Thanks! :)

D - Surprising? Pahlease I can kick yo ass any day haha :)

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

What an amazing post Rachel...You are a very strong smart yiung wonan. Even that first thing that happened in thought of what to did two things that helped to save you...Kneeing him and ringing all those bells! Ad then...that second incident. How brave! How use an overused but really meaningfull word...!!
I think you are an amazing young wonan, Rachel, in every way. I admire you so very much for writing about this and so beautifully, too! it is inspiring.

Tiffanie said...

Wow. That is a good post. You express yourself well.


Tiffanie said...

Wow. That is a good post. You express yourself well.


dlweston said...


I've come across your blog through Kat's blog and felt the need to comment after reading your post. Thank you so much for sharing that story. I echo what guys on here have said already: stories like that make those of us who think of ourselves as "good guys" sick to our stomachs. I'm sorry that men abuse their physical power and/or deal with their inadequacies that way.

I'm working on a sermon for this weekend about fear. While I wouldn't dream of using your story (especially without your permission) it certainly gives me a model of vulnerability to follow. By the way, failure is my biggest fear.

Thanks again!

work in progress said...

Okay, I've thought about it. I'm scared of lots of stuff, in fact, thanks for making me disgustingly aware of what a big scaredy-cat I am!

Honorable mention: I'm afraid of not being perfect-sound familiar? I guess I never thought about it that way.

I think the biggest fear that I have is that when I'm gone from this life I will not have made a mark. I fear that I will have changed nothing, not stood for anything, and left a small or minimal impression on those with whom I have come into contact. I fear that I will not have made the world a better place, and that I will not have learned from my failures, rather let them control and overcome me.

I think the Martin Luther King Jr's of the world are few and far between, but I do think that it is the responsibilty of every living being to make the world better in some manner through their existance. I fear that I will not live up to that standard.

Long winded enough for you? Too deep? Not deep enough? Ludicrous? Now that I reread it, I sound kinda lame-I'm gonna publish this now before I change my mind.

shpprgrl said...

Well done! I was scared for you as I read it. Something like what happened to you would be a fear of mine. I have many fears that are really deep and if I started on them I would totally hijack your comments....

Rachel Heather said...

OOLOTH - Thank you so much for your kind words. Coming form such an inspiring person that means a lot :)

Tiffanie - I hope you are keeping your chin up

DLWeston - Wow I would love to hear what you end up talking about and for the record you have my permission if you so want it.

Work in Progress - I need to process what you said. LOL But for the record you will always leave a mark to those you love. You may not be MLK to the world but you can be MLK to those in your life and those you love and that DOES make the world a better place. :)

Shoppergirl - Now you know why everyone was scared when I drove up to San Fran :)

Keshi said...

U r indeed a very brave gal!
I'd have passed out with no return lol!

My fears? I could write a blog on em :) Mainly Im afraid of losing my self-confidence.


Thomas said...

What else is there to know about you?

kat said...

yah, can't escape in an elevator, either, i found out. shitheads.

oh, and on a much more fantastic note, i bring friends! yay derrick!

mrsmogul said...

Gripping! SO detailed I felt like I was there.

I'm afraid of dogs..(very few people know this)

Leesa said...

What a wonderful post! I am inspired by you.

Rachel Heather said...

Keshi - Hugs to you and have fun on your week away!

Thomas - look in the archives I am sure you can find something :)

Kat - an elevator? oh honey...:( Tell your friend he has my permission. I am going to be in touch with ya :)

MrsMogul" Even small dogs? That is fascinating, I have not met many people scared of dogs (except big ones). :)

Leesa - thank you so much, that means a lot.

Anonymous said...

Now do you believe what I have been telling you?

You better!

I know how tough that was for you to write out babe, I am very proud of you!

However, remind me to never piss you off so I don't fall into the hands of your death grip.

Thomas said...

I am afraid of taking tests. Mostly because I am too lazy to study.

Rachel Heather said...


I am also afraid of clowns

and mutants who live in the hills altered by nuclear testing and therefore eat people

they scare me too

coffeygirlb said...

Damn Rachel. Not to be patronizing but you just became one of my heros. I can't imagine something like this happening. This is probably one of my biggest fears. That and i'm deathly afraid of getting sick and being treated like a sick person. Weird, probably! I'm also afriad of deep water...which is very ironic becuase i'm an excellent swimmer.

Rachel Heather said...

Anon - good thing you are learning fast. Don't piss me off, get me what I want and your family jewels are safe LOL

Coffeygrib - awwww I am someone's hero! WOO HOOO!!! I used to be afraid to deep water until I learned how to scuba dive. Now I LOVE it. Maybe try scuba?

I am stuck at work until 9:00. Maybe that is another fear of mine - working too much LOL

kat said...

oh, just remembered a story that still makes me rather pleased and amused. i was 20, sitting in a park reading by myself when an old guy comes up asking the time while jerking off. so i looked at my watch, said the time and went back to reading. you mess with me, i mess with you. we are not impressed or intimidated. ha.

Rachel Heather said...

Kat - you just made us roll on the ground laughing our asses off!

I know that is a leud thing..but your reaction to is was just so comical.

I can totally picture it now


dlweston said...

I'm using a Sunday morning friendly version (well, actually a congregation full of old people friendly version) of your story in my sermon. It's too good to pass up! My version isn't nearly as eloquent and doesn't quite have the punch that yours does.

If you're interested I'll email you a copy of it and let you know how it went over.

Darius said...

I've always thought, whether you're a woman or anybody facing bad odds - say an unarmed person facing somebody with a weapon - the thing to do is make your fight right there on the spot.

It's when they get you alone and isolated that you've really had it. There's every reason to put up your fight when there are other people in the vicinity, so sounds like even though you were naive in one way, you had the right instincts...

Rob said...

Shit shapes.

-J said...

I'm afraid of leaving a completely inadequate comment in response to your tale. It was quite good.