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.
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.
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.
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 afraid...no 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??