LISTEN TO THE FEAR
Intuition. That persistent voice that tells you, “I know that I know this, but I don’t know how I know it.” Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? So what should you do?
LISTEN TO IT!
But only after you have collected some semblance of empirical data to let you know that you are not entirely off base, right? No.
EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
Let’s back up a little. Isn’t it possible we can overreact on occasion? Sure.
What should you do if you take action based on these “feelings”, and you’re flat out wrong? What if it makes us all uncomfortable?
GET OVER IT.
Your most powerful weapon against attack is not a gun in your glove compartment, or pepper spray on your keychain, or your mad ninja skills. It’s your MIND. And the most important aspect of this weapon is intuition. We’ve all been there … someone comes into our space, sometimes we don’t even see him, but we get this “feeling”. Maybe the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Maybe your stomach turns or your throat tightens or you hear a ringing in your ears. Whatever your signal, it’s your body screaming, “Danger!” What do we do when we hear this? Here’s a real story, sadly all too common, that illustrates how life-changing that answer can be.
Excerpt from “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Graw:
He had probably been watching her for a while. We aren't sure--but what we do know is that she was not his first victim. That afternoon, in an effort to get all her shopping done in one trip, Kelly had overestimated what she could comfortably carry home. Justifying her decision as she struggled with the heavy bags, she reminded herself that making two trips would have meant walking around after dark, and she was too careful about her safety for that. As she climbed the few steps to the apartment building door, she saw that it had been left unlatched (again). Her neighbors just don't get it, she thought, and though their lax security annoyed her, this time she was glad to be saved the trouble of getting out the key.
She closed the door behind her, pushing it until she heard it latch. She is certain she locked it, which means he must have already been inside the corridor.
Next came the four flights of stairs, which she wanted to do in one trip. Near the top of the third landing, one of the bags gave way, tearing open and dispensing cans of cat food. They rolled down the stairs almost playfully, as if they were trying to get away from her. The can in the lead paused at the second floor landing, and Kelly watched as it literally turned the corner, gained some speed, and began its seemingly mindful hop down the next flight of steps and out of sight.
"Got it! I'll bring it up," someone called out. Kelly didn't like that voice. Right from the start something just sounded wrong to her, but then this friendly-looking young guy came bounding up the steps, collecting cans along the way.
He said, "Let me give you a hand."
"No, no thanks, I've got it."
"You don't look like you've got it. What floor are you going to?"
She paused before answering him. "The fourth, but I'm okay, really."
He wouldn't hear a word of it, and by this point he had a collection of cans balanced between his chest and one arm. "I'm going to the fourth floor too," he said, "and I'm late--not my fault, broken watch--so let's not just stand here. And give me that." He reached out and tugged on one of the heavier bags she was holding. She repeated, "No, really, thanks, but no, I've got it."
Still holding on to the grocery bag, he said, "There's such thing as being too proud, you know."
For a moment, Kelly didn't let go of that bag, but then she did, and this seemingly insignificant exchange between the cordial stranger and the recipient of his courtesy was the signal--to him and to her--that she was willing to trust him. As the bag passed from her control to his, so did she.
"We better hurry," he said as he walked up the stairs ahead of Kelly. "We've got a hungry cat up there."
Even though he seemed to want nothing more at that moment than to be helpful, she was apprehensive about him, and for no good reason, she thought. He was friendly and gentlemanly, and she felt guilty about her suspicion. She didn't want to be the kind of person who distrusts everybody, so they were next approaching the door to her apartment.
"Did you know a cat can live for three weeks without eating?" he asked. "I'll tell you how I learned that tidbit: I once forgot that I'd promised to feed a cat while a friend of mine was out of town."
Kelly was now standing at the door to her apartment, which she'd just opened.
"I'll take it from here," she said, hoping he'd hand her the groceries, accept her thanks, and be on his way. Instead, he said, "Oh no, I didn't come this far to let you have another cat food spill." When she still hesitated to let him in her door, he laughed understandingly. "Hey, we can leave the door open like ladies do in old movies. I'll just put this stuff down and go. I promise."
She did let him in, but he did not keep his promise.
* * *
At this point, as she is telling me the story of the rape and the whole three-hour ordeal she suffered, Kelly pauses to weep quietly. She now knows that he killed one of his other victims, stabbed her to death.
* * *
Kelly is about to learn that listening to one small survival signal saved her life, just as failing to follow so many others had put her at risk in the first place. She looks at me through moist but clear eyes and says she wants to understand every strategy he used. She wants me to tell her what her intuition saw that saved her life. But she will tell me.
"It was after he'd already held the gun to my head, after he raped me. It was after that. He got up from the bed, got dressed, then closed the window. He glanced at his watch, and then started acting like he was in a hurry."
"I gotta be somewhere. Hey, don't look so scared. I promise I'm not going to hurt you." Kelly absolutely knew he was lying. She knew he planned to kill her, and though it may be hard to imagine, it was the first time since the incident began that she felt profound fear.
He motioned to her with the gun and said, "Don't you move or do anything. I'm going to the kitchen to get something to drink, and then I'll leave. I promise. But you stay right where you are." He had little reason to be concerned that Kelly might disobey his instructions because she had been, from the moment she let go of that bag until this moment, completely under his control. "You know I won't move," she assured him.
But the instant he stepped from the room, Kelly stood up and walked after him, pulling the sheet off the bed with her. "I was literally right behind him, like a ghost, and he didn't know I was there. We walked down the hall together. At one point he stopped, and so did I. He was looking at my stereo, which was playing some music, and he reached out and made it louder. When he moved on toward the kitchen, I turned and walked through the living room."
Kelly could hear drawers being opened as she walked out her front door, leaving it ajar. She walked directly into the apartment across the hall (which she somehow knew would be unlocked). Holding a finger up to signal her surprised neighbors to be quiet, she locked their door behind her.
"I knew if I had stayed in my room, he was going to come back from the kitchen and kill me, but I don't know how I was so certain."
"Yes, you do," I tell her.
She sighs and then goes over it again. "He got up and got dressed, closed the window, looked at his watch. He promised he wouldn't hurt me, and that promise came out of nowhere. Then he went into the kitchen to get a drink, supposedly, but I heard him opening drawers in there. He was looking for a knife, of course, but I knew way before that." She pauses. "I guess he wanted a knife because using the gun would be too noisy."
"What makes you think he was concerned about noise?" I ask.
"I don't know." She takes a long pause, gazing off past me, looking back at him in the bedroom. "Oh ... I do know. I get it, I get it. Noise was the thing--that's why he closed the window. That's how I knew."
Since he was dressed and supposedly leaving, he had no other reason to close her window. It was that subtle signal that warned her, but it was fear that gave her the courage to get up without hesitation and follow close behind the man who intended to kill her. She later described a fear so complete that it replaced every feeling in her body. Like an animal hiding inside her, it opened to its full size and stood up using the muscles in her legs. "I had nothing to do with it," she explained. "I was a passenger moving down that hallway."
What she experienced was real fear, not like when we are startled, not like the fear we feel at a movie, or the fear of public speaking. This fear is the powerful ally that says, "Do what I tell you to do." Sometimes, it tells a person to play dead, or to stop breathing, or to run or scream or fight, but to Kelly it said, "Just be quiet and don't doubt me and I'll get you out of here."
Kelly told me she felt new confidence in herself, knowing she had acted on that signal, knowing she had saved her own life. She said she was tired of being blamed and blaming herself for letting him into her apartment. She said she had learned enough in our meetings to never again be victimized that way.
Kelly’s initial disregard for her warning voice proved devastating, but when her life was literally on the line, that voice was more insistent. It FORCED her to listen. In the heat of battle, she knew what she knew, but she didn’t know how she knew. But it didn’t matter; she listened. And she lived.
Over 90% of all rapes and sexual assaults are preventable. This is not to judge or “blame” those who are attacked. It is to encourage the use of all means at our disposal to stop assault before it happens. We are blessed with the gift of intuition – all of us. The danger in heeding its warning is potential discomfort … and that is temporary. The danger in ignoring is so much greater … and is all too often permanent.
Every. Single. Time.