Can you imagine anything more terrifying than tumbling headlong down a flight of steps in the pitch black? Neither could I--until yesterday morning at 6:05 A.M.
In the days since my mishap on the stairs, I'd been trying so hard to find the balance between taking it easy and staying active. I did four small walks with Allyson to her school, totaling 8 miles. With each passing day, the pain in my right hip diminished a bit more, but walking still felt like a sacrifice. I remember thinking, when my hip started throbbing halfway home from school on Wednesday, It's good for me to suffer a bit. No one said this 3-Day Walk would be easy. My discomfort is nothing next to what Laura suffered, and she never lost her smile through it all.
When Saturday rolled around, I was both excited and apprehensive about my four-hour training walk. I planned to start walking in my neighborhood at 6:00 in the morning and then meet up with my friend Marie at 7:00 to finish the last three hours in the park.
When the alarm went off at 5:30, I rolled resolutely out of my comfy bed. I shut off the backup alarm on my cell phone, which I'd stored safely away from the bedroom, and then I completed my entire ritual. By 5:57 I had taped up and lubed my feet, loaded the canteens onto my belt, and swallowed my last bite of peanut butter toast.
As I stepped out the door, I noted with pride that I'd made it out at 6:00 on the nose. The near total darkness was a bit scary, but my street was comfortably familiar, so I pushed down the anxiety and started walking at a gentle pace that didn't cause my hip much pain.
I hadn't made it past our neighbor's driveway when I noticed a car farther down the street that made me unaccountably uneasy. It just didn't feel like that car belonged. All I could see was the headlights, but the engine sounded rather souped up, with a loud muffler. That doesn't sound like an upstanding citizen on the way to a Saturday morning job, I thought, slowing my pace. And why are they idling like that on the side of the road at 6:00 in the morning?
The car pulled away from the curb then and drove slowly past me. I didn't know if I'd been seen, but I shuddered anyway and picked up my pace. I was about six doors down from my house when I heard that same engine coming back down the street. I immediately pivoted on my heel and started back toward my house, a sinking feeling in my gut.
As the car came back by, I noted that it was an older red car that looked like a Camaro, maybe early 90s. My heart started hammering when the car stopped just behind me and I heard the window rolling down. I figured I was about to hear the dreaded line you hear in movies just before someone is abducted: "Say, can you tell me how to get to _______."
I paused for just the fraction of a second, wondering how rude or silly it would be to take off running, and then I decided I didn't want to wait around to see what this person thought. I rocketed off down the sidewalk for my very first run in my Five Finger shoes. Running in Five Finger shoes is like running barefoot, and you can injure yourself if you're not careful while you're learning the stride. On your toes, on your toes, I reminded myself.
Behind me I heard a man's voice calling to me in a foreign language I didn't recognize, most likely not Spanish, which is common around here. He was calling out a woman's name, which I seem to remember as Miriam though I can't be sure. From his tone it seemed he was saying, "Miriam, Miriam! Wait!"
I yelled, "You don't know me" and kept running.
After that his voice became more insistent, a little angry and bordering on desperate. And it sounded louder, closer. Surely he wasn't pursuing me on foot!
Faster, faster! my thoughts ordered my body as my house loomed larger. But I couldn't go any faster because each time my right foot struck the sidewalk, pain radiated up the back of my thigh and coursed through my hip. An oddly detached portion of my mind reflected that, though I'd heard that adrenaline dulls pain in an emergency, it didn't seem to be true for me; maybe I wasn't terrified enough.
"Go away," I cried plaintively.
The man yelled something unintelligible. He was definitely gaining on me. But now I was in front of the neighbor's house... Now I was at my driveway! I stumbled up the hill and onto my porch. Home! Safe!
But then I realized with horror that the man was scrambling up the driveway behind me! Though my keys were dangling from a band around my wrist, I realized there was no way I could fit the key in the lock and get through the door in time. Am I about to die? I wondered, a sick feeling in my gut.
I jabbed the doorbell repeatedly with my right hand while my left hand fumbled with the keys. And I began to scream the only word that came to my head in that moment. Was it "Jesus!!!"? No. Nothing like that. It was "Hey!!!"
"Hey!!! Hey!!!... Bill-Bill-Bill!!!" I screamed, so loud that my throat was hoarse afterward.
Just then the man apparently got a good look at me under the glow from the porchlight, which I'd thankfully forgotten to turn off.
"Oh--wrong person!" he exclaimed. I risked a glance at him just as the door finally unlocked. He was short and dark with a clean-cut haircut and no facial hair, and he looked to be in his twenties.
"Bill!" I screamed again.
"What the f___!" he yelled at me. "Sheeze." And then he ran back the way he'd come.
I slammed the door shut and twisted the deadbolt. What the f____? I thought. That's all you have to say to me? As if I'm a crazy freak for screaming my head off when a strange man pursues me through the dark?"
For about two minutes, I stood there frozen and wild eyed. I had to talk to someone, but amazingly all was quiet upstairs, and I hated to wake Bill (and most likely Allyson too) so early on a Saturday. So I phoned Marie.
"Are you about ready?" I asked, my voice trembly.
"Yes. Are you okay?"
My chin wobbled, and I burst into tears. "No-o-o!" I wailed.
"What is it?"
Pacing back and forth in front of the front window, I told her the story between sobs.
"Do you still want to walk?" she asked.
"Yes! Please come as soon as you can," I pleaded.
"I will," she promised in a soothing voice. "I'm getting into the car in just a minute. You just drink some water and sit down and try to relax. I'll call when I'm getting close."
After we hung up, I unhooked my water belt and took a swig from one of the bottles. And then I sat on my favorite nap chair, my feet splayed on the ottoman. But I couldn't relax because I was trembling all over and my hip was absolutely throbbing from the short run.
I hit Redial. "Can you bring me some Advil?" I whined. "I'm out."
"Of course," she said.
She arrived at 7:00, right on schedule. I showed her the hole on the stairway landing and my bruises, and then we set out. After walking and talking for three hours--only 8 miles at my slow pace--I felt so much better that I gave her a kiss on the cheek before she left.
But I kept dissolving into tears all day long, like at Allyson's 10:30 soccer game, where I told Bill the whole story.
"Why didn't you answer the doorbell?" I sobbed.
He explained that it had only rung once; apparently I pushed it so rapidly that it couldn't respond. And because I'd closed the bedroom door, he had not heard my screams at all, which disturbed him. "I thought it was Marie coming to meet you," he said. "I had no idea you'd even left at that point."
Several hours later, he frowned as he posed a question of his own. "Why on earth didn't you wake me up when it happened?"
Fresh tears streamed down my cheeks. "I know I should have," I said meekly. "But I was safe. I just wanted to let you sleep."
"If something like that ever happens again, know this: I would want you to wake me up. Maybe I could have gotten a license plate number or something."
He also gave me lots of other good advice, like never to walk alone in the dark (no warning needed there!), and to carry the mace and whistle he'd given me a couple years back, and to run to the gate instead of the front door so Lola could protect me. We both agreed that I need to take Lola with me on my solo walks, which could prove quite an adventure in itself.
And then he thought of the most obvious thing of all. "You were holding your car keys," he said. "Why didn't you push the panic button? I definitely would have heard that."
I wanted to kick myself for not thinking of that. The man had been right next to my car. I could have scared the crap out of HIM!
Of course, I am beyond thankful that I was not harmed. I really think it was a simple case of mistaken identity, but I shudder to think what could have happened had the man caught me. It makes me angry that I can't seem to shake the terror, that I feel so vulnerable and weak, afraid to do my training walks even in the daylight. It makes me angry that the same people who I see every week in the park now seem menacing to me. And I can't believe this week that I've had! Two brushes with death in six days! Surely my angels have been working overtime protecting me.
It's funny that I was thinking of my guardian angel, because look what came in the mail for me yesterday afternoon:
It was a book of true stories about angel encounters and a lovely journal from Kelly, a friend of Laura's whom I've never met except through Facebook. In her card she said she's wanted to send me the book ever since the memorial service, but things have been busy and she just now got around to it. She said the journal is to record my experiences with the 3-Day Walk, and she mentioned that she has done it twice and would love to join me on a training walk.
Her package could not have come on a better day, and I am quite sure it was no coincidence. I was feeling so overwhelmed with the safety issues and the pain in my hip that I was wondering if all of this is really worth it. After reading this stranger's kind words, I knew. Of course it's worth it! There is so much support out there for me if I only reach out. No way I'm giving up now!
Please be in prayer for my safety and for full healing of my injured hip. I'm going to visit the chiropractor tomorrow and see if he can help. I also went to PetSmart yesterday and bought a special harness that my brother Rick and his wife Diane swear works miracles with dogs that pull. We shall see. You'd better pray for me and Lola, too, while you're at it!