Sunday, January 21, 2007


Listening to the news coverage of the impending Picton Trial, and specifically a program on Sunday morning, called “Voices Lost and Found”, regarding the women who were murdered by Robert William Picton, triggers memories of my ill-spent youth, I wonder how women ever manage to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

As the melancholy voice seeps through my radio, the names of the Lost Women echo through my unconscious, and the memory of my own brush with death is resurrected.

I guess I must have been about 23 when I went down to Albuquerque, New Mexico as the Delegate for the 1st Vancouver Toastmistress Club. Vibrant, energetic, full of myself and the eternal optimism of youth, naive and totally convinced that everyone shared my ideal of equality for women (the women’s movement was in its first bloom) I strutted around the Hotel and Conference Hall, rushing from meeting room to meeting room, oblivious of the impending danger.

In the whirl of Workshops and Seminars, voting at the Annual General Meeting, Lunches and Networking, rushed showers and quick changes (I used to be a real fashion Diva back then), I was absolutely in my element. I loved the hugeness of this event, meeting people from all over the world, and the importance of being the Delegate for my Club.

On the second evening of the Conference I was having dinner with one of my new found “friends”, a woman who was about ten years older than I; she was from one of the southern United States. She was with a man who I believe was either her husband or her boyfriend, and another man who was a friend of the man she was with. He asked me to dance, and of course I said “yes”. As the evening wore on I learnt that this person, whose name I have since forgotten (although I shall never forget his face), had been to Vietnam, his wife had “put him through law school”, that he was happily married, and lived in either North or South Dakota (can’t remember which); anyway, as I said, I was full of myself and the notion that men and women could be “just friends” (without the complication of sex); we could be intellectual equals …and so on and so on…and when the discussion of the Vietnam war came up I of course expressed my opinion firmly and without fear of censure. In retrospect I think how silly he must have thought I was.

His wife was one of the five contestants in the Speech Contest, so she had gone to bed early as the final competition was taking place the next morning. We were all still wide awake when the restaurant closed, so when he suggested we go elsewhere for some coffee I agreed and quickly went to use the Ladies Room. I returned to the table, quickly downed the remainder of my drink, said goodnight to the other couple and went with him to his vehicle which was parked in the guest parking.

We drove out into the sultry night. It was warm and quiet, with not one single restaurant or cafe in sight! I was starting to feel drowsy and said we might as well head back to the hotel as it looked like everything was closed for the night. The next thing I remember was waking up and when I peered out into the darkness all I could see was sand and scrubs, a bright moon and lots of stars! We were in the desert! Sleepily I looked around me, and then at him, and said: “What the hell are we doing here?” I don’t remember if he answered me or not, and even as I type this I feel sick to my stomach and vaguely uneasy. I can feel my skin begin to prickle. (it was only about 7 or 8 years ago i realized that maybe he had slipped something into my drink when I had left it unattended).

He stopped the car and put his arm around my shoulder and drew me close to him. I pulled away. He grabbed me again and tried to kiss me. I pushed him away and shook my head and said: “I don’t want to kiss you what the hell are we doing here take me back to the hotel” or at least something to that effect. I don’t really remember every detail, it was such a long time ago. But some details I can vividly recall. I was wearing red polyester slacks that I had made myself, with a matching top – a skimpy little triangle of cloth with straps that tied around my neck and my back – and jacket which I had removed before I had fallen asleep. He reached over and untied one of the straps and again tried to grab me and kiss me. I pushed myself away and told him I wanted to go back to the hotel. He yelled something at me and I burst into tears. He then started to talk to me in a cajoling voice, telling me how unhappy he was, and how pritty and sweet I was, and how bossy and controlling his wife was, and that his in-laws dispised him. I said I felt bad for him but that I was not interested in having intimate relations with a married man. When he realized that his pathetic stance was getting him nowhere he got angry and tried to grab me again. I don't know how long this crazy exchange of him badgering me one minute then cajoling me the next, went on, but suddenly he reached down and before I realized what he was doing he grabbed the sandals off both my feet. I became angry but my anger quickly turned to alarm when he said, very softly: “You’re a stupid girl, getting into a car with a complete stranger”. I tried to speak but my throat felt as though it was filled with sand. It seemed that this cat and mouse game went on for an eternity, and I remember thinking to myself: “he is going to rape me”….and…."even if I comply I think he is going to kill me”. My mind was racing. He got out of the car and went to the trunk and I could hear what sounded like plastic being removed, I hurriedly retied my top and put my jacket back on because now I was freezing cold. I do not remember at what point I saw the plastic and ropes he had laid out on the desert floor. I looked into the darkness and I could see a couple of vehicles miles away, but I was too frantic with fear to even think about trying to approach them. I do remember at one point I got into the driver's seat with the intention of driving myself away, but he had removed the keys from the ignition. I remember him laughing at me then.

My heart was thumping so loud it was making my ears ring. I don’t even remember what I was thinking, but at some point he was back in the car next to me, holding on to me tightly. He repeated what he had said about trusting a complete stranger, and then added: “I could bash your head in with a rock and leave you here and no one will find you for days, maybe even weeks.”

I had a picture of myself bound in rope, wrapped in plastic and left in a shallow grave, and in a flash I knew that if I did not attempt to escape he was going to kill me. All of a sudden I was filled with an immense feeling of peace and calm and I completely relaxed and when I did he released me. I sprang from the car and started running. I could see the twinkling lights of the city way off in the distance and ran towards them. I ran and ran and ran as hard and as fast as I could. I heard the slamming of a car door. I kept running. A few minutes later I heard the slamming of the trunk. I ran faster. I heard the second slam of a car door. I looked back and saw the headlights of the car blink on. I quickly removed my cream coloured jacket, knowing it would be easy to see, and rolled it into a little ball with the plan to lie down flat on top of it in the hope of maybe avoiding the lights of the car as I knew he would soon catch up to me. My lungs were on fire, and I remember thinking: “Come on girl, remember all the times you have run for a bus, you can do it, pretend you are late for work and this is the last bus of the day, you are running to catch that bus, run run run…” Just as I though my chest was going to burst right open I came to a “fork in the road”. It was not actually a road, just two tire tracks, as one finds in all deserts. Briefly I hesitated, not knowing which way to go. I must have looked up into the starry night and begged for help, then quickly decided on one path. I continued on, running as fast as my lungs and legs would carry me, but by now my feet were stinging with pain. I could only imagine what my bare feet looked like. When I looked back I could see the car stop where the tracks divided. I could not believe my luck when I saw it take the track that I had not taken. I continued to run as if demons from hell were chasing me.

I only stopped running long enough to see the car head down the other track a short distance….I continued to run, a little slower now to catch my breath and gather my thoughts. I could hear a dog barking in the distance and I saw a clump of houses, what looked like a fairly new sub-division. My heart sank when I saw the lights of the car come to a stop, and as the car turned around I tried to run faster. My terror mounted as I saw the car approach the fork again, saw the headlights veer around and point directly at me, and I tried to run faster. By now my feet were numb and clumsy. The car was getting closer and closer, and I was exhausted. I could now see the colour of the car as it moved menacingly towards me, and it was about two city blocks away from me when I reached a strip of tarmac and pavement. I could now hear the engine and a wave of desperation swept over me. Just as I was thinking “oh my god this is end” I looked up and a few yards ahead of me was a huge utility vehicle, and as I got closer to it I saw two men working on a hydro pole. I could not believe my good fortune and ran up to them quickly. I cannot remember exactly what I said to them, something about calling me a cab. Just then the car pulled up beside us and he reached over and opened the car door and told me to get in. I then remembered that my handbag and sandals were on the floor in the car (it amazes me now that even in the face of danger I remembered that my passport and hotel key was in my bag) so I went over to the car and reached in for them. But as I did he grabbed my other arm, and said: “Get in the car and I will take you back to the hotel”. Immediately I quietly replied: “ok”, and relaxed my arm, he slackened his grip on me and I wrenched myself away, backing out of the car. (Still to this day I cannot believe that he fell for this a second time). I had succeeded in retrieving my bag and sandals, and ran back to where the two men were.

He got out of the car and came towards me. When the two men saw him they stepped away from me and one of the men said: “Does he have a gun?” I could not believe my ears! I replied in disgust: “NO, just ropes!” - And I know this sounds like a ridiculous thing to have said but by this time I could see the dawn approaching and I was exhausted. In an instant I realized that the two men were assuming that this was merely a domestic squabble and they were not going to interfere, so I grabbed a hammer that I saw lying on one of the boxes and brandished it at him, shouting: “Stay away from me, if you come one step closer to me I’m going to bash your head in with this!” One of the men came up to me and took the hammer out of my hand! Aghast, I blinked and shuddered as I looked around. Seeing that he had the sympathy of the two men he again used his cajoling tone of voice, saying: "Come on, let's go back to the hotel." As I wondered what I was going to do next I saw a big rock which I picked up, and grasping it firmly I threatened: “If you think I am going to get back into that car with you, you are crazy! Stay away from me. Just DON’T come any closer! I’m warning you!” Now that I was feeling somewhat safer, my fear turned to anger. I was as mad as a snake disturbed from his summer slumber, and I was fully prepared to smash him in the face and I think he knew it. He backed away, returned to his car and drove off. Now I was shaking and crying, but managed to ask the men to call me a cab. I only had travelers' cheques in my purse, but fortunately the cab driver accepted them. It was light when we arrived back at the hotel, but it was still too early for anyone to be up and about. I hurried quietly to my look, startled my any sound, fully expecting him to jump out at me. My heart was beating fast when I got back to my room. My room-mate was sound asleep and I sat down on the bed and looked at my feet. They were filthy and covered in blood. I got into the shower with difficulty and was comforted by the heat of the water. I wondered why I had managed to choose the correct track and why he had taken the opposite one, knowing that his decision to take the "wrong" one had given me those precious extra minutes that had probably saved my life!

When I stepped out of the bathroom my room-mate was sitting up in her bed looking at me quizzically. I told her what had happened to me and I said I was going to call the police. She said: “Are you crazy? What are you going to tell them? They are going to ask you why you were out with a married man. You are a Canadian in the United States. You are a young, single woman, he is a lawyer. Do you really think they will believe you? He is just going to deny it and you will just be a swack of trouble! Trust me; you really do not want to go that route! AND besides which, don’t forget, we have to pick up that car we have contracted to deliver to San Francisco, and we cannot afford any delay.” Well, there was that to consider, and I did not have time to argue with her: it was nearly 6:00 a.m. and I barely had time to get downstairs for breakfast and head off to the Banquet Room for the Speech Contest.

Walking was extremely difficult. My room-mate had helped me “bandage” up my wounded feet with a dozen Band-Aids, and I had covered them with nylon stockings to keep the Band-Aids in place. I took a couple of Midols to ease the pain, but the medication had not yet kicked in. I somehow managed to find my seat at one of the round tables, as the “Executive” of Toastmistress International were introduced, and then the Contest commenced. The morning’s proceedings passed in a haze, and when his wife was introduced and commended as “a mother of three children who had put her husband through law school” there was a ripple of laughter and a hum of approval, but I cringed.

Her speech was all about her accomplishments as a mother and student of psychology, with a strong emphasis on putting her husband through Law School. More Laughter. She quoted B.F. Skinner several times in reference to the importance of firm discipline for children, and keeping errant husbands in line. Another ripple of laughter. The phrases “behaviour modification” and “operant conditioning” slithered off her tongue like sun-warmed honey. Anecdotes about her children and her husband were interchangeable and frequent, to the point where husband and children became one little case study. The audience was dazzled by her knowledge and humour. Images of the night before danced menacingly through my head, and her words sounded like a strange echo in my ears, the air became electric and I began to sweat profusely, my heart pounded and I felt dizzy. Somewhere in the recesses of my intelligent brain I wondered what her husband was thinking, I wondered how the laughter of the audience was making him feel. Was he, like me, recalling the previous night? I tried to catch my breath as I realized that I had had a narrow escape. I could not make any sense of what was going on around me as I re-lived the nightmare of a few hours earlier. Only the sound of loud applause brought me back to the huge banquet hall, and I took a sip of my cold coffee. I stumbled to my feet as the hall emptied, people buffeting me as they all chatted and laughed. I nodded politely when people spoke to me, but I did not really understand anything they were saying.

Lunch. Eat. Breath. Walk. Talk. Laugh. Breath. The Midol was starting to wear off and it was difficult to walk.

I was heading off to one of the big Lecture Rooms for one of the many workshops I had scheduled; as I walked down the corridor to the escalator, there he was, a few short feet away, his wife on his arm, tittering gaily. He looked right at me, leveling me with his blunt gaze. I stood transfixed, and my eyes met his. He did not flinch as he penetrated me with eyes of steely battleship grey. I felt my heart jump into my mouth; it was like looking into the eye of a shark as he rolls to claim his prey. An icicle slammed into the back of my neck, and a sharp chill cut through my spine.

In that instant I knew! I knew as sure as the sun rises every morning that if I had not run I would not be walking through that air conditioned corridor on that hot day in July. I took a deep breath and hurried past him and his wife. The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, but somehow I managed to attend to the business at hand. Only in the quiet times during my necessary visits to the Ladies Powder Room would I see those frozen eyes, would I feel them stabbing at my brain like a bloody dagger, and know, with dead certainty that he HAD PLANNED to rape and kill me.

The memory of this still haunts me, and piled upon the garbage dump of previous and subsequent encounters with men who have been less than gentle in their behaviour and language towards me, it has discoloured my life. Even thought I think that I have “moved on” ( and I have, by and large, thrived) I do believe that my anxiety with regard to the safety of my daughter stems from my own experience, and I don’t really know if I will ever be able to have any peace with regard to this.

(For a lighthearted break check out the post below)