What a solution. An apartment in Vancouver and a house on a Pacific isle.
My husband, John, settled into the apartment, worked at the University of British Columbia and came home if I didn’t join him in Vancouver. Theater, lectures, musical concerts and good friends determined which home we chose during weekends.
Perfection came at a price. An island with no streetlights and a house with no close neighbours gave me a case of nighttime jitters. I’d go to bed early and sleep until the middle of the night. I’d lie awake, praying, frozen with fear until 7:00 a.m. My hearing developed so acutely I heard my cat walking to the bedroom down a carpeted hallway.
If the Creator was offering comfort, I was too distraught to know.
When I described my fright to my gentle husband, he became upset over not being able to fix it. His only comfort was, “This is a small island. Who would be stupid enough to do anything illegal? They’d never get away with it even if they had a power boat. The Coast Guard would be right there.”*
Four months into my night terrors, a well known recording artist was jogging at 6:30 a.m. She was grabbed by a man on a bicycle, raped and left on the side of the small road.
No radio station, no television coverage, and one weekly local newspaper meant communication was complicated. The RCMP could not find the rapist. All the ferries had been alerted, no strange boats were around, and the victim could only offer a description that could have pointed to any one of many men.
To alleviate some of the fear, two Wen Do instructors were hired from Vancouver. Wen Do means “Woman’s Path” and the weekend training dealt with defensive moves which women could use for “several typical types of attacks.” At the end of the sessions, we positioned our hands in a fashion that would break a collar bone while using our foot to kick knee caps out of place. How did we know we could do this? We smashed pieces of wood in two and were given a white belt as a testament of our success.
Anyone daft enough to wear the white belt would be entertaining invitations to prove the training effective.
In the midst of my rising fear level, our marriage lost its glue. Weekend efforts to be together became sporadic. Our careers overrode dreams of raising a family so any priorities for cementing matrimonial cracks became less and less important.
John took solace in the fact that a friend gave me his phone number so I could call, night or day, if I was frightened. Little did I know that would be as good as tossing a rump roast in a river full of piranha. The marriage was the rump roast and I was willing to tease the piranha.
Atypically, we argued over who would take the chattels. Neither of us wanted to be burdened with belongings. In retrospect, I believe we sincerely loved each other, but just couldn’t see that the circumstances could be overcome with time, love and patience. So we let go.
My fear of being alone at night was not placated by a white belt.
Talking about this amongst a group of friends, Terry, a man best described as a cowboy-cum-real estate wheeler-dealing vegetarian on a Taoist path, spoke up, “I’ll teach you how to love the dark.”
The planet stopped spinning. No one breathed. I turned to him and, in a low, gutteral growl, said, “This is not a frickin’ joke, Terry.”
“I know it’s not a joke,” he said tenderly. “No one needs to live with that kind of fear. I’ll work with you and I promise you’ll no longer be afraid of the dark.” He spoke without a hint of arrogance.
“I am. You come to my place once it’s dark – each night for a week. We’ll see if that’s enough.”
“I’ll bring a flashlight.”
“Oh…you can if you want. But you won’t need it.”
Gambling that this man actually parlayed sincerity, I drove to his place the first warm, cloudy, summer night. Terry stepped out of his tiny home and greeted me in tones that belied his keenness to prove this miracle to me.
“We’re going to walk down this old road,” he pointed past his abode. “We’ll each have our own track. I’ll be right beside you if you feel scared. But first…,” he walked to his doorway and switched off the single light coming from his home. “First, let’s just stand here and you tell me what you see.”
“Well, I know you’re here…”
“Do you see me?”
“Of course I see you. Not details, but I certainly see you.”
“Good. What else do you see?”
“Stars, clouds, trees, cars, your home, the road into your place…. But I can hardly see the track you want me to follow!”
“Ready to go?”
“Okay…but if I fall on my face, I’ll be practicing some Wen Do on you!” Incredibly, this was fun.
We began our journey. Terry would pause when I kicked a rock, tripped over some obstruction, stepped into a rut or stopped to look around.
“Gads, Terry! You’re like a ballerina compared to me.”
“That’s usually a later lesson! Tonight, you only have to experience. Let yourself discover whatever captures your attention. Let’s not talk. Let’s experience this walk with our senses.”
My eyes grew accustomed to a dim light the night provides. Sounds held and magnified by darkness commanded attention. Branches rubbed against one another in the wind. Leaves fluttered in the breezes. Something moved in the grass to my right. Terry’s presence offered reassurance. Cool night air refreshed my lungs. Wind blended strands of hair with cobwebs until I no longer cared. An owl hooted as bats silently whizzed by overhead.
Clouds cleared and a moon sliver spotlit our space. Stars seemed to explode into existence. Life was everywhere. Abundant, different, mysterious, gentle night life enveloped me. The Creation of All overwhelmed as tears exposed happiness and goosebumps announced joy.
A distant house, ablaze with light, contained no curtains and no drawn blinds. Movement from within initiated memories of the nights I had cowered inside my house, imprisioned by fear. Overcome with compassion in my forgiveness and with wonder over the beauty of the night, a new power rose from within. Trust. Suddenly I understood that I was a part of the whole – day or night. Quiet, in that spot, with a gentle teacher, I allowed myself a new safety.
It’s called night.
* Now thirty one years later, the rapist has never been found.