When I hear someone tell a story about how he/she reacted in a particular situation then another person, who has never experienced that situation, says, “Well, I would have done this or that . . . ,” I have to look askance at such certainty. As for me, I know what I would like to do, but until I actually experience it, I am never sure what my reaction will be.
For example, many years ago when my middle daughter was still small, I was accosted by a strange man in our local K-Mart. Rach and I were looking for an item (I forget what, light bulbs, maybe) in the hardware aisle. A rather large, long-haired man of Native American descent interrupted our search when he told me there was a spider on my butt. Now, I am not afraid of spiders so he didn’t get the reaction he expected, which was a hysterical woman screaming for someone to “Get it off me!” At which point, he would have happily obliged.
I simply said something like, “It’s okay. I’m not afraid of spiders” and moved up the aisle away from him. He followed me and insisted on brushing the “spider” off my backside. I could have easily confronted him and probably scared him away, but my reaction still mystifies me today. I grabbed my daughter and almost ran out of the store. I sat in my car unable to get the key in the ignition, much less drive. To articulate what I felt would require an inarticulate howl. I felt violated in the most primitive way – a violation of trust.
I have always trusted that people will behave honorably toward one another, even if they have evil intentions. To betray that trust by inventing a threat (spider) so you can touch a woman’s butt is certainly not an honorable thing to do on so many levels. My reaction to that betrayal almost paralyzed me. I’m sure if he had directed his intentions toward my daughter I would have smacked him. Mother instinct is so much stronger than self-preservation.
In another incident, not too much removed in time from the preceding one, I had a near miss with a burglar in my home. I had just returned from selling pecans I had picked up earlier, and when I walked into the house, it took a few seconds for it to register that my microwave was not on the kitchen counter, and that I was not the one who had moved it. Then, the most obvious difference hit me: the back door was open and there was my microwave sitting on the step.
It took what seemed liked ten minutes for me to process information that didn’t jive with my perception of my home, but it couldn’t have been more than a second because I was out that door in a flash. I saw him running toward the creek. I hesitated. There was a gun in the pickup, but by the time I retrieved it, he would be gone, hidden in the trees along the creek bank. So I used the only weapon I had handy. Words. Loud, unladylike words. I ran after him calling him everything I had ever heard my husband call a cow. I felt as though I could have torn him apart with my bare hands! Fortunately for him, he had a good head start.
I have often pondered my very different reactions to each of these situations. In the first, my life was not threatened, but I reacted as though it were. Fear shut down my ability to do anything but run. In the second, the burglar could easily have been carrying a gun, but the thought never entered my mind. My anger made me feel invincible.
Perhaps my reactions depend on the locale of the threat. Put me in territory unmarked by me, like a K-Mart store, and I am at the mercy of any villain, but attack me on my home ground or someone I love, and you’ll be facing She-Ra, defender of all she surveys!