Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Taking a Punch

Have you ever been punched in the stomach so hard that you lost your breath? I have. I don't quite recall how old I was but I was visiting a friend of mine when her cousin came up to me and, for no reason that I was at all aware of, punched me hard in the gut. I couldn't breathe. I was completely shocked. I gasped and wrapped my arms around my body and kept my eyes on my attacker who simply smiled and walked away. To this day I still do not know why it happened. There was nothing more. Just the one punch. I'm sure I turned and when I was able to, I ran home. I really don't remember.

Several years later, while at a music camp in NH, I was again attacked. This time it was an even creepier event. A teacher I trusted and was working with closely turned out to be a sexual predator. I listened to that voice in my head and that feeling inside that told me this guy was trouble and luckily, before anything progressed, I was able to get away from what could have been a very devastating situation. I immediately told my parents about him but oh, how I was shaking. Things like this should never happen to a sixteen year old girl in a so-called protected environment. But it did.

Scary things follow us into adulthood. Eight years ago, I was threatened by a man who had done work in our home. I remember thinking to myself, why is this happening? Suddenly I had a recommended lawyer on speed dial and a county sheriff helping me issue a restraining order. I was scared for myself and for my children but I did not waste any time. I moved quickly and got the protection my family needed. But I remember thinking, "I have done nothing to bring this about". But there it was. I was suddenly humbled in realizing that yes, bad things do happen. I am not immune. None of us are.

I got to thinking of these unpleasant childhood events today when I learned of similar terrible things that have happened to my teenage students. One might think it uncommon that teens would write so personally when they complete academic school assignments, but in a class like Creative Writing, students begin expressing themselves, exploring their own writer's voice, and sharing memoir stories that sometimes catch me off guard. When I read of a few near-abuse instances experienced by two of my teenage students, I remembered these past instances and the feelings I had...feelings I still have. Overall, I've lived a life away from violence or danger. My life has been quite happy and healthy. But yes, some very strange things have occurred that serve to remind me that despite my best efforts, anything can happen to anyone... at anytime.

The most important thing however that I learned during these scary ordeals is how very strong a girl (or woman) I am. I may not have seen the childhood punch coming because I trusted easily and I had innocence, however when it happened, I remember thinking, "There is no way that I am going to cry". And I didn't. I did not want to give my friend's cousin the satisfaction. When I was cornered at the music camp in NH, I used my wits to get out of the situation. I knew I was not physically strong enough to fend him off, but my intelligence and my quick-thinking led me to safety. And when as an adult and a mother, my family was threatened by a man who had a key to my home, I immediately sprung to my feet and got outside help before that guy had a chance to think of his next move. I remember a coworker saying to me in admiration that time, "That guy did not know who he was dealing with did he?!" No, he didn't.

Adversity affects us all. We may not understand the unexpected blows we must take, but we have to trust that there is a reason we are subjected to them. Sometimes it's simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Other times, perhaps we didn't see red flags of warning before it was almost too late and we need to be more cautious in the future. And some times, people are just trying to see how far they can push us. But in any case, I believe that the ordeals I have experienced gave me a depth of understanding that has allowed me to better relate to the troubles of my teenage students and to others I come in to contact with in my life. I may not always be able to help people through their own bad times, however I am able to offer empathy and a kind and attentive ear. I'm not a counselor by any means and I do not pretend to be when I work with teens, but I know where to find one when the need arises.

After all, when the tough days hit us in the stomach, it's simply a blessing to know we're not alone.

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