“Have I had two roads, I would have chosen their third.”
― Mahmoud Darwish, In the Presence of Absence
Now I tell myself that I’m street smart. I did the Jack Kerouac “On the Road” trip when I was 18, driving cross country in the fall, even sleeping in my car. I’ve volunteered in the projects, been a motivational speaker in correctional camps. I’ve shooed away drug dealers south of Marrakech, been lost in the woods in Michigan, and lived in L.A., N.Y. and London. Despite the occasional bump and an oft damaged psyche, to this day I trust when I shouldn’t. There is some small part of me that longs to see good in everyone…believes there is something redeemable in the worst of men.
The problem is I need to remember that I am not the one with the power to heal the broken. That job belongs to God. My magical thinking has brought me to the edge of a precipice and as my partner of 13 years tells me “I worry about you because there is EVIL out there and you don’t see it.” I used to scoff at that idea. After all, what does evil look like? I’d surely recognize it. But as I look back at past behaviors…picking up hitchhikers on the side of the road at 16, driving homeless drug addicts to recovery, meeting strangers posing as “men of God,” and “writers,” to help them get their careers going, I realize I’m exposing myself to harm on a daily basis.
If my daughters did even one of the above-mentioned things I’d be horrified. So why don’t I afford myself the same level of care? Yesterday was a turning point, my reveal. It was my third meeting with a mid-life author. He said he was starting a company and was thinking of bringing me on. It’d mean world travel and working with entertainment prodigies.
My day started out normal enough. I had a morning meeting with a children’s pastor. It ran long and I rushed out to my car to plug my next address into to my GPS. I’d never been to this location before and as I made my final turn, I was dismayed by the fact that it was a residential neighborhood. No red flags yet though. A lot of writers have home offices. My concern began when I stood ringing the bell for five minutes without response. Just as I turned to leave, a disheveled young man in his mid-twenties answered the door. It was 11 am and he was his PJ’s. I asked if the “X” was home and he said no. Confused I asked again, saying I was supposed to meet “X” here. The man told me “Maybe he’s asleep. I just woke up.”
Indignant I said, “I talked to him this morning.”
“I’ll go check,” he said closing the door on me.
About five minutes passed until I heard someone struggling with the lock. A few more minutes and the door swung open. “He’ll be down in a minute. He was up until four in the morning.”
Hummm. I thought to myself. OK…normal for a writer, right? I stood at the threshold with my briefcase awkwardly flung over my shoulder.
“Uh, do you want to come in?”
Peering at the chaotic interior, instinct kicked in. My gut said “turn around and leave.” Another voice said, “You better go in. He’s expecting you.”
I took a few feeble steps inside the door and stood there nervously. By this time the kid had moved behind me and was blocking my exit out of the door.
Then down the long staircase my wayward writer traveled. He smiled and gave me a big hug. I was immediately overpowered by the sticky sweet odor of liquor. He was definitely sloshed. The meeting deteriorated from there and I soon realized there was no getting out of the house. Just opening the door meant using a screwdriver to finagle the lock. He asked me to sit down and look at some things on his computer. As I did, I was assaulted with a screen full of degrading images. Quickly burying the window, he continued on about his mastery of the English language. He also spouted off about his religiosity and generous nature. In between his own gloating he tried flattering me, telling me how beautiful I was. This was punctuated by backhanded taps to my upper arm. I was cringing in my seat.
I managed to talk my way out of the situation and out of the house, but it took a full two hours. The entire incident was an assault of mind, body and spirit. When my fiancé got home, I immediately recounted my foolishness. He looked at me matter-of-factly, and said “He’s a predator, Sheree. Please don’t do anything like that again.”
And is it as simple as that? I don’t want to live my life in fear, but I do have to set boundaries and use common sense. Unfortunately, there are those who have ulterior motives, those who might cause me harm. I need to be observant and take care of myself. I have to love myself enough to trust my gut!
Sheree La Puma is an award-winning writer whose personal essays, fiction and poetry have appeared in or are forthcoming in Heron River Review, The Rumpus, O:JA&L, Plainsongs, The Main Street Rag, Burningword Literary Journal, I-70 Review, Inflectionist Review, Levee, The London Reader, Bordighera Press – VIA: Voices in Italian Americana, Gravel, Foliate Oak, PacificReview, Westwind and Ginosko Literary Review, among others. She received an MFA in Writing from California Institute of the Arts and taught poetry to former gang members.
Sheree La Puma, Author https://www.linkedin.com/in/shereewrites or firstname.lastname@example.org
7 thoughts on “A Predator by Sheree La Puma”
You are certainly a lot braver than I am. And you’re surviving. Good for you. I hope you’re learning your lessons about loving and trusting yourself enough to pay attention to your gut and get away from predators. And of course we all know what evil looks like. It has orange skin and is lurking somewhere in the White House.
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Right on! Thanks for this. I learn a little more each day. :)
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Very very scary story – there are predators out there, and each one of us has to be aware that this is the case. I think you have been very very lucky.
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Yes, Sara. We do.
Thank you for this piece. I like how you reflect honestly and end with what I consider an optimistic sense of awareness: ” I don’t want to live my life in fear, but I do have to set boundaries and use common sense.” and trust your gut. This final paragraph touched me because in my 20s and 30s I also took what others considered unacceptable risks although I was definitely less trusting than you were in some ways.
My question is this, though … do you feel that part of that journey is how we, when young, often feel this amazing sense of invulnerability? And only with experience do we eventually (quick or slow depending upon our temperaments), hopefully, become more aware of the dangers and predators around each corner and bring greater discernment as well as intuition to those situations?
Margaret Wheatley wrote interestingly about the difference between courage and fearlessness, one that I resonate with, when she said:
“In my own experience, I think there’s an important difference between courage and fearlessness. Courage emerges in the moment, without time for thought. Our heart opens and we immediately move into action. Someone jumps into an icy lake to save a child, or speaks up at a meeting, or puts them self in danger to help another human being. These sudden actions, even if they put us at risk, arise from clear, spontaneous love. Fearlessness, too, has love at its core, but it requires much more of us than instant action. If we react too quickly when we feel afraid, we either flee or act aggressively. True fearlessness is wise action, not false bravado or blind reactivity. It requires that we take time and exercise discernment. Zen teacher Joan Halifax speaks about the “practice of non-denial.” When we feel afraid, we don’t deny the fear. Instead, we acknowledge that we’re scared. But we don’t flee. We stay where we are and bravely encounter our fear. We turn toward it, we become curious about it, its causes, its dimensions. We keep moving closer, until we’re in relationship with it. And then, fear changes. Most often, it disappears.”
And I would love to know how you feel the situation you describe might have been handled with greater intuition, now that you can look back on it? How might any of us have handled that differently to keep ourselves safe?
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What an insightful commentary, Darla. Thank you for your response.
I personally feel that we grow in our awareness as we age. Life is a learning process. However, I also believe that we can teach our children to look within and trust their instincts. As a mother, I tried to allow my children the freedom to look within and problem solve. While this may seem contradictory, I knew there would be times that I would not be there to help. If they learned to develop their own intuition, I felt they would be safer in the long run. I wish I had been encouraged to set boundaries as a child.
I was aware that I was walking into a potentially dangerous situation. However, I pushed fear aside because I had not learned to value my instincts.
I now consciously work on listening to my inner voice and setting boundaries.
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Wow, I did so many of those sorts of things when I was younger! It took me so long to learn to listen to my experience, and my intuition.
I think you can definitely be safe and take care of yourself without always being afraid. And then when something makes you feel fearful you can say to yourself “I better pay attention to this.”
Years ago someone told me I should not go out and speak publicly about my trauma history until I could take care of myself like I was/am my own child. Of course, I talked anyway, but I kept that advice in mind, andin the last couple of years have been able to actually heed it and take care of myself like I am my own daughter.
I know that I put myself in many dangerous situations because when I was growing up I was taught not to protect myself, my boundaries were constantly being ripped away, and I was taught to be a victim–to put myself in harm’s way, or at least not avoid it.
I have learned to love and honor those parts of myself that did those dangerous things, that couldn’t protect me, and know I did the best I could at the time. I also, now, am much better at understanding when there may be danger, and also checking in with my supportive, helpful people who can see things I can’t. I am definitely no longer a victim.
I wish you courage to see the good and the evil, to know that good outweighs the evil, and to take care of yourself like the precious being that you are.