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