One of the major reasons I ride my bike is because it’s a moving meditation. It gives me a chance to breathe, and feel, and take in the world around me. Cycling has made me slow down and, as a result, I see more.
Today, for instance, I rode to Wildcat CrossFit for a late afternoon kettle bell class. I smelled sweet acacia trees starting to bloom – intoxicating! That means spring is very close. I saw people on the University of Arizona campus dressed in their red U of A shirts, going to a basketball game. We are very proud of our Wildcats here in Tucson. And I felt the sun on my skin. It was 76 degrees today. I wore my “A Ride Fixes Everything” t-shirt and was actually starting to sweat. It won’t be long before we have the bone-penetrating heat the desert is famous for. But mostly my ride gave me the chance to let my thoughts fly like birds through my brain, and not stop and build nests.
Except for one thought. Actually, it’s not a thought, exactly. It’s an experience I had. And it changed the entire course of my life.
It’s not one I usually talk about. My closest friends know, but I don’t disclose this because I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable, and because most people don’t know what to say. This experience is the real reason I moved to Tucson, Arizona. My standard response when asked why I moved to Tucson is that I was living in Dallas, Texas and didn’t like it. I had one sister living in New York City, and the other living in Tucson so I decided to move to Tucson because I thought I could handle it better than New York.
The real reason I moved to Tucson is because on February 10, 1987 a man in a ski mask broke into my apartment and raped me.
So no, I had no love for the desert. I’d never dreamed of living here. I barely knew where Tucson was. Prior to being raped I’d visited my sister and thought Tucson was the ugliest place I had ever seen. All I saw was brown dirt and thorns on every single plant. Even the crickets were creepy – an unnatural sand color unstead of the decent black they are in the northeast.
Interestingly, however, was a thought that went through my head as we went down I-19 to Tombstone (the city girl in me recoiled at going to what I thought would be an obvious cliche Western town. I was wrong, but that’s for another blog post.). Anyway, the thought I had was, “This place sure is ugly, but if I ever need a place to heal, this would be it.” I am not kidding. Those words rang through my mind clear as a bell.
So a few months later I needed a place to heal. I don’t remember too much about the days and weeks following the rape. The rape itself is another story. Strangely, I don’t remember it like a movie but like a slide show instead. I found out later that this is normal. I do remember the kindness of friends and my sister. Somehow, my cats, my belongings, and my person got transported to my sister’s house in Tucson.
I cannot say enough good things about the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA). This organization saved my life. One counselor was especially helpful. Of all things, she and I have the same birthday. Random fact, but it makes her more special to me.
Slowly, I managed to put the shattered pieces of my life back to together. It took years, and I honestly do not believe that could have happened in any other place than Tucson. I found my career, massage therapy and bodywork, and I found my life’s calling, teaching and writing.
It is interesting how PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) works. The first few years, I was a mess on February 10. Then for several years I would schedule something fun on that day to take it back and make it mine, not the rapist’s. As time went on and I got busier, I’d always remember the day but sometimes not have any feelings about it. Some years it would be as though the rape had just happened.
This year? This year is different. This year it is hitting me very hard. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because my time in the desert might be drawing to a close. Maybe it’s because I’m at a crossroads in my life and I’m not sure what the next step is, or where I’m meant to be, or where I’m meant to go.
What I do know, though, is that I will not only survive, I will thrive. Because for every horrible, despicable, black-hearted person out there, there are a multitude of warm, caring, concerned people who will help for no other reason than they want to help.