Then I heard him—a stranger running alongside me in a half crouch, partly obscured by the bushes. My mouth went dry, my legs felt like water. But I didn't pick up my pace; instead, I stopped, turned, and faced him. He came out of the bushes and said he'd been watching me "for a long time."
As he walked beside me, I steered us closer to the edge of the park. When we reached the bridge, a train rumbled past, and he seized the moment, lunging at me as his hands closed around my throat. He forced his tongue into my mouth. The self-defense skills I had learned years before kicked in, and I dug my thumb into his eye, hard. And then came the shock: He didn't flinch. He only grew bolder, pulling at my clothes. My mind flashed to a tip from an old guitar teacher: "Press the strings like you're pinching a flea." I put every ounce of my strength into that thumb, and finally he let go.
"Don't be like that," he said.
"It is like that," I replied nonsensically.
I was shaking with fear, but I looked him straight in the eye and began to back away. I turned to sprint the hell out of there, but then I remembered another self-defense lesson: Never run, because then you're prey. So I walked away—alone—through the pitch-dark tunnel as I punched in 911 with trembling fingers.