10 Years Old, Alone on a Hill...
We fought and struggled as he part-threw, part-dragged me toward the cover of the woods. I remember feeling tired at some point in this battle, tempted to just be very still and stop resisting, which was only leading to more force coming down on me. I let my muscles slacken for a second and then a huge rush of adrenaline coursed through my veins and I exploded into a frenzy of clawing and blow-throwing. I was a good fighter, a dirty fighter, my skills honed on the Glasgow playground, where girls swung a fist in each other's direction with hardly a thought. Eventually I did kick free and as I ran I saw and heard nothing. I must have run through the families picnicking on the lower hills, but I don't remember, and I don't remember crossing the grassy slopes, or the pain from the damaged ankle, or the chunks of hair that had been pulled out, or any of the other injuries. I do remember my bare feet hitting the concrete of the parking lot that sat in front of our apartments, and a surge of hope as I looked up and saw my mother waving from our 17th-floor balcony. She'd gone out to water her tomato plants, and as she saw me running helter-skelter, looking completely deranged, she wondered if I'd ever remember to be tidy and not to look, as she liked to describe me, "like you've been dragged through a hedge backward." When I reached her, the first thing I said was that I'd lost one of my new sandals, then the sobs came and I told her about the man.
Of course, the next scene involves the police and my dad petting my hand and my mother unable to resist saying, "You should never have gone off by yourself." That's one lesson I could have learned from the incident, and it's certainly the one that most fairy tales and parables endorse, but I didn't. Not even when I was told that my assailant was believed to be Scotland's most notorious serial killer, a character known as Bible John who terrorized women in the late 1960s, picking them up at the East End Barrowland Ballroom, asking them to be his girlfriend, then strangling, raping, and discarding them. He has never been caught, and to the best of my knowledge, I'm the only girl who ever got away.
So what did I learn? I suppose if I had to boil it down, I would say I learned to trust what Daniel Goleman would call emotional intelligence. I learned that when alarm bells are ringing, you should listen to them and act, that you should case out your surroundings and wonder if it's a good idea to be there, and that you should trust adrenaline to be your friend. But I didn't learn fear, because the central fact for me was that I survived, and with the knowledge that danger is real came the certainty that courage is, too. For a few years after the attack, and before I was told that the police believed Bible John was the assailant, I would imagine I saw the guy in all kinds of locations. I'd report these to my father—"I think he's working at that new Chinese takeout," I'd say. And my dad would nod and say, "You do," and put on his shoes and head out to check.