Monday, January 07, 2008

These Things Happen To Other People

I cannot remember a time when I did not know that other people could hurt you and were not to be trusted lightly.

Not in a childlike "don't talk to strangers" way. In a concrete, visceral, premature distrust of the world way.

My friend was abducted while hiking alone in the woods with her dog. The man responsible for her disappearance is in police custody and is being charged, for now, with kidnapping and causing bodily harm. Sufficient evidence has surfaced that the authorities have officially declared this to now be a search and recovery effort instead of a search and rescue. Honestly, though, every single person who knows her is still trying to hold onto hope that she will miraculously be found alive. The evidence has made it clear that she will not be found unharmed.

I grew up in a fairly bad neighborhood. A poor neighborhood. I remember being very young and hearing that a police officer had been shot late at night in the park two blocks from my house. And I thought, "Doesn't he know it's not safe in the park at night?" I learned about the birds and the bees because my best childhood friend was molested by her next door neighbor. I ran home one day when a man offered me a watch in order to lure me to his car and then followed me.

So I don't feel any less safe today. Because I never really felt safe to begin with.

Like everyone who cares about this woman, I am torn between frustration that she took the risk of being out on the trail alone and knowing that I would not have wanted her to be a different person. I would not want her to be someone who lives in fear. She is more physically capable than most any woman I know. She is trained to fight and to defend herself. She even had a fairly large dog with her for company. But clearly those things aren't enough.

I'm a door locker. Windows, too. I keep a phone next to my bed at night. I keep a light on outside the door so neighbors can see anyone who approaches my door at night clearly. I don't walk to my car alone in the dark. I am not particularly friendly with strangers, although I will converse with them if I am in a sufficiently public place. Perhaps I'm a little paranoid. I also live my life. I traveled to another country by myself. I've taken a cross country road trip alone. I don't let my fear keep me from living, but I try to be careful. I acknowledge that every stranger or person I do not know well could potentially be a threat.

To be clear, this friend and I are not close. We get together in a group to watch bad tv and talk about girl stuff on a semi-regular basis. Until yesterday I could tell you about her excitement over her new job or who her favorite contestants are on ANTM but not where her family is from - that kind of friendship. I am fond of her. People I love, however, have known her for years and are very close to her. So this is not happening to me. This is happening very near me to people I love and a woman I very much care for.

There is no good in this. But perhaps there is a warning or a reminder. When we watch the news so many of us forget that these are real people and not just stories. These are people with families and friends and lives being halted or altered horribly by the events we see unfold in flashy television updates. And those people you see grieving on the TV news live feed could someday be people you know and care about. Today they are people I know and care about.

We are all hoping for her to be returned to us. I am also hoping that people will hear about her and be a little more careful in their choices. More hesitant to trust a stranger met in an isolated place. More likely to find someone to go hiking with them so they are not alone. More likely to get someone to walk them to their car at night. (Edit: To be clear - I do not think my friend was careless. You SHOULD be able to go hiking with your dog in the middle of the day and feel safe. I just think a reasonable level of healthy distrust can save your life.) Bad things can happen to anyone. Taking precautions will not change that, but it is the one thing we can do to stack the odds in our favor.

We can also all learn from this to keep a closer eye out for our fellow man. If only one of the several people who witnessed this man talking to my friend (and some said it gave them a bad feeling) on the hiking trail had stopped to check that everything was alright, perhaps she would be safe at home today. I certainly don't blame them in any way, but it is hard not to think that small changes in the actions of the people who saw her that day might have made a difference. Awareness of a witness might have altered that man's choices.

I (surprisingly) actually believe that most people are good. I still think 9 out of 10 people who stop to help you on the side of the road can be trusted. The problem is this: We all look the same. People who knew Ted Bundy thought he seemed like a pretty nice guy. The man who abducted my friend looked like a crazy, freaky old man. But most of the old men I've met who look bizarre and freaky are actually great people. You just can't tell, so you can't take risks with your safety and you shouldn't make assumptions about people based on too little information. For your own sake and for the sake of the people who love you. Live your life fully, but exercise caution.

My friend is an exceptional person. Right now everyone who knows her hopes that will translate into her beating the odds in what have become an increasingly grim sequence of events.

“I have learned two lessons in my life: first, there are no sufficient literary, psychological, or historical answers to human tragedy, only moral ones. Second, just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.”

- Elie Wiesel


Edit: They found my friend and I am sad to say that she is dead.

Take care out there. The world is a wonderful place but there are some frightening people in it.

“My heart has joined the thousand, for my friend stopped running today.”

- Richard Adams


  1. Marisa -- I am so sorry to hear this. It's horrible. I hope they find your friend. With all my heart, I hope that.

  2. Thank you, Tracey. The waiting is terrible. I think we're all feeling the strain from that.

    I really just wanted to bring it up here because it makes me worry about every other person I know being careless. I think we all tend not to think about the fact that these things really do happen and could happen to us or someone we love and that, therefore, caution in everyday life is so important.

  3. Marisa - I am so sorry about your friend. My God.

  4. Thank You, Sheila. It's so much harder for a lot of the people close to me, but the support has been overwhelming and is much appreciated.

  5. Wow. I'm so sorry about your friend, as well as for those of you left behind to mourn her loss.

    Your post made me think about two things. First, that no one is an island. When there is a tragedy involving death, even if "only" one person has died, that one person was someone else's world, and with that loss, the lives of all the people that person left behind are irrevocably changed for the worse.

    Second is that I couldn't agree with you more regarding the issue of making careful choices. Sure, everyone should be able to go wherever they want to go, but sometimes, it's better to exercise caution and forgo the right in order to avoid putting yourself in a dicey situation.