If you are a survivor of violence, please read with care.
Thursday afternoon. About 3 pm. It had been a good week. My consulting gig with this particular start-up was on its way. New technology can be “buggy”, but the investors seemed happy -- full steam ahead. For the first time in years, I had accepted an engagement that required me to be in the office nearly all the time. I had set up a desk by an open space at the front window because I like natural light. I was finishing up some things, when the door opened and he walked in.
Maybe 5’10”, dark, dressed in dark clothing. A ball cap pulled down almost covering his eyes. Mid-twenties. Wearing an oversized field coat - dark blue or maybe black. What struck me most was that it was ninety degrees outside and he was dressed for winter. A bottle in his left hand. As his eyes met mine, he reached his right hand inside his coat and appeared to touch something.
He seemed agitated and nervous. He tipped forward as he made a quick check around the small office. He nodded ever so slightly as he confirmed to himself that I was indeed alone.
The voice in my head: “How did he get in? No time for that. You have a situation in front of you and it's not a good one. Focus."
That front doorway was my only escape, and he owned it. My phone was on the desk, right at my fingertips. My first instinct was to grab it, but I thought better of it. Instead, I softly took hold of my father’s wedding ring on the chain around my neck. I didn’t want to make any sudden motions, but I wanted to feel as close to love and safety as possible.
The voice in my head: “Is this the way it’s going to end for me? After all I have endured, survived, and overcome… is this how I’m going to die?”
I searched for acceptance that I had no control over his choices, and no ability to predict the outcome. I also told myself that if this was the end of my life, I didn’t want to be afraid. I trusted that my father (who passed away when I was a young girl) would be there to catch me on the other side.
Next, the thoughts that went through my head….
- I was heartbroken that I wouldn’t see my fur babies and I trusted they would be well cared for and loved.
- I was blessed by all the love, support, and friendship I had in my life.
- I was sad when I realized that there was someone I loved and I hadn’t taken the opportunity to say it when I had it.
- I was grateful that I had had a long talk with my niece earlier that week. I told her how much I loved her. She's growing into this beautiful, amazing woman, but all I saw was the sweet little girl that used to jump into bed with me to snuggle and talk about our plans for the day.
I exhaled those feelings and returned quickly to the situation at-hand. Focus. I had recently completed a course that helps coaches and counselors like me engage with people in crisis. My only choice was to trust my instincts and attempt to diffuse the profoundly terrifying situation in front of me.
I assumed he was armed and chemically altered. I told myself if he wanted property - my purse, laptop, phone, whatever - it was his without question. I decided to attempt to create a space that reflected not where I suspected this man was, but where I wanted him to be. Like a mirror, I tried to be the image I wanted him to reflect. I recalled a ventilation and validation technique and choose an empathetic stance. I sat back in my chair to show I was relaxed, even though I was terrified. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, but instead spoke slowly and quietly. Barely above a whisper. I kept my tone even and calm. I kept my breath steady. I wanted to convey that he had my full attention and I dug deep to meet his glare with compassion and a tender heart. In this, I hoped to create a space for him to release (ventilate) – and – demonstrate he was being seen, heard, and acknowledged (validated).
He ranted about the new life he wanted and that I was going to be the one who gives it to him. He didn’t know what to do. Things had happened, they weren’t his fault, and he was tired of losing every time he thought he was going to win. He was fed up. He shared details about his pain and hurt. He felt he was owed a different life and he wanted me to give it to him. I held my gaze as and occasionally offered a small nod to demonstrate I was hearing him.
He smacked the bottle in his hand as he spoke. Each time he paused he'd reach inside his coat with his free hand. Interrupting him might further ignite his anger. So, I counted to three in my head to give him an opportunity to continue. Only when he didn’t, I spoke.
I kept the responses simple and did not offer a lot of information, "I am sorry that happened to you. No that's not what we do here."
When he challenged, "well then, what DO you do?" I followed with,
"Not that and I am sorry I won't be able to help you. I think it's time for you to leave now."
We went three or four rounds of this pattern. Eventually, he stopped and seemed out of words. He squared himself, reached into his coat, and held it there for what seemed an eternity. I slipped my dad’s ring onto my finger and prayed. Then… he dropped his hand to his side, empty.
He looked at me as I said one last time, “I am so sorry. I think it’s time for you to leave now.”
He nodded as he turned away from me. As soon as the door shut, I broke stance, grabbed my phone, flew to the door, and made sure it locked tight.
The voice in my head: "If he comes back. No. Don't go there." Instead, I sunk to the ground and prayed. My entire body shook, my heart raced as I choked air back into my lungs, and the tears began to fall.
NOTE: This story is not intended to suggest that what transpired here will yield the same outcome under similar or even different circumstances. I followed my gut instincts and leaned heavily into the training I've received. I am lucky to be alive. The emotional trauma I experienced was significant and mirrored past violence I have experienced. It also reminded me that life can flip on a dime and there are no guarantees. Please... be cautious, conservative, and thoughtful with your choices if you are ever confronted.