I know, because later I watch the footage of the choking demo. Otherwise I can’t remember those 10 seconds at all: Mack throttling me and twisting me down onto my belly, grinding my face into the mat, asking if I’m through. When I stand, tears of humiliation slide down my face. The seven other participants [of the self-defense intensive] gaze at me in horror and pity. The one other woman, Nancy Marks, looks at me with anger, telling me later: ‘I was furious at you for being the helpless woman, for not fighting back.'”
I always thought of myself as a Tough Girl. The toughest. Ex-cons would notice me, praise my Mad Dog look. One told me wistfully, “You would’ve made a great Wheel Girl.” He and I wrote the beginnings of a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. He wrote Clyde, I wrote Bonnie. I never had the chance to try out being his Wheel Girl — the driver of the getaway car after a robbery — because he had given up a life of crime to be a big Hollywood bestselling author whose book turned into a movie. Also because I went out of town and returned to find him shacked up with someone else. But that is another story.
One moment of truth during an unorthodox self-defense training course in fall of 2004 changed everything.
I attended a three-day self-defense course taught by an ex-Navy SEAL, ex-sniper and wrote it up for the cover story of the Los Angeles Times magazine.
When I mouthed off early in the morning of the first day, Mack picked me out for the kickoff demonstration.
“Okay tough girl. Let’s see how tough you are.”
“I’m not a morning person,” I joked.
Then he rushed me.
“If Mack had wanted to, he could’ve killed me. I would’ve died, leaving behind nothing but an ineffectual scratch, a jagged red line scratched eye to ear on the side of Mack’s face. I always wondered if I would survive such an attack. Now I know.”
I realized Tough Girl was a false front. A mask I’d worn for most of my life. Rooted deep in the loss of my mother when I was fourteen.
On New Year’s Eve, 1977, Jane Reidy Resnick Peterson, committed suicide.
Sometimes it feels like years ago.
Sometimes it feels like today.
“Each night — after 12 to 13 hours of practice drills involving endless nose smashes, radial hits, groin kicks, eye gouges, blows to the sciatic nerve, skull grabs, tumbling, feinting, grappling and falling — when we are bruised and sore, shaken and exhilarated, we fold our creaking knees into the formal zazen sitting position, try to meditate for half an hour without falling asleep, and then try to answer questions about Truth for another half-hour.”
Years later, I know the truth. Since that time, I’ve gone through a journey from self-loathing to self-love I charted in Love Junkie: A Memoir. Next was cooking, a year of feasting and learning to self-nurture. Then came business. The entrepreneurial journey. The most brutal opportunity for personal growth. The art of memoir gave me the tools to step back, to see the truth, to gain self awareness. Then take action.
My mother was never able to step back.
“What a waste,” is what my father used to say about her.
All those gifts. Gone.
All those people she could’ve reached and inspired — they will never know her.
“On the last morning, I’m taking the brief opportunity to catch my breath. To stretch aching muscles. To readjust my sports bra. Then Mack turns to me: ‘You’d know what to do now, right? If I came at you with another attack?’
I’m already shaking my head no. ‘Please, once was enough,’ I say, in a voice still wheezy and weak from the first strangulation, but here he comes. Again. Ex-Navy SEAL. Sniper. Trained killer. Bearing down on me. Dark eyes lasering controlled mayhem, growling, flying closer like a fiery-maned nightmare. Then he is here, breathing hotly in my face, wrapping his lethal hands vise-like around my still sore bare neck and crushing. Again.
I stare him in the eyes. I examine him closely: the grim-set mouth, the faint hair clouding his upper lip, his eyes. Target. I breathe. Visualize. Prepare. It’s not about what he’s doing to me, but about what I can do to him. Not dead, can’t quit. The chants cycle through my brain. Then, still breathing, I scream, as I’ve been trained, a blood-curdling ‘Eeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeee- eeeeeessssssssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ and stab my fingers directly into his sockets with a rapid, focused, decisive move. And, unbelievably, Mack … backs … off.
Then grins a mega-watt grin. ‘Nice job!’ Sweat streams from my pits, down my spine, from my brow. I am still seeing. Still watching Mack, now casual Bukido guy again. But I am not back to normal.
Something has catalyzed in my racked body, in my weary brain. Something new: The meditative Zen training and the hyperphysical self-defense training have actually fused. They have fused, and improbably bloomed into a glorious, unshakeable, tightly clenched internal fist.”
That was 2004.
Now I know new years are opportunities to drop old masks. Discard roles that no longer serve us. Rewrite our stories.
Here in 2013, on the brink of another year, I pay tribute to my mother by stepping into my power. By sharing my gifts.
I let the fist unfold.
[Here’s a NEW YEAR SHED-THE-OLD-SELF-RING-IN-THE-NEW WRITING PROMPT — List three crazy scenes from your past. Far past. Or recent. Doesn’t matter. What comes to mind first and most vividly. I’m talking moments, or scenes, where you gave in to a flaw. Or you let an emotion take over. And it wasn’t pretty. Maybe, like me, you go to anger and confrontation. Or used to. Or you turn passive-aggressive. Or you isolate. Or your sadness swamps you. Or something. You know the expression, “seeing red”? That’s because when you’re in the grip of one emotion (in that case anger), it literally colors your world. Your experience. How you see things. SO. Pick one scene from that list of three. And write it THREE DIFFERENT WAYS! First person, of course. Since this is personal story. Write it from the point of view of the main character (you!) being ANGRY. Then from pov of you being SAD. Then from point of view of being IN LOVE. When I say write from these point of views, I mean, EXTREME. Don’t be timid. Stretch. Explore. See what happens. This is your chance to be an actor! Try out different emotional filters, lenses — see how they affect your writing. Your re-imagining, re-visiting of these scenes. And THEN, see if it doesn’t yield some kind of insight. Perhaps it will provide an opening for detachment. For stepping back. So you can see more clearly how sometimes, often — maybe always — our filters are choices. Let me know if this works, and post your experiences below. Happy New Year! Here’s to a year of fresh starts and continued growth. We all have so much to give while we are here. Let’s do it. Let’s do it together. Thank you for being part of my sangha — community. Love, RR]