SUMMER OF SAM
Meeting all the criteria but one was a relief, even if no guarantee. My blonde hair meant I was probably not in danger if he kept to the same pattern. Betty had shoulder length brown hair though. We agreed not to stay out too late since he’d struck the weekend before. The police warned this might be an indicator that his behavior was about to change. But what did we know. We knew nothing.
Four women had been killed in the last __ months by an unidentified serial killer in our neighborhood. The women had been in some of the same bars we frequented on a normal weekend night. He’d killed them near the closest freeway exit to my house, even if that wasn’t as close as it could be, thank God. All girls our age were on alert, and frightened. Each time he hit, we became more frantic, yet didn’t want to stop living because of a crazy killer. New Yorkers are another breed. The more threatened they are, the braver they are. I’m convinced of it. It’s not that they don’t think it can happen to them. They know it can. It’s that they know if they don’t stand up in its face, it will eat them up first. It’s instinctual. An animal instinct in the urban wilderness. The fascinating part of it is it’s collective.
Over the years i’ve wondered about this behavior and how it gets instilled in us. When I moved out west to a new environment, it disappeared, and was replaced with different instincts that protected me. It drained out of me when my feet touched soil and sagebrush. Perhaps concrete and steel’s hardness reflected it’s strength into us, but I don’t think so. I think city people don’t really feel alone. Not in situations that threaten their freedom. They probably feel more alone than most people in a crowd, or at a noisy restaurant. But if they’re attacked or threatened, the herd mentality takes over and the strength, courage, and fortitude seems collectively harnessed, transforming communities. It’s magical. Powerful too.
Looking back, I stand amazed that we still went out at night. Or that we were allowed to. There must be a denial filter that protects us, and our parents, in times like this. When my son’s father abandoned us during pregnancy, I was filled with a new calm and serenity after a few days of being in shock. One day, my soul clicked into gear, and this baby and I were a team, and I knew we’d be fine. I’ve had a similar feeling most of my life since as I step in to meet each new challenge. A reassurance filled me from the inside out that knew we’d see our way through anything together. I knew all was well with my soul and my baby’s soul. Although my faith wasn’t particularly religious at the time, I sensed God was near. This steadied me - and surely moved my feet, from time to time, when I couldn’t even crawl forward another inch. I’ve had this sense of calm ever since. Free floating anxiety that plagued me in my twenties lifted for good, and what felt like substance within calmed me, lifting my heart and filling it with hope and vision for whatever lay ahead. I’m grateful I didn’t see what lay ahead - I might not have believed it was good.
That’s what’s wrong with our mind. We don’t know what we need. We think we do. We make our lists, and draw our pictures of the perfect life, the perfect man, the perfect house - and end up with something different. Or exactly what we want. Some of us will be hellbent on creating our exact vision because, for some reason, we think we know what’s best for us. It takes some of us so much longer to learn.