A romantic weekend requires a plan.
Long walks, good food and brilliant sunsets were falling into place. A weekend away was going according to plan until we heard a muffled protest. In the next parking lot, her foot was sticking out of a SUV. Reaching for the ground unsuccessfully, the owner seemed to dangle. She wanted out but was stuck.
As her plea turned hysteric, our enchanted evening disintegrated. Before shooing my wife into the condo, I asked her to call 911. Now what? Approaching a woman, being pulled by her hair, requires a plan.
I had no plan.
I had a voice but he wasn't listening. I had a flashlight and shined through the rear windshield. Her foot touched the pavement before her body crumpled. He walked to the passenger side and told her to get up. She refused, angering his grip on her shoulder. Maybe fifteen feet away, armed with a flashlight and separated by a fence post, trauma's jaws snapped.
In 30 seconds, I went from celebrating our 22nd wedding anniversary to wondering if his violence was going to spill onto me. Distance is safety; he could have covered the ground between us in less than a three seconds.
"The police have been called. Go ahead and walk away from her. Walk away."
He spoke to her, never to me but it was loud enough to gather they had business he felt was unfinished. "I don't want to ride with you...leave me alone...give me my $h!t" rang into the night. They moved from the SUV to the sidewalk and onto the side of the fence I was on.
His focus on her gave me enough time to gather the license plate, run back to the condo and recite it to the 911 dispatcher on the phone with my wife. Looking at her, I realized I knew nothing about the situation but was learning more about myself. The whimpering woman was no younger than our daughter.
Collegiate and cute, the choked coed reminded me of our oldest, who had just pecked me on the cheek a few hours before. To put distance between me and him, I started our truck, turned on the high beams and leaned on the horn. As she shrieked, I spoke to him.
"Do you see all these condominiums? There are eyes on you. Walk away before the police arrive."
"I'm not going anywhere...I don't care... I'll have to go to jail tonight."
He had a plan.
I had a recollection of my limitations. Ignorant of the source of the violence and closer to him than safety allowed, I remembered I did care. I cared about the hand I was holding a few minutes earlier. I cared about our daughter more than I cared about someone else's daughter. I cared about seeing our children again. Her attacker was willing to lose.
When she took a step toward our truck, the locks were engaged because I was in drive. The second it would have taken to park the truck and swing the door open to her is the moment I still think about. He was within arms reach. I braked but failed to park.
I failed to throw the passenger door open to her. Just as soon as she was next to the vehicle, she was just as quickly walking away up the hill. Questions abound.
Did my thoughts about my family keep me from flinging the door open to her?
Did my clarity about his willingness to be jailed prevent me from opening the door?
How might the night have changed if she made it into our truck?
Am I second-guessing the difference between 'park' and braking while in drive?
More screaming, her flight and his pursuit. Then, beyond my hearing, his one sentence changed everything.
He spoke, knowingly, and inaudibly. She gathered her belongings and followed him dutifully to the SUV. You would never have known that she had been begging with anguished howls. I never heard what he said but watched them both make a B-line for the same vehicle. His tires squealed and 9 seconds later two sheriff's deputies pulled up.
It was like he could hear or smell law enforcement approaching. There were no lights or sirens. He just knew, laced a phrase in her ear and compelled her accompaniment.
Deputies never found him but the license plate was a match. The sheriff seems to have a plan for what's next.
Next for me is to ask whether I did all I could have done. My wife and I discussed the evening using a series of debriefing questions. She is a mental health professional and I am clergy, so one hand truly was washing the other.
Now my hands run over this keyboard. I write so I can sleep. Tonight keeps playing in my head. Writing moves the trauma out of my mind, down my wrists and into the keyboard. To deal with the emotions, I have a plan: write.
I plan to continue celebrating my 22th wedding anniversary with the mother of our two children. She and I worked together to help a young lady tonight. We plan to work together until death parts us.