Why I Know This Stuff:
Because of the genre I write in, I spend a lot of time thinking about what can go wrong. What terrible things can happen, and what events lead up to them.
Mostly, these are fictional things. Every once in a while, I’ll have a scene inspired by something that has happened to me. My writing is never taken straight from my life, but once in a while, there is a resemblance. This has led me to modify my own behaviors in order to avoid ending up like the people I write about.
Like Liam Neeson in Taken, I have developed an unusual (if slightly less lethal, and less extensive) skill set.
I know kicks and strikes, tactical holds and weapons takeaways. I know where to hit a person to disable him temporarily, where to hit him to injure him permanently, and where to hit him to kill him. I’m thankful that so far I haven’t needed to utilize these.
I also know observation techniques. My dad is a detective. Awareness of his environment is a matter of safety, and even survival, on a daily basis.
While we were growing up, my siblings and I were constantly hearing, “Look around! Pay attention! Be observant!” It was kinda like Psych with less pineapple.
I’m a daydreamer by nature, so this was a difficult skill for me to master.
I’m glad I did.
Why I Think It’s So Important:
I used to ride the bus down Division Street to and from the Plaza each day on my way to college.
For those of you who don’t live in Spokane or don’t ride the bus, the Plaza is the Twilight Zone concentrated into the space of a mid-size department store. There was at least one fight almost every day. The local news ran stories about people getting stabbed there despite the fact that there was always at least one security guard on duty. The Plaza made me realize that perhaps my father was not quite the paranoid hard-ass I’d thought him to be.
When a guy sat down behind me on the bus one afternoon, I got goosebumps. I don’t know what it was about the man. He looked like he’d been in a fight, but so did lots of people there. He wasn’t very old. Early thirties, late twenties. I felt like he was watching me. Like an itch I couldn’t reach, being near this guy was making me antsy.
He asked me for a nickel and I gave him one. (Bus riders gotta stick together, ya know?) His gaze as he took it struck me as too intense. I wanted to change seats, but the bus was full. I thought about talking to the driver at the next stop, but what would I say? It’s not like he’d been rude or unpleasant. He was just creeping me out something fierce.
Well, I thought, it’s possible this is all in my head. Maybe I’m (God forbid) turning into my father. Besides, what’s the worst this guy could do on a bus? Stare at me? But when I got off the bus… That thought got my adrenaline flowing again.
My stop was the Hastings Lot. The end of the line. This time of day, I was often the only one in the parking lot. There were a few businesses around, but not close enough that I was sure anyone would hear me scream. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. Dead battery. I might be in some deep shit.
I considered my options. I could go about my day as usual, and hope he wouldn’t follow me to my stop. We weren’t very far down Division. I decided if he was still there when the bus reached the Northtown Mall, I’d get off. The mall was always packed. I could yell for help if he came after me, maybe even lose him in the crowd.
He talked to me, off and on. Asking me questions. I don’t remember what they were. Normal things. Small talk. I didn’t tell him much about myself. My answers were vague, but polite. I didn’t want to be rude in case I was being paranoid. In case he was a nice, normal guy. Didn’t want to hurt his feelings for no reason. We reached the stop before the mall. He was still there. Still talking to me. I got out of my seat as the bus pulled up to the curb near the mall. I pushed my way to the front, and was the first one out the door. He got up, and followed. I was running the minute my sneakers hit the sidewalk. I jumped a short concrete wall around the mall parking lot, and sprinted for the nearest entrance. Better to be paranoid and alive than risk being tossed in a panneled van and driven to a basement somewhere.
I risked looking back once, and felt both vindicated and terrified to see him running after me.
Yay, I’m not crazy afterall!
Holy shit, this dude is really after me!
I beat him to the mall, and ducked in the Barnes & Nobel. I stayed near other people. Stayed behind the bookshelves. I could hear him cursing. I didn’t move for fear he’d see me looking around the shelves. After a short time, he left. My heart was still pounding. I was drenched in sweat, but I was safe. I kept an eye out for him as I left the mall, as I got on the next Division Street bus, and as I got off the bus at the Hastings Lot. He never reappeared.
I don’t know what would have happened if I’d stayed on the first bus. I do know beyond a reasonable doubt that it wouldn’t have been anything good. I hadn’t dropped my wallet. If he had wanted my phone number, that was a hell of a creepy way to try to get it. There just wasn’t any legitimate reason for him to be running after me. Traumatic and life altering? Not really. Scary? You bet your ass it was.
The end result was that I decided to educate myself. I went to self-defense classes, read books and studies on the subject, and bought pepper spray.
Now that I’m over twenty-one, I have a concealed carry permit, a Glock with night sights, and (thanks to my dad) a skill level with a handgun that falls somewhere between that of Clarice Starling and Stephanie Plum. (I’m not a marksman, but the gun doesn’t sit at home in my cookie jar either.) I have never shot anyone, and would greatly prefer not to do so in the future, but I firmly believe it’s better to have my gun and not need it than need it and not have it. My goal is to have a schema* for every scenario. If some wanna-be gangster rapist comes at me with a gun, I have the luxury of knowing my gun is bigger, and, frankly, that’s a load off my mind.
I constantly plan and re-plan what to do in various worst-case scenarios. I always, always looked at the people around me. Not because I expect bad things to happen, but because it makes me less vulnerable in case they did. Despite a few bad experiences, and the crap on the nightly news, I still believe most people aren’t going to hurt me. But now, I remember they have the potential to. And I trust my instincts.
*This is a cop word. It means a plan of action. Not sure if that’s common knowledge.
Things for Beginners to Consider:
* Do not purchase a weapon you are not willing to use. It’s not worth the risk of an attacker using it against you.
** Practice often with any weapons you do choose to purchase so you can use them effectively.
*** This includes things like car keys! I carried my keys a certain way in dark parking lots for years before practicing strikes on a dummy with them in a self defense class and realizing that the way I’d been holding them was totally ineffective.
A summary of things to do (and things not to do) to decrease your odds of being attacked, based on an in-prison survey of rapists and date rapists:
An online tutorial on how to escape and evade in an urban environment:
Fight Like a Girl… and Win by Lori Hartman Gervasi
(I know there are many other classes in the area, but these are some I have been to and would personally recommend.)
Classes in the Spokane Area:
These are free, and they’re amazing!
Spokane Police Academy
2302 N. Waterworks
Spokane, WA, 99212
- Enhancing the Survival Mindset 1 (Women over the age of 16 only)
- Enhancing the Survival Mindset 2 (Women over the age of 16 only)
- Violence Prevention in the Workplace (Men and Women)
- Personal Safety and Awareness (Men and Women)
- De-escalation Training (Men and Women)
To register, visit:
Classes in Cheney, WA:
These are great for all the striking practice they give you, and the atmosphere is fun and empowering. Everyone cheers each other on as you learn.
West Plains Karate &
422 First Street
Cheney, WA, 99004
Women’s Self Defense
- 5-hour Intro
- 24-hour Advanced
For times, prices, and registration forms, visit: