I’ve made many false starts on this piece. In part, I feel like I need to explain my disappearance for nearly the entirety of 2019- on the other hand, I’d be just as happy to gloss over it, and keep writing as if we were picking up the end of the previous year.

I just can’t do it, though. That feels dishonest. So here I am carefully picking out words to see if I can fit them together to express what I’d like to say. The truth of it is simple, though the words try to push away from each other like opposing magnets.

I was afraid.

I hate to even write those words. After so much time trying to empower my daughters to be strong and brave, to be powerless myself feels like betrayal. Fearful is something I am not, but after getting robbed at gunpoint at work (for a second time) in March, I’ve understandably lost some trust in people- and this distrust has bled into my personal life. It doesn’t sound like much of a shift to solitude for someone who already likes to spend as much time as possible alone in the woods, but the problem is that even then, one can rarely be alone- I’d still find myself among people, just without allies.

I found myself subtly changing my habits to avoid running into anyone. Hiking in the pouring rain, or on days brutally hot, and seeking out places remote enough that I might avoid any encounters. I stopped visiting two local parks completely, whose trails I’ve always enjoyed, due to the simple fact of not having a gatehouse to limit attendance in even the most minimal way. That lack was something I had previously lauded: when bills and budget were tight, it was nice to have somewhere to go that required no admission.

It was at a third park where I had to decide that enough was enough. After I’d dutifully paid my entrance and run off into the woods, I had an encounter that put it all into perspective.

On the trail by myself, I ran into a fellow hiker coming toward me from the opposite direction. When we were perhaps ten feet apart, he stumbled half a step toward me- it was just a small misstep on an uneven part of the trail, and he quickly corrected and walked on. Perhaps he said “good morning;” I don’t remember. What I do remember all too well is the rush of adrenalin, and how sure I was at that moment that he was going to attack me.

I’ve replayed that situation several times in my head, considering the different ways it could have played out- and maybe surprisingly, I’ve generally turned out to be the villain as I’ve considered my reaction. It is exceedingly rare for me to carry a weapon, but were I that day, in that moment I could have shot him and thought myself justified before realizing that it was just a stumble. Or, more realistically (as my draw is not that smooth!) I could have fumbled out a weapon while he was regaining his balance and then myself become the perpetrator of the violence I want to avoid, by threatening someone with a gun for simply being clumsy.

Powerlessness is an unacceptable option, but walking around armed and agitated is no better. I found a different solution, and it’s one that’s turning out to be more positive than I’d even hoped.

I’ve started learning jiu-jitsu.

This is not to say that I’ve somehow become a badass overnight- most definitely not. I’m slow and awkward and clumsy, and my best case scenario right now is that an attacker might be so busy laughing at my poor technique that I can escape. Even so, it means steps in the right direction. I feel stronger, and my confidence is returning- I will not let some jackass teenager with a gun destroy that for me.

On Friday, I went back out to one of those parks that I’d abandoned for the first time in the better part of a year. Early January in any other year, we’d have been looking at snow instead of the drizzly rain that we got that day; one way or another, it didn’t matter, though. I felt antsy and needed out, and I won’t let fear dictate what I do.

I’m back. I’ll see you on the trail.