During the summer of 1982, the year I got my drivers permit, my cousin landed on our doorstep and stayed for two weeks. He was a fascinating creature to me. At the time he was on a personal journey (what I now know is called a “walk-about”) and having just left the Navy, was full of inner turmoil and full of philosophical angst. I remember following him like a puppy. 1. Because I was bored. 2. Because he talked honestly with me. He listened when I talked, asked questions, and answered mine sincerely. Up until this visit, we had shared a few holiday dinners in the same room perhaps, but we had never really any spent time together. Why should we? I was merely an annoying little kid.
One particular afternoon, my mother had us running errands. For whatever reason, I remember stopping at a salvage yard. I remember going into the seedy office which was complete with snarling dog and creepy greasy men sitting around smoking cigarettes and playing cards. I don’t remember much about the interactions, but I do specifically remember that my cousin seemed agitated when we got back in the car to leave. He was very quiet on the drive home. I remember being worried that I had done something wrong to anger him. I certainly remember not liking that feeling of the morosely quiet car ride home.
When we finally pulled into the driveway, (silent treatment = eternal car ride) he slammed the car into park and got out. He waited for me to come around the car and actually physically blocked me from the sidewalk that led to the house. He glared at me with a strangely cold and almost cruel look on his face. We locked eyes. Then he said something that changed me forever.
“I saw the way those men looked at you… and I didn’t like it.”
He reached out and grabbed my elbow. I flinched ever so slightly but didn’t look away. He locked his jaw and said: “I have to teach you to defend yourself!”
I had no clue what he was talking about, but mercy me, the next 2 hours were possibly the best couple hours of my life up until then! He showed me how to breath in a choke hold… how to break a nose with the palm of my hand … how to crush a windpipe… He EVEN let me flip him repeatedly until I got the maneuver “just right”.
Frankly? It was A-W-E-S-O-M-E!
For some girls, a lesson in self defense might make them feel vulnerable and paranoid. My impromptu lesson made me feel cautiously confident. I like to think it was a moment in time that defined the woman I became. I may not be invincible, but God help you if you think I won’t give you one heck of a fight.
It also taught me an important lesson about men. My cousin? He is a man of substance. He showed me genuine respect. That day I had a small sampling of what it feels likes to be protected…what it feels like to be WORTHY of being protected. He also gave me the confidence that I was able to take care of myself. It is a standard every woman deserves.
Today while sitting at my family reunion in a picnic grove in the nowhere mountains of central Pennsylvania, I looked over to see my ninja-over-protective-cousin talking to my husband. They seem to be getting along quite nicely. No wonder. Without the lesson from the first, I never would have found (or valued myself enough to find) the second.
For this I am grateful.