"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one."
Two windows glued together. One still bearing the second-hand $75 sale sticker, the other jagged-shattered, a starburst shaped hole, big enough for a man to squeeze through… which I know because one did. A few minutes before midnight at the end of a balmy Tasmanian evening, three days before last Christmas.
Just a few weeks earlier I'd decided to leave Tasmania. Life felt stagnant, I’d felt low, like nothing was progressing. I’d written close friends on the mainland. ‘I feel pretty horrible,’ I’d said. ‘Can’t get through the slow period, can’t concentrate on work…I’m thinking of coming north for a while. I was wondering if I could stay with you at the beginning?’
‘Of course you know you are always welcome here,’ they'd replied. And in that instant, before any shift had actually been implemented or any logistics sorted, my outlook changed. Cheerful replaced glum. My days changed too: weeks were full of mountain bike rides, bushwalks and Christmas parties, live music, morning splashes in the gorge, summer produce from the Saturday Harvest Market and the gatherings and elaborate dinners built up around it.
And laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.
I began to question my choice.
I changed my tickets once for a few more weeks of that gorgeous Tasmanian Summer.
Did I really want to leave this blissful community? Did I want to go through the hassle of storing things, finding a tenant for my flat, taking an all-day ferry and then driving all the way up the coast on my own, returning to a place I thought I’d moved on from, living with other people again?
You haven’t resolved the underlying problems, the wise friends pointed out.
‘But I am having so much fun again,’ I'd thought, conflicted between renewed joy in the short term moment and frustration with lack of progress toward long term desires.
Serenity never lasts forever
And then, winding down, listening to the radio, lights on, blinds open, after drinks and a breezy dinner out on that night just before Christmas, I heard a knock-knock on my door. 'Must have left something in my friends’ car' I’d thought as I opened it, just before midnight, about 15 minutes after they’d dropped me off.
I don’t know this dude. He’s muscular, lean and tall and not wearing a shirt. He pushes his body into the gap between the door and me and I push back. Hard. All my body weight. Leave I yell. LEAVE. Swearing as I bash my left thigh into the door to force it closed as he tries to wedge his way in. I get the door shut!! Locked. Safe!
I feel strong….and shaky... I call the mates who’ve just dropped me off: There’s this guy outside my flat, he tried to get in. I locked the door but I think he’s still there…
SMASH. Glass shattering.
‘Can you call 000 for me?' I move away from the window toward the back door at the other end of the house.
Shadow and noise. SCREAM. ‘He’s coming in, I’ve got to go.’
I feel like the protagonist in an action movie, bolting over furniture and bikes and down a blackened flight of stairs, heart hammering through my skin. Don’t beat so F’ing loud, he might hear you.
Empty block of units, set back from the street. Should have replaced the light bulb above the door. Only one car in the lot: mine. Can I get around the units to the road? Not if he’s chasing me, I decide, diving into the fig tree edging the property.
Look down so he can’t see your eyes. Phone to silent, dim the light, point into the grass. It vibrates when my friend texts. Cortisol spilling into the grass. Leaning as tight against the back fence as I can. Calm. Calm. CALM.
I can hear him. A thud down those dark, too-close-together back stairs that I never descend even in daylight because they are too awkwardly spaced. Sound of more shattering glass and curse words, a crash. My bike?
Fifteen minutes pass. My friends get there first. It’s ok, he just walked past, pushing a mountain bike, they reassure me. The cops arrive soon after, recognise the description, and maybe 10 minutes later, retrieve my bike, freshly scratched, though not the camera I hadn’t yet noticed was missing.
He’s a minor, lives around the block. They arrest him, take him to the station...glass in his hair, mangled and bleeding. He’s “harmless,” one of the cops says, a few days later after they’ve released him. The charges include aggravated robbery and assault of a police officer.
So what’s the point of all this?
I feel compelled to ask myself…to find positives and attribute meaning even if there isn’t one…a coping mechanism? Perhaps. But for me this process helps me reframe negative experiences and think about them in a more constructive way.
This is what I gained from that encounter:
Renewed gratefulness for the support network I’ve surrounded myself with.
That night I stayed with the friends who rushed over, one of whom is responsible for the temporary fix-it job. There was no shortage of people offering for me to stay at their places or help in any way they could. It's nice to be reminded that people 'have your back.'
An opportunity to reconnect with dear friends
Among those who offered me a place to stay were close friends who I had barely seen in the busy year. Staying with them until the other residents began returning to the block of units gave us lots of time to catch up and strengthen our friendship.
Of course the outcome and circumstances could have been far different if weapons or more people were involved, but I was happy with the way I responded to the situation. It gave me confidence in my ability to cope and think clearly in pressure situations.
A stronger sense of community with the other folks in the units
The grizzly boarded windows gave rise to lots of conversations with neighbours, who were horrified to hear what happened and began to more actively look out for each other and communicate more openly about their comings and goings.
A readiness to move on and embrace the change to come
The biggest positive to come out of this experience was that it made it easier to leave Tasmania. I didn’t really enjoy riding my bike past this man’s house, seeing him perched on his front stoop, knowing that there really wasn’t much in place to keep him from re-offending. It made moving on just that little bit easier.
Five weeks later I packed my little hatchback and headed to the big island.
The chaotic close of 2012 gave way to a year defined by patience and plodding and persistence. And so for me, 2013 ended far less dramatically than it began. Looking forward to the challenges and opportunities this new year will bring.
What about you? Do you find you need to take the time to reflect and reframe your negative experiences?