Cappadocia was supposed to be the perfect ending to my journey through Asia, Russia, the Caucasus and Turkey. The trip had started four months prior, when my divorce was finalized. Except for a few minor hiccups along the way, traveling solo had been amazing: breath-taking sites, delicious new foods, and, of course, meeting new people, had all been a part of the adventure that was drawing to a close.
Let me be upfront with you. During the times that I have been single, I have had no problem meeting and hooking up with men, but I have always been careful and I believed I had good instincts. So, when I first meet Serdar, with his dark eyes and shaggy hair and olive skin, I didn’t think anything of it. The usual gut reaction that tells me to avoid a person was absent. Instead, my initial feelings were, “Hmmm…I bet he’s a good kisser.”
Serdar helped his father run the guesthouse where I was staying, and we hit it off immediately. His English was flawless, his knowledge of America was encyclopedic, and his sense of humor as dry as mine. His mannerisms and his carefree demeanor caused me to let down my guard. I accepted his invitation for a few drinks later that evening.
As we sat outside on the patio of the bar a few hours later though, something didn’t feel right. Serdar was agitated, and started to complain about how he hated working for his father. At one point he started to cry. I remember giving him a hug to comfort him. But I was turned off that he had acted so strangely, and something inside told me that maybe my initial impression of him was wrong, and that maybe it was time to go back to the guesthouse.
At first I thought it was sweet that he offered to walk me to my room despite his prior weirdness as the bar. He said that it was too dark for me to walk alone, and that nobody would be at the front desk to let me in.
By the time we returned, it was dark and quiet. The guest rooms all opened to a central courtyard, but it was so late that the others guests’ lights were out. I fished the key out from my jean pocket as I stood at my door, and turned to say good-bye to Serdar. He caught me off guard as he leaned in to kiss me.
As much as I tried, I couldn’t get into it. He wasn’t that good of a kisser and his breath reeked of alcohol. I slowly moved my head back to end the kiss, but as I did, his lips pressed hard on mine and he shoved his tongue in my mouth. I put my hand on his chest and started to back away, until I had backed completed into the closed door.
Instead of taking the hint, Serdar put his hands on my hips and pushed them hard into the door. As they thudded, he had already started to unbutton my jeans.
“Serdar, no. No sex.”
“No. I am going to bed,” I was trying to wiggle from his grasp but he persisted.
“You, no. Come on,” he insisted. His hand had already made it through my underwear and a sharp pain went through me as he jammed his two fingers inside me.
“We go in together,” he said. I heard a jingle and it hit me -- he already had a set of keys to my room. This asshole had planned it all along!
It was that jingle of the keys that did it. It was like some human Pavlovian response and with that one sound, I snapped. Flashbacks of unarmed combat training sessions from when I was in the Army washed through me. I remember being pinned in the mud by a male soldier, much bigger and stronger than me, straddling me, laughing that I couldn’t escape. The drill sergeants standing above us shouted to get moving, to fight. And as the male soldier took his eyes off me to look at the drill sergeants, I punched him in the throat.
I had been out of the Army and had not fought anyone in over five years, but suddenly, what I can only describe as pure primal rage shot through me. I pushed Serdar with the fleshy part of my hands into his chest, as hard as I could. It caught him by surprise and the force caused him to pull back.
As he staggered back, hitting the wall to the side of my door, I lunged for his neck. I’ll never forget that blunt thudding sound the back of his head made as it hit the wall, or the feeling of my hands, pushing into his neck as I pulled it back and forth, his head making a “thud thud thud” sound against the stone wall. He tried to grab my forearms, but his grasp weakened as he gurgled and coughed.
I don’t know why I didn’t knee him in the crotch or poke his eyes or scream for help. I was like a robot that only knew how to hold on to someone’s neck. But as quickly as the switch inside me had come on, it turned off, like there was a voice in the back of my head saying, “Enough, Martha, enough."
My shaking hands released him and he slumped to the ground, moaning and sputtering. I wish I could say that I did some Chuck Norris kick to his head while he writhing at my feet, but instead, I panicked. I remember being afraid that the commotion would wake up the guests, or the staff. Looking back, I just shake my head at my fear that I, the person defending myself, would get in trouble.
Not knowing what else to do, I rolled his body away from my door so I could get in to my room. I dead-bolted the door and pushed both nightstands and my suitcase against it, petrified that Serdar would come after me. Then I waited, the adrenaline rushing through my body. I sat on the edge of the bed, holding an umbrella, as if that would protect me.
I must have dozed off. When I woke, sun streamed through the windows and I could hear guests laughing and eating breakfast. Terrified, I peaked out the window blinds to see if I could see him, but Serdar had disappeared.
I spent 45 minutes in the shower, trying to wash off his smell and his skin under my fingernails, shaking as I walked to breakfast. Would the police be waiting for me? Would he be waiting for me? But when I arrived at the dining room, all was calm. Guests were sipping coffee and usually sociable Serdar was nowhere to be found.
My last two days there was an eternity as I looked over my shoulder, afraid he would be there, afraid I would turn a corner and Serdar, sober and with a group of henchmen, would be waiting for me. When the plane back to Istanbul took off, I cried with relief.
Not a day goes by when I don’t think about it. I was lucky that I knew enough self-defense to fight back. I am convinced that had I not done so, he would have succeeded in raping me. Yet I am constantly hounded by “what ifs.” What if he had been sober? Serdar was only an inch taller than me and probably hadn’t seen a gym in years -- what if he had been bigger? Stronger? What if I had never gone through self-defense training? And what if I had had more to drink that night? Would this story have ended differently? How many other women had he pulled this on? Were they as lucky as I had been?
I try not to think about these things, but it’s impossible. In spite of the billions of wonderful people on this planet, there are men who think they are sexually entitled to women everywhere. This experience has not turned me off of solo international travel, but it did underscore the need for extra vigilance. And the need to continue with those self-defense classes. It is my hope I won’t need to use force to defend myself again, but I want to be ready if I do.