I was pretty thrilled when I landed in Jamaica last May. The sun was warm, I looked good in a bikini, and here I was on my first-ever trip with a significant other.
Adding to the excitement, this was my boyfriend's first time out of the country. Within a few hours, we'd be eating rice and peas in a villa overlooking the Caribbean Ocean.
My boyfriend and I in Grand Cayman, where we went after leaving Jamaica. This is when I started showing signs of PTSD.
The reality wasn't so picture-perfect. The town didn't seem to have any tourist presence, now or ever. On our drive from Kingston's airport, a young mother selling fruit advised us to be careful as we traveled ahead.
But here we were, feeling informed with our guidebooks in hand, stubbornly optimistic for our beach vacation and myself, anyway, overly adventurous from a lifetime of travel "off the beaten path."
The villa had a view, but it also had bugs, a layer of grime and an unsettling vibe. I wondered aloud if we shouldn't find a different place to stay. With our non-refundable deposit already paid, we decided to wait until tomorrow's daylight to make any decisions.
When I woke up a couple hours into a restless sleep, I could still hear music playing from the beach below. I sat up slowly, letting the sleep fall away before grabbing my glasses.
I stumbled naked into the narrow bathroom. When I turned to sit, there stood before me a a tall, thin man, his face illuminated by the near-full moon. This man, who I later learned is named Yuan, stood a foot away from me, smiling from behind the large machete he held samurai-style.
He was the same man who had come by earlier on the pretense of selling fruit. He had seen me in my underwear, and, it seems, gone back to his home next door, armed himself, and waited in the bushes outside our villa until the lights went out.
There was only a beat before I screamed and Yuan swung that machete at me. While the machete hit me repeatedly on my left, his hand grabbed at the bare breast on my right side.
I don't remember well what happened then. There's no visual memory anymore, only the memory of that scream, mine eventually joined by his, this man who had been seconds away from slitting my boyfriend's throat a few minutes before.
When this man sliced through the mosquito netting around our bed, next to where my boyfriend was sleeping, he presumably hoped to kill my boyfriend before coming after me. This man did not expect me to wake up, and I imagine he didn't expect a fight if I did.
But I did fight, blocking that sword from ever hitting my throat or chest, where he was aiming, and finally pushing him out of the bathroom so that he could not lock me in, as I believe he planned to do.
Once out of the bathroom, my boyfriend jumped up and grabbed a kitchen knife. With my fists flying relentlessly and my boyfriend approaching, Yuan turned and ran out the back door.
My boyfriend and I locked ourselves in the bathroom, where the toilet had come out of the floor and the walls were covered with blood. In that small bathroom we waited three hours, thanking god for a working cell phone and switching lines between an incompetent police operator, a useless representative from the American Embassy, my surprisingly composed mother, and one very helpful police detective.
It was that detective who would eventually find us, my boyfriend standing at the busted-in window, watching for signs of our attacker, and myself, holding my own machete, which I'd found in the bathroom after our first few minutes locked inside. I stood next to this detective, still naked and dripping blood, and surveyed the scene of a death I saved myself from.
The terror of that night ended, but its horror haunted me for months to come. Within a couple weeks, I developed debilitating tendinitis in both wrists. It was so painful that many nights I couldn't brush my teeth. I suffered a full four-months of the worst cramps I've ever experienced, and almost daily bleeding. (I had an IUD put in a week before the attack and I believe the PTSD compounded its side-effects.)
Even sleep was exhausting. I spent long, restless hours dreaming of horrible things, trapped in terrifying scenes that often felt like reality even after I woke up.
I took to compulsively writing “Higher power give me peace” and “This is not my life” in my journal.
By the end of the summer, I was suicidal. I scoped out the edge of bridges, fantasized about buying a gun and spent one long night eating through a bottle of painkillers. In November, I realized that I needed intensive help. I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital, and began the difficult work of healing.
Remembering that night, there lingers a haunting fear of the dangers that might still lie ahead. Yet that memory also brings pride. I am proud that I fought back.
Certainly no woman can make a wrong choice when being attacked. She does what she can to survive. But it often seems that the only stories we hear are of women as victims. Even as children, we knew Little Red Riding Hood only escaped the wolf because the gallant woodsman came and saved her.
When we returned home from Jamaica, almost everyone who heard the story commended my boyfriend for saving me. I still get angry about it.
I refuse to lose my story to the power of a social narrative that says women are always victims. I saved myself from the big bad wolf. I am a victim, yes, but I am also my own hero.
I have amassed quite the teddy bear collection since last May.