So, on Thursday it was a public holiday in the town where I live.
It was Show Day.
A day where for Australian’s the annual country show comes to town, and everyone is given a day off to attend (or not).
I chose to sleep in and then put the lead on my little dog, Lilly and go for a walk along the ocean front, which starts less than 50m from my house.
I noticed the man straight away. It was hard not to.
He drove erratically and with speed past me on the road and parked at the end of the cul de sac where the way ends and the seaside walk begins.
Most people take care when driving along the waterfront. They are driving slowly and looking out to sea, plus there are often kids on their bikes and people walking dogs, and the speed limit is 50kmh.
He leapt out the car which he had parked at an odd angle, leaving both windows in the front wound down and strode fast towards the sea frontage, a distance of about 10 metres.
The grass verge ended abruptly and dropped down a small incline of about 10 metres to the sea, scattered with black volcanic rock, cabbage trees, palms and dead wood.
He peered down.
I wondered as I drew level with him on the footpath if he had come to pick up teenage kids who might be fishing or a friend? Why else would he have leapt out his car, and strode towards the sea looking intently down as if searching for someone?
My brain was trying to make sense of someone’s behaviour that seemed a bit odd and was not the norm but was certainly not alarming.
I kept my eye on him.
He kept walking very fast along the bank and then suddenly veered right towards me.
I was approaching the gate that separated the beginning of the sea walkway from the footpath that circled the end of the cul de sac.
He cut in front of me without making eye contact, and if I had not slowed down, we would have collided.
He seemed oblivious to me, but it was apparent he must have seen me as we were the only two people on the path in the immediate vicinity.
My body and senses were now on full alert. His behaviour was not normal.
I had come across people in the last two years on the seaside path, who were either mentally ill, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but I never had a sense of danger or felt personally threatened, I just became alert until they moved further away from me.
I kept one eye on the man as I continued walking with my little dog.
He was still striding at just under a run, in bare feet, boxer shorts and an old t-shirt (looking like he had just gotten out of bed) towards a construction site about 50metres away.
Two people sitting on graders, with mufflers over their ears, were busy flattening some ground where a house was to be built.
He kept walking past the site.
I could feel my body start to relax, and my eyes scanned the ocean to the left of me.
I glanced back.
He had stopped walking away from me in the direction I had last seen him but had turned 90 degrees and was now walking parallel to me at the same frantic pace, in long grass that ran back for at least 100metres on the right side of the path, where it met the back fences of waterfront houses on acreage.
I was nearing a bend where I would no longer be seen from the road, or the men on graders (if they had been looking).
I could feel a slight panic start to arise. My heart was beating faster.
My brain was desperately trying to make sense of this man’s movements and come up with an explanation that made sense for his erratic behaviour and movements.
I was experiencing a strong physical felt sense of danger.
I had been walking at a moderate pace, but the man had rapidly gained on me and made up ground, and he was now level with me, with a distance of about only 20 metres separating us.
I had the sense he was aware of me, as I was of him.
My brain was still rationalising that I probably overreacting feeling frightened, he may have had an argument with someone and was agitated over that, and he was not even aware of me.
But I was also aware of the growing sense of something not being right in my gut, and the felt sense of likely being in acute danger.
I had probably only walked another ten paces in the time that I was aware he had drawn level to me about 20 metres away, and that I was nearing the bend in the path.
Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I noticed he had turned 90 degrees and was no longer walking straight ahead parallel with me but was walking rapidly straight towards me.
It all happened so fast.
I felt in shock.
I stopped abruptly and looked straight at him.
I had seconds to react as he was rapidly gaining ground.
He was not looking at me. He started punching one closed fist into the palm of his other hand.
Everything in my body started to scream danger, and “run”. The rapid escalation in my body was instantaneous and the sense of danger inside me had gone from 3 or 4 out of 10 to 10 out of 10 and rising.
In a split second, I reacted. I cannot say, I made a decision, as there was no time for that.
I put out my right hand in stop motion and position, and in the loudest and most authoritative voice I could muster I said, “Are you alright?”
He was only about 5 metres from me still looking down, and again punching his hand, when I spoke, and my words and direct action caused him to veer about 45 degrees so instead of being in a straight line directly at me, he ended up passing about two metres in front of me, and said, “Yes, everything is totally alright”.
He was still punching his fist into this other hand, and the way he spoke confirmed to me, that NO, everything was NOT alright.
Everything about the pace and actions of his body movements was aggressive.
The tone of his voice was condescending and aggressive, and he enunciated his words. Yes… Everything… Is… Totally… Alright…
His tone of voice was supercilious, his words showed awareness of me, and the fact he continued walking another five metres away from me to the edge of the grass and then stopped- decided it for me.
I pulled my little dog on the lead, and with a fast pace started to walk back the way we had come — which was the opposite direction to which we had been walking.
I was on the verge of running.
I kept my eye on him the whole time my body poised to run. This meant I was not looking at the path (although at a glance I could see for about 50 metres that no one else was on it).
He continued to walk at a slower pace in the opposite direction to me.
He rounded the bend, and I could no longer see him.
I ran until I exited the gate I had entered only a few minutes previously, and then with my heart rapidly beating, I saw a lady with a pram about 20 metres walking towards me.
I was focused on getting the registration number of his car, but when I saw the lady, I knew I had to warn her.
I spoke to her, and she decided to change direction and thanked me for letting her know.
I explained that “nothing” had happened, but everything about his actions had warned frightened me. The lady agreed his actions appeared threatening and strange and especially walking directly at me, punching his fist in his palm.
I was only about 150 metres from home, and I remembered as I entered my house that I had intended to get his car registration number.
I debated with myself whether to drive down and get it, but my husband was up, and I ended up going over the incident with him, talking about it, and decided then to leave it.
I regret not driving back to get his rego number.
About 10 hours later when I was in bed, I checked the local neighbourhood watch group, and there was a warning about a barefoot man being seen entering yards of properties during that day, on the road that ran parallel to the walkway (about a kilometre behind). I feel sure it was the same man. Someone in the comments had mentioned that she had encountered a man behaving aggressively on the seaside walkway earlier in the day. I could have kicked myself. If I had gone back and gotten his rego number I could have handed it to the police.
I have gone over the incident in my mind several times.
- I am glad I listened to the warning signs in my gut.
- I am glad I noticed him striding rapidly towards me, punching his fist into his hand.
- I am glad I put up my hand in stop motion.
- I am glad I spoke loudly and authoritatively to him.
- I am glad I turned back and went towards safety and didn’t continue my walk.
But, there are some things I would do differently.
- I would go and get his rego number when I remembered.
- I would have run as fast as I could the instant I saw him walking towards me punching his hand — ran back the way I came. I would not care if I was making a mistake, and he intended no harm.
If he had not stopped and veered away at my voice and had instead reached me in another two steps and punched me in the side of the head it could have ended differently.
I should have physically gotten myself out of danger quicker than I did.
In analysing this situation over and over since it occurred, I have realised how fear of behaving out of “the norm” prevents us from physically reacting. Our brain is so busy trying to normalise and rationalise that danger is upon us, and we are still trying to behave “civilised” instead or reacting on our animal instincts.
My instinct was activated. I noticed it. The enteric nervous system of our gut is sometimes called our second brain. If our “gut” is saying “danger”, we need to listen. It is our survival mechanism.
Our gut is lined with nerve cells — a neural network that is part of our nervous system and connects to our brain. It is reacting to both conscious and unconscious signals from our external and internal environment.
Unfortunately, with the growth of our prefrontal cortex, us humans forget we are animals, and try and “rationalise” and “talk” ourselves out of situations (either talking to the other we are in danger from or talking ourselves out of listening to our instinct).
My instinct served me well. I did not 100% listen to it when it told me to run. But, I did react. Enough that the man altered his actions, which allowed me to get away.
I am safe.
Trust your body.
It tells you when danger is present. Do not discount your gut. It could save you from harm.
GUT OVER BRAIN comes first at these times.