by Cathy Arden on August 31, 2014


I’ve managed a solo mission on Outward Bound in the freezing and snow covered Colorado mountains.   I’ve climbed Cardiac Gap in the hot prickly desert of Tucson, Arizona and triumphed when I reached Geronimo Meadows. I was told Geronimo hung out here. I thought of Geronimo a lot that day.   It was thrilling to be in a spot where he walked.

On both of these excursions in Colorado and Arizona, I thought I wouldn’t make it.   Going solo in the snow of a Colorado mountain was more frightening psychologically than it was physically. For some reason, I was confident I could keep myself warm.   I brought the right stuff. But how would I keep my mind safe?   I had brought a notebook and a pen.   This had kept me safe my whole life up until that point. It’s how I got through a difficult childhood.   So I relied on it now to keep my thoughts intact, to keep my mind from entering a black hole.

In Arizona, I looked up at the climb before me and respected that this trail was named Cardiac Gap for a reason. I came to a dead stop just below Geronimo Meadows. It seemed too far away from where I was now. I was bent over, gasping for air, soaked in sweat. This was harder than the NY Marathon I had run decades before. I was sure I couldn’t make it up this last section of switchbacks, leading to Geronimo Meadows.   I could see the people I had been climbing with, more expert than I was, relaxing up there. I had never felt so hot. I had never been so thirsty. I was dizzy. I was weak. I had nothing left.   Worst of all, I was convinced this was the end of the line for me. I’d have to stop here, in the middle of the trail, and face heading down the mountain before I had reached the summit. I couldn’t face the physical defeat. I couldn’t face the humiliation. Geronimo had been up in that meadow. I had to make it there. I kept going, in spite of my body telling me to stop. Don’t stop. Pain be damned.

I am all hokos-pokos when it comes to fear.   I may as well be performing magic tricks to make it disappear. Because it does feel like I’ve developed stunts over the years to keep it at bay. But there was a moment in time when what I used to survive was not magic at all, but rather pure instinct and the will to live. It was 31 years ago today, on August 31st, 1983. I was raped in Central Park at gunpoint. In so many ways, I was just plain lucky, as so many who are raped are not.   I survived, I healed, I became a volunteer Rape Crisis Counselor in two New York City hospitals, and I have many people to thank for this. No one can heal alone from a traumatic event. It takes a community of healers, and I was lucky enough to find those people and allow myself to be embraced and taught by them.   I wish for every rape survivor the same courage and determination to find the help they so desperately need.

So it is important to commemorate a day that has long past, that is a part of my life experience, that helps me to help others, that made me stronger and more resourceful and pushed me up real and metaphoric trails and mountains.   And to honor all the other rape survivors and the victims who did not survive, and to tell the truth which hopefully, in turn, will encourage others to emerge from their dark places of shame and sorrow.

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, THE RED DIRT ROAD, in it’s final editing process:

“A rush of words. Any words. Keep talking. I had to keep talking. Try to get out of this. With words. My body was no longer mine. Words were all I had left…  I talked. I lied. Get him to respond. Make him feel sorry for me. Distract him. Confuse him. Maybe he’ll get so confused he’ll let me go. I kept thinking, thinking, thinking. How do I get out of this?  There’s a gun to my head. How do I get out of this? How do I stay alive? I left my body. I stepped into my brain. It was the only way out. “



{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Iris August 31, 2014 at 8:18 PM

Bravery, thy name is woman. You have survived hell and back, and here you are stronger than ever and finding new and exciting challenges. Bravo!


Steve Howard September 1, 2014 at 8:07 PM

You do a great service by exposing this trauma, Cathy. That is courageous.


Diana Carr September 3, 2014 at 7:19 AM

I am in absolute awe of you! Your strength, your courage, your wisdom. Using this horrific experience, not to feel like a victim, but to empower yourself and lead the way for others. We need more people like you in the world.


Amy Louise Pommier September 20, 2014 at 8:44 PM

It’s inspiring to be reminded by you of what courage and generosity of spirit it takes to turn a horrifying, wounding, infuriating experience into a way to help and give strength to others. You took the most positive possible approach to both your own personal suffering and fear and outrage and the suffering of others in devoting your time to helping others.

Violence against women is one of the major outrages of human existence. What will it take to change this dark expression of the dark side of humans? At least you have done much to help others and yourself to heal.

And you help others, as well, by writing about it and sharing something of your view of the dark reality of fear and violence.


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