For all intents and purposes I was an adult, fully capable of making decisions on health, finances, career and education. However, even at 25 years old, it was the area of dating I was quite the novice. One might expect by mid-twenties a gal would have been through the trials and tribulations of dating and know quite explicitly what she was looking for in Mr. Right, or at least close.
Sure, I had my list I carried around, having read somewhere that's what I should do. He should be tall, dark hair, handsome, obtaining a good education... The list went on. But having been in a six year relationship first set up by my girlfriends, then immediately followed by a two year one, I entered my newly found singlehood with little experience on how to actually date and select a guy.
That was the summer I brilliantly decided to take the optimistic approach. Make lemons from lemonade, I exclaimed! To keep myself focused on my positive dating outlook, I decided to go so far as to post an image of bright yellow lemons on my apartment door. A huge reminder every day. Being a very goal oriented person, I figured this approach would work for my dating endeavors too. Basically, if I couldn't find Mr. Right, I would enjoy some lemons along the way, still having a great summer while doing so; hence, making my lemonade.
I didn't have far to look. A couple of men at my apartment complex were interested in me. I was a bit lonely so I thought, 'not dating material, but I could still have a good time.' After all, it's summer! One I knew had a boat and I thought maybe we could be friends since we'd already been friendly with some small talk at our complex. At the time, however, I knew very little about the man except his occupation and obviously where he lived. So, to me, the novice dater, the small talk and those few facts seemed adequate.
It was a humid, warm evening as the boat started up. Near the dock, everyone was carefree, partying, flirting, enjoying the fun of frolicking by the lake, which ultimately if one ventured far enough, feeds into a Great Lake. Feeling that wind on my face was a pleasurable relief. I couldn't wait to get to the open water, away from the congestion of motor exhaust in the no-wake canal. It was time to roar! My apartment friend, John, seemed happy to have my company on his boat.
The engines, now almost full throttle, roared but were drowned out by the music playing on boat. In my little size 2 summer mini skirt I was enjoying the freedom of the evening, the lightness of the air and the fun of dancing in the back of a speeding boat! I was doing it...making lemonade from lemons and it was tasting pretty sweet.
The sun had set and one beer ultimately turned into three for me, something I was also very novice about in my mid-twenties, especially given my small stature. John asked if I wanted to swim. All along we'd planned it so I said, "Sure!" while peeling off my skirt to my bikini underneath.
Inward we jumped. By now most everything was black. The water quite dark, the cloud cover diminishing any hope of light from a moon. Nighttime was upon us. But that didn't stop us. There was still fun to be had. Not a soul could be seen in any direction, as the lake was enormous in size. And as darkness loomed over, it was an indicator of ominous events to come.
John swam toward me while I was still in my happy boating and swimming, lemon-to-lemonade mode, and with an abrupt change in demeanor said to me, "You know, you don't really know me. For all you know, I could drown you right now."
The shocking and sudden turn of events hit me like the aftermath of an unexpected car accident, except I knew I was perhaps not yet trapped in the wreckage. Instantly, as if I'd been drinking spring water all night, I sobered up. I looked afar, very far, and saw dim lights of a house on land. It was quite a swim, one of those distances I imagine look closer until you actually try to get to it, like a hotel building on a beach that seems ten minutes but is really an hour away by foot. But, at the same time I saw it, I knew it was my only chance of getting help, of possibly surviving without him or the boat. I also knew I was a great swimmer, with no fear of water, and I could make it, no matter the distance. My first strategy would be to get away.
Almost at the same time my mind saw the escape, I casually pretended to minimize what he was saying as if it had no effect on me, and I concurrently swam away from him, creating more distance between us. There was at least some safety in distance, a fleeting chance I might have to swim away at a moment's notice, if I needed to, I reasoned. A few small, exceptionally short conversational pieces later, I made my way into the boat, staying clear of him the entire time.
I remained calm and collected, not showing my immense fear and hoping the boat was my quickest way to safety. I knew being out of the water was at least a start in my possible survival and relief from this situation and potentially dangerous person.
The boat ride back couldn't have been fast enough for me, but we made it to shore at the docks. On the way home, in the car, John kept insisting he was staying at my apartment through and for breakfast. No matter how many times I said no, he said yes. My fear still almost palpable because I knew we lived just a few doors away from each other so I wouldn't be safe until I was alone behind my locked apartment door.
Back at the apartment, John followed me up the stairs to mine regardless of my insistence I was fine and going home alone. Obviously, he already had broken normal boundaries so this was par for his course. As I entered my apartment, he followed me in, uninvited; my door I made sure to remain open. At some point he pressed himself toward me as I was backed against the wall. Both the threatening nature of this man in the lake water and his behavior when I was attempting to depart, were the closest moments I'd ever felt to being harmed on a date, and which would stand as that fact into the rest of my life forward as well.
When I awoke the next day, comforted by the fact I survived, unknown at the time that this experience would be etched in my mind forever, a catalyst to how I was to date from that point forward; an awakening that I really didn't know how to date, and what I didn't know, whom I did trust, almost cost me my life that night.
I looked at that image of lemons I put on the inside of my apartment door, still glaring at me with brightness and freshness, like the naive, trusting girl I was before the date, the lemons-to-lemonade motto I clung to in order to compensate for my loneliness and, without hesitation, I tore it right down. I never questioned its significance or for whom it really was created; all I know is I never again used that saying, never swore by any motto as a guidance in my life.
Many years later when this event was the farthest thing from my mind, and as more dating and relationships had come and gone, I began reading an article, for some unknown reason, on a woman who survived a serial killer. The story was highlighted because she wasn't one who necessarily got away, but rather one he didn't fully prey upon. And the question remained was why. Maybe he had thought to, but he never acted upon it. I don't recall the details of the story or who it was, but what I do vividly remember was the start of her story. She was alone with him, somewhere in an isolated area; she was trusting him on some level and out of nowhere he said to her, "You know, you don't really know me; for all you know I could strangle you right now." Almost word for word what I heard. And with that, chills ran up my spine.
Without hesitation, I thought of that night and John in comparison. Was he a....could I have been...is he one right now? What I do know, is their mindsets were identical at some point. And that's enough for me to know.