Tough break is a reminder of times past

Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 09:17

“Ker-thwap!”

I landed on my bum, and looked down to see my right leg pointed in an odd direction.

I think the only thought I could have after that, was, “I’m not going to get out of this that easy.”

In other words, when your legs are supposed to be pointing east, but one of them is pointing north, there’s no shaking it off and heading for home.

That was the beginning of my broken leg adventure, which of course, still continues. I hope to be back on both feet again soon, but the body needs time to heal.

This broken leg, while not life-threatening, really shook up my plans for this 2016. You see, I had planned to be joining The Star team as editor a full month before I actually landed here in Eagle River.

The month of hospitals, surgery and recovery was such a throwback to the time I decided to be a journalist — also a story of pain and recovery.

It was 1989, and I was fond of jogging along a hillside path, just off of Alpine Avenue in Menlo Park, California.

It was July. It was a Saturday. It was hot. I had tickets to see David Sanborn, the famed saxophonist that night. My dear friend Peter, a mathematics teacher at Palo Alto High School, was lined up to be my date.

As I set out for my jog, my black Nike high tops pounding down on the dusty summer trail, I listened to the soulful stylings of rocker Chrissie Hynde singing about the Middle of the Road on my bright yellow Sony Sports Walkman.

My feet went pad, pad, pad on the dirt path across the bridge and up the hill toward the Stanford University satellite dish.

Bright sun and clean air often dull one into a sense of rightness. As if there could be no wrong in the world. I have often wondered what clues I missed on that fateful morning, but I have never came to a clear conclusion other than that was the day my life took on meaning and purpose.

The day I thought I might die.

I had rounded the hill and headed back towards the bridge. Lou Reed, on the cassette tape sang.

Baby I see this world has made you sad

Some people can be bad

The things they do, the things they say

But baby I’ll wipe away those bitter tears

I’ll chase away those restless fears

That turn your blue skies into grey

Why worry? There should be laughter after pain

There should be sunshine after rain

These things have always been the same

So why worry now? Why worry now?

“Thwap,” went the first blow, “Thwap, thwap,” went the second and third. I fell to my knees, and then tumbled under the bridge. Blood gushed from a V-shaped gash on the back of my skull and I feared for my life.

As I gathered my wits about me and tried to slow my breathing down, I felt another person’s breath on the back of my neck. A man.

My face in the dirt, I was completely overpowered. The Walkman had been knocked from my body, but I could still hear cassette tape whirring.

A moment passed and the man took off my running shoes, one Velcro strip at a time. He threw the shoes into the water and he was gone.

I managed to get to the other side of the bridge, hoping I wasn’t hurt that badly. I thought perhaps I could just shower and move on as if this had never happened to me. But no.

Later at Stanford University Hospital, I was questioned by unsympathetic police officers, county sheriff deputies and even university police: Each with their own agenda, and each accusing me of hiding the identity of my own assailant. The sworn protectors of this community would rather pin the assault on the victim, than go out and solve the crime. (This was pre-DNA, folks).

I felt voiceless.

It wasn’t until a good friend and neighbor, who was also an editor at The San Jose Mercury News, reached out and told me to keep telling my story, that I even found any hope.

Another friend, who worked at The San Mateo Times, alerted me to another case in Menlo Park, near the Safeway grocery store. The attack had so many similarities to mine.

I reached out to a reporter at the Palo Alto Daily News and I kept myself informed. Each time there was a new attack, and subsequent media coverage, it was like reliving the original trauma. I kept hoping either the police would catch my attacker, or someone would read the newspaper articles and be able to identify him. (This was pre-Google, Twitter and Facebook folks, so bear with me).

Here’s how it ended. As printed in The Los Angeles Times:

 

CALIFORNIA IN BRIEF: STANFORD: Rapes Linked to Man Who Killed Girl, Self

August 18, 1990|

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

A man who killed a teenage girl before taking his own life early this month may also have attacked four women in the foothills near Stanford University, police said. Robert Michel Christy, 28, shot himself to death in his car soon after killing 17-year-old Stephanie LeDoux in Rocklin on Aug. 3.

Stanford police said he may have been the “foothill rapist,” wanted for one rape and three rape attempts that appear to have been connected. No motive has been established for the killing of LeDoux, who was returning home from a date when she apparently got into an altercation with Christy. Stanford police Capt. Raoul Niemeyer said Christy was “linked definitely” to one of the attempted rapes because he left behind his eyeglasses and a distinctive folding knife.

A little more than 13 months after my assault, the case was solved. The assailant was dead and I could move on with my life.

But because I had been mixed up in the investigation, not only from the victim’s side, but also from the investigator’s and journalist’s point of view, I had already enrolled in classes at College of San Mateo, with an emphasis on journalism, and later I transferred to San Francisco State University’s journalism program. I was learning to give voice to the voiceless.

So, what does this have to do with a broken leg, you ask? Well, nothing really. But in the seconds as I sat on the icy-cold cement, looking at my wrong-pointing leg, I thought about how this was a break I wasn’t going to be able to shake off, go home and forget about.

I also thought about the mess that got me into journalism in the first place. And then I remembered what a wild adventure I’ve been on, as I have pursued my life’s passion. And I smiled and hummed the song “Why worry...” as the EMTs carted me off to the hospital.

To be continued ...

Suzanne Ashe can be reached at suzanne.ashe@alaskastar.com.

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