The parking lot was old and grimy and so were most of the cars. I was near downtown Los Angeles at Eighth and Alvarado streets. Ordinarily I wouldn't stop in this part of town for a quick lunch, but today it made sense; my next appointment was only a block away. I crossed the lot and got in to my car. Rolling the window down a few inches for fresh air, I locked the door and drove out.

As I paused at the driveway to check for traffic I heard a loud banging from the front of my car. I jerked my head around to discover a tall, skinny black woman pounding her fist on the hood. Next, she ran around to my door, shoved her hand through the window opening and grabbed the back of my hair. She slammed my head into the steering wheel and side window again and again, throwing me around like a rag doll as she screamed obscenities.

"This is crazy" I thought. "I'm in the car. She's on foot. So, I'm in control." I gunned the accelerator and pulled out into traffic. I was sure she'd let go.

She didn't. Her fist was clamped around my hair with a death grip. I squeezed down harder on the gas pedal. She was still there. I sped up to 50 mph carrying her entire body weight with just my head.

Then, as suddenly as she'd grabbed me, she was gone. I looked up in the rear view mirror, saw her bounce on the pavement behind my car, then jump to her feet and set off running back where we'd been. It was surreal.

"That woman's bionic! I thought. She could hurt somebody!"

Dazed, I drove a few more blocks. It occurred to me I should call the police and report her. I called from a pay phone. To my surprise, the officer knew all about the assault. In fact, they already had the woman in custody. He advised me to return to that parking lot and identify myself to the officer taking the report.

Very, very carefully I drove back, window rolled up all the way. When I got there I saw police cars, a couple of ambulances, and three big guys sitting on the curb, all of them bleeding from savage wounds on their faces, necks and arms. It was like something out of a Fellini movie.

I parked, went to an officer who seemed to be writing up a report and told him who I was. Pointing to the three injured men, I said "What happened to them? He said "All I know is this woman came barreling down the street cursing a blue streak and headed for one of them. The poor guy tried to subdue her but she tore into him so bad he didn't know what hit him. It was obvious she had the upper hand, so those other two guys ran over to help, and she just beat the crap out of them, too. When we got here she was still beating on them. It took special restraining equipment to get her on the ground. We had a hell of a time!"

"That can't be!" I said. "I saw her hit the street behind my car, get back on her feet, and take off running. Nobody could do that!"

"Well" the officer said, "She could. Loaded on PCP."

He turned back to his report and proceeded to question me about being attacked. When he said we were done, I headed back to my car. I didn't feel exactly right and couldn't think what I was supposed to do now. I thought "If someone called and told me this had just happened to her – what would I tell her?" I didn't have a clue. But it occurred to me that perhaps I should call someone.

I found another pay phone and called my friend, Roz. Thankfully she answered. I told her what I'd just been through ending with "I just can't think what I'm supposed to do now. I have a 2:00 pm appointment with a client a block from here, but I don't know if I should go."

"For God's sake!" she said "Go home! You've just been attacked and you're probably in shock. When you get home, call your office, then call me." I thought, "Oh, so that's what I'm supposed to do. Okay. Go home. Yeah. That way I can sit down and sort all this out."

I started the 10 mile drive to my apartment when I noticed something odd. "This street's so wide. I wonder why all the cars squeeze so close together following one another." I noticed lines painted on the street and wondered what they were for. Since everybody seemed to be following right behind the car ahead, I figured I should do that, too.

The traffic moved along for a block or so when the car in front of me slowed, then stopped. Since he stopped, I did, too. After a few moments, he started driving again. In a block or so he did it again. I couldn't understand why this guy kept stopping. Then I noticed a rectangular box on a pole above the intersection. A red light was lit up. It went off, a green one lit up. The traffic started moving again. I thought "That's strange, I wonder who'd put lights up there?"

I knew something wasn't right, so I paid close attention to what went on around me. I did what other drivers did. It never occurred to me to pull over. Roz said I was supposed to get home. How I did so without an accident, I will never, ever know.

When I walked in, my place looked strangely unfamiliar. I got as far as the dining area, stopped and stood for, I think, a long time. "I'm supposed to do something, but I can't think what." I glanced around the room and noticed the phone. "Call the office. That was it."

I picked up the phone and stared at it blankly. "I don't know what buttons I'm supposed to push. That's not right. I call my office all the time, don't I?" Then I remembered numbers on my business card. I dug into my purse and pulled one out. I examined it for several minutes. "It's got my name on it. It must be mine. I don't know what all this other stuff means, but that's my name."

I slowly punched in the numbers and told the receptionist I wanted to talk to my boss. She put him on the phone and I told him what had happened. I must have made sense because he acted like I did. "Are you hurt?" he asked. I said I didn't think so. "Well, you'll need to fill out an accident report for us." Long pause. "Have you called your doctor? You need to see him before you come back to work." I said, "Yeah, I feel a little weird, like I'm in a cloud or something. That's probably a good idea." Then he asked when I thought I'd be coming back to work. I said "I don't know, maybe tomorrow?" Another long pause. We talked about something else, I think, then hung up. I put the receiver back in the cradle and looked around the room again. It was as if I saw everything through a long tube, or the wrong end of binoculars. I blinked several times, but it didn't clear up.

The phone rang startling me so badly I nearly fell over the table. It was Roz. "Thank God you got home all right. I was beginning to worry when I didn't hear from you." She said in a semi-controlled shriek. "Did you talk to your boss?" I told her I had and that I was supposed to fill out some papers. "Anything else?" she asked. "No." I said. Then, "Yes. Yes, he said I should see my doctor." She agreed, then asked what I was planning to do, right now. I told her "I'm not sure. I really don't know what I should be doing." She suggested I change out of my business clothes into something comfortable, like jeans. That sounded like a good idea. And I think she said I should call my sister.

I hung up the phone and headed to the bathroom catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Clumps of hair clung to the shoulders of my jacket. Huge clumps of hair. Hair covered one sleeve. "Where did this come from?" I stepped closer to the mirror and slowly it dawned on me. "That woman grabbed my hair. She was hanging on to me that way while I dragged her for blocks and blocks. Then I don't know why she fell away." I reached for the hand-held mirror on the counter, held it up behind my head and cautiously turned around to see my reflection. She'd ripped the hair right out of my scalp! That's why she fell away!"

"I'm bald!" I screamed looking at a huge patch of naked scalp staring at me from the back of my head. "I'm bald!" I yelled again. This was unthinkable. I can't have a big bald place on my head. I stared at it a long, long time. It was about four inches in diameter. And the color of my scalp was white. "I have olive complexion." I thought. "Why is my scalp white? Why isn't it tan like the rest of my skin ? Why does it have to be so white?"

Surrounded by my dark brown hair, the bald spot was bright white and terribly obvious. I focused on it a while longer. I finally reached the conclusion that even the best hairstylist in the world couldn't fix it.

I put down the mirror and walked into the bedroom. I stepped out of my high heels, and padded across the floor to the closet. I took off my hair-covered jacket and held it in my hand, staring. "Should I hang it up? Should I put it in a bag for the cleaners? Should I stand here and pick off all the hair first?" I had no idea. I laid it on my bed.

I changed into jeans, pulled on a sweater and walked back into the front room. As I entered the room, I thought I heard a noise just outside my front door. I froze.

"What was that?!" I thought. "Is someone on the other side of my door? Could it be that woman? Could she have gotten away from the police and found out where I lived? Could she be standing there waiting for me to open the door so she can grab and hurt me?

I stood perfectly still, careful not make a noise. My mind raced in every direction.

"Oh my God, she came back to kill me! That's it! That's exactly it!" Then something totally unexpected happened. My head told me it wasn't the black woman outside the door at all. It was my abusive grandmother. "But Grandma died when I was nine years old! She couldn't be there, on the other side of the door." I began shaking uncontrollably, remembering the beatings she gave me when I was a little girl and the fear and despair that consumed me back then.

"Mommy and daddy are at work. Nobody is home to protect me. I'm alone with Grandma and she's real, real mean."

"Pamela!" she screams, "You're a bad girl! You're a bad, bad girl." She grabs me by the hair and spins me around, slapping me smartly on my face. My head jerks as she hits me hard and I land on the floor. Then, grabbing my arm she yanks me up and shakes me furiously, smacking me into the wall screaming, "You need to be taught a lesson, young lady!"

"Grandma!" I'm yelling back, "Stop! Stop! You're hurting me!"


My heart pounds. I'm not breathing. My body's paralyzed. I wet my pants.

I stand there for a long, long time. The liquid turns cold and my legs feel clammy inside my wet, heavy jeans. Dully, I walk into the bathroom, take off my wet jeans, wash myself, and put on clean clothes.

What happened after that is unclear. I think I called my sister because I remember at one point she was with me that afternoon or evening.

The next morning, every inch of me hurt. I tried to push myself up to get out of bed, but it caused me so much pain I had to raise myself in tiny, little moves. I finally made my way to the bathroom, noticing myself in the mirror as I entered. The left side of my face was puffy and red. The hair on the left side of my head pushed straight out from my scalp, due to the swelling. I looked like a creature from outer space.

I don't remember the trip to the hospital. I remember sitting in a room with people asking me questions. Nothing made sense. All I wanted to do was go to sleep. I kept crying, then going numb, then crying some more.

I remained in that hospital a long time recovering from post traumatic stress disorder, severe head trauma and physical injuries to my neck and upper back.

Recovery was slow and painful. In addition to daily physical therapy, I had to look at ugly things in my past; process mountains of sorrow, fear, anger and resentment, and accept hard truths. After that, came rebuilding and meeting challenges I thought were too hard to manage. But over many months, I was restored to a whole, fully functional person once more.

Thank God for friends like Roz and for my sister, Sheila, who visited me every single day. I was compromised, and they loved me anyway.

That hospitalization and the psychiatric and medical care benefitted me far more than anyone could imagine. Significant, life-changing lessons came directly from that experience, lessons for living that have added mightily to the quality of my life and my outlook on the world around me.

Yeah, life's unfair. People let us down. Accidents happen. Financial reversals devastate future plans. Jobs are lost. Loved ones die. But the perspective I've wrested from my experience trump anything life has strewn in my path.

Wellness is a privilege, not a right. Being able bodied enough to work is an honor. Having my own place to live is a blessing. Getting in my car and driving where I want is a freedom I once took for granted.

Life is to be cherished.

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