Silence between us grew thick and heavy during the elevator ride and persisted in the car. Odera dwelled within herself, staring out the passenger window wearing a pensive expression. I flicked on the signal light replaying Brinkman’s session and his rules. Everything had a surreal quality to it, as though I was living someone else’s life, as though I had stepped out of my body and now looked down at two familiar, yet strange people. Before I realized where we were, I had pulled into Odera’s underground parking space.
“We need to talk,” we both said simultaneously.
Laughter broke the quietude between us.
“Will you reconsider sitting down with dad? I’d like to have my parents’ support as we move forward.”
“First thing Monday. Perhaps we could all have supper. You work out the details.”
“If Daddy fires you, I’ll motivate him to re-hire by threatening to move in with you, which may result in a second raise as well,” she said grinning widely.
“Another Tony Robin’s motivational graduate spreads her wings.”
“Would Mike add restrictions if you were fired?”
“That depends. If it was the result of criminal activity, he’d imprison me. If it was for reasons such as job performance, he’d most likely monitor me more closely, extra interviews and whatnot. Being unemployed could be interpreted as increased risk due to financial pressures. Suspicion of wrongdoing is the worst. Beck can justify prison if he receives what he feels is a credible complaint.”
“You leave Daddy to me. Mom will adore you as soon as she finds out you’re an artist.”
“What time is it?”
“Almost two. Shall we move our conversation upstairs?”
“Are you ready for this?”
“I am if you’re with me. Having second thoughts?”
Lest I speak a falsehood, a period of quiet stillness hung between us. Currents of flight echoed in my mind. Odera looked nervous.
“I am way out of my element. This openness leaves me constantly uncomfortable.”
“We have a little of that in common, but for different reasons. Did you feel anxious when I said how I felt about you during session?”
“I was so preoccupied trying to stay open, to wrap my brain around the casualness Brinkman has toward intimacy, it did not sink in. We’ve formed a bond, I know that, but shallow for me might be strong for you.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Bruce. Just because you’re treading unfamiliar ground does not mean it’s not there. Feeling uncertain is understandable. I used to love having friends over to the house, girls’ night out, attending social bashes, but not now. Now I’d rather curl up around a book. Being in large groups feels daunting. Whenever I am around strangers, my heart speeds up and butterflies fill my stomach. Cashier lines bristle the hairs on the back of my neck. I’m always wondering if someone’s watching me, planning another attack. I know that’s silly. But I can’t help scanning the store every ten seconds. My skin crawls when I feel eyes on me. Dr. Brinkman called it hyper-vigilance. And he mentioned post-traumatic stress disorder.”
“Your survival instincts have awakened. It sounds like you’ve regressed.”
“To a more primal state where vigilance enhances survival. Where right or wrong are nonexistent, like in nature where murder and rape are neither good nor bad.”
“How can you say that? Of course, they are wrong.”
“Nature has two rules: survival of the fittest and adaptation, which is really part of the first rule. Society is an artificial matrix made up of rules and concepts like right and wrong. We enforce these concepts to assuage our fears, to instil a sense of certainty, which reduces stress. In theory, the weakest member is supposed to be able to walk the streets without fear. Rules establish behavioural predictability. The military defines contact with the enemy under rules of engagement. Each team member knows what to expect from the other. Society uses rule of law for the same purpose. We rely on predictability to feel safe. We laugh, play, and watch TV feeling safe and sound as a storm rages outside, but let thunder suddenly crack, let the power go out, and we shiver and shake like wet puppies. Human beings usually fear the unexpected.
“Society defines rape as immoral and unlawful, but in nature a tomcat kills kittens to send the feline back into heat so he can mate with her. It is a proclamation of his dominance. Society defines the feline and her kittens as victims of rape and murder, and the tomcat as a perpetrator. We punish the tomcat fearing we will become his next victim. It’s a reminder that society does not tolerate Nature’s rule. Society would turn the tomcat into a stepfather, but there’s a problem. In evolutionary terms, society is an infant, but our brains are still wired to hunter/gather days.”
“You mean to say that we haven’t come out all the way out of the jungle?”
“Right. For instance, in nature, a stallion defeats his rivals, wins a harem and mates with each mare. By societal standards, he’s rapist polygamist and no longer an equine king propagating genetic supremacy. Our collective morality defines what is good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable. It punishes tens of thousands of years of evolutionary hardwiring when it conflicts with our morals.
“Rape is fuelled by aggression and dominance and empowered by excesses. Nature owns majestic excesses. Of the millions of sperm in semen, only the quickest reaches the egg. Sperm do not simply enter the female and rest; they fight their way upstream to reach the egg first. Ocean-going salmon, warriors all, arrive at spawning grounds bruised and battered to deposit millions of eggs. Males cloud the waters with sperm seeking genetic continuance.
“An apple tree produces apples galore, the majority of which fall to the ground and rot, but it takes only one successful seed among tens of thousands of other seeds to continue the species. Nature’s excesses make me wonder if a rapist, or even a promiscuous male, isn’t simply succumbing to an inner drive to spread his genes ad nauseam. Among animals, especially primates, sex is power. Rape just might be the ultimate weapon with which to subjugate one person over another. The female receives the male ― is literally speared. What could be more personally invasive when performed without consent?
“In prison, a watered-down social matrix existed ― diluted because society’s rules are weaker behind prison walls. Prisoners follow a code of conduct that is closer to Nature’s rule. A powerful individual who enforces his will redefines the social contract to his liking. Unless another prisoner is both willing and able to overcome the first, the powerful individual has his way. To the victor go the spoils is little more than the strongest taking what he can, little more than a stallion and his harem, no different from a rapist imposing his will, taking what does not belong to him, subjugating a weaker individual to selfish desires.
“The arseling who raped you exposed a rip in our social fabric, which really isn’t more than an agreement between people to treat each other well. Your attacker set aside the social agreement and took by force what was otherwise denied to him. Now you recognize that society’s veneer of propriety is all that stands between you and Nature’s rule, between victimizer and victim, and that our laws are only as strong as a person’s willingness to abide them. Hyper-vigilance keeps you safer. Helps protect you from those who would express dominance outside social boundaries.
“Prison taught me it was advantageous to distrust, to be vigilant at all times. Your attack triggered similar reverberations. Now, you automatically assess your environment for danger. A knock at your door invokes fear, as do crowds and the presence of strange males. Each scenario puts your body on alert. It could be another rapist. Most people delude themselves into believing society protects them. You know otherwise. Hyper-vigilance is not only a return to a more primitive state; it’s an evolutionary adaptation to an uncertain environment that keeps us safe.”
Odera said, “You’re saying because laws and morality are not true protection, but only an agreement that may be honoured or broken at will, I experience fear because I can’t depend on being safe. And since I lack skills to defend myself where the strong have dominion, I live each day with uncertainty and fear as companions. In other words, I’m no longer living the dream. I’ve become a realist that can no longer live an idealistic lifestyle. Utopian dreams died that night.”
I nodded agreement.
“Isn’t that why we categorize and define our world, to reduce fear, to create a sense of certainty, which in turn invokes a reality we are comfortable with?”
“Do you mean an existence that’s predictable, that we can shape to our liking?”
“Precisely. Imagine walking through a city park at night. You take note of yellow and brown eyes watching you from the darkness. Bushes rustle nearby. An evolutionary response automatically freezes you dead in your tracks. Your ear tilts in the direction of the noise and your pupils pan for more light to collect visual clues. You take quick breaths to charge your system with air. Adrenaline pours into your system while blood moves away from your skin and into your muscles, readying them for action.
“And then the yellow- and brown-eyed owl blinks and you recognize that it’s only a bird. But let a person be raised in a forest, let them be aware of forest elements, and all the previous fear evaporates. There’s your predictability at play. We define to feel safe, to create a sense of certainty that makes us believe we have control over our environment.”
Odera said, “I guess that’s why women enrol in self-defence classes, carry mace and rape whistles. That’s partly why you train so hard. Its why people build fences, install alarm systems, and fight for the right to bear arms. But that’s not me. I refuse to let one creep turn me into a doomsday child who sees apocalypse around the next corner. By far and large, people are good and decent. I know that you served in the military where there was a chance you might be sent into combat, and you also lived a long time in prison where you formed other survival strategies, but I couldn’t live that way. I refuse to live that way. I’m fighting like hell not to live like that.
“An absence of morality exists in nature where no holds are barred and few alliances between animals exist. The lack of law invites chaos. That’s why we created law and order in the first place to reduce chaos. Laws form a framework for alliances between all people and they promote safety. It allows the best of each of us to come forward. I want to trust, to love, to laugh, and to play without worry and fear. If that makes me an unrealistic utopian who’s deluding herself, then so be it. At least I’ll be happily deluded, and I’ll live without fear influencing my every decision.”I shook my head, and said, “No. It makes you remarkably human. Makes you someone who refuses to compromise personal beliefs under threat, and who would risk further personal injury to see their way of life fulfilled. That makes you admirable. Even enviable. People like you are the reason some join the Forces.”