What Fear of Retaliation Looks Like

So I’m reading Jennifer Pharr Davis’ Becoming Odyssa to learn more about what it means to be a thru hiker on the Appalachian Trail. I plan to hike a section of the trail next summer.

I love the read. It’s real and human and reveals a lot about the trail. It also reinforces my notion that being out in nature is a wonderfully healing experience, especially for those that don’t think they need healing!

It took me almost half a day to realize why I struggled though Chapter 9:Oppression. You see, Odyssa came face to face with the fear of retaliation and yet, demurely, did not name it.

Odyssa knew she needed healing and knew the trail would be good for her. Moot helped her understand how some people can be oppressive without knowing they are. It took her 6 days to finally break free of him on the trail and she tried a variety of tactics to break free of him, except for standing up for herself and letting him know she did not like his advances.

Moot was another thru hiker on the trail with Odyssa. And for 6 days, Odyssa was  brilliantly creative and masterful at physical and verbal counter moves to Moot’s persistent attempts of intimacy and advances.

After a seemingly innocent first day, he started to cling. Odyssa tried to hint that she wanted to hike alone. He ignored the attempt. She would wake up early and make time on the trail before he woke up each morning, and he somehow caught up. She faked menstrual pains and embarrassment to try to get physical space, but he hung around to “just in case you need me.” He offered to be her cuddle buddy. He offered to teach her, a sexual virgin, all about sex. For 6 oppressive days, he did everything but read her very overt physical as well as verbal cues that she wanted nothing to do with him and for him to leave her to hike the trail alone, as she had planned to do.

At this point, let me say that if you have not read Becoming Odyssa, I highly recommend that you do. The book is very well written and Odyssa’s account of her experience with Moot is filled with so much more detail and nuance than my short summary there could. I am only half way through the book but I already like Odyssa, I am energized to get on the trail myself and I am MUCH more knowledgeable about trail etiquette and potential challenges.

So, getting back to Odyssa and her encounter with Moot.

I did not struggle with her description of Moot’s advances. I am very familiar with them. I did not struggle with her avoidance tactics. I certainly did not struggle with her choice not to tell him openly, honestly and directly about how she was feeling about him or what she wanted him not to do. I get it. She is alone, in the woods, with a man who wants, seeks and is actually chasing intimacy. She’s scared for her safety. She is also distracted from her purpose – a solo, 2000+ mile, thru hike and the personal growth that comes from such a quest.

What I struggle with in her blaming herself about why she can’t raise the courage to confront him directly. She chastises and berates herself for not being honest and not telling him to stop. For the duration of her oppression, she is ashamed of her lack of Christian honesty. She blames herself. She does not realize, or at least at this point in the book she doesn’t know that her intuition is stopping her from doing what she thinks a good, moral person should do.

Her intuition is forcing her to take evasive action, truly brave evasive moves. It is forcing her to politely and demurely listen to his chatter about being naked together and verbally redirect the conversation to avoid any action she does not want to take. Her intuition is keeping her from harm. Her intuition is inspiring her creativity to move away from the danger as quietly and demurely a possible.

You see, if she were to stand up and honestly name his actions to him, there is no telling what he might do – on this section of the trail or over the course of the next 1500 miles. One could stay up all night imagining the many possible things he might do. Her intuition understood this fear of retaliation and taught her how to stay safe.

So what I struggled with is the fact that she took on the shame and blame for the way he made her feel. She did nothing to deserve that shame or blame. He did everything to not respect her wishes. And yet, she blamed and shamed herself.

I can’t wait to continue reading. I want to learn more about the trail. I want to learn more about Odyssa. And this struggle for me is just enough of a cliff hanger, that I want to see if she comes face to face with her intuition and let’s go of the blame and the shame. I very much doubt that Moot will have any kind of epiphany about his role in her oppression. But I have hope that one day he will.

Meeting and then fully trusting your intuition, without lessening yourself, takes time.

On to the next chapter!

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