The one-inch piece of invisible tape had not been disturbed. I reached up and peeled it off the door jamb, unlocked the door, and entered my apartment. If the guy who'd threatened my life had been waiting for me inside, broken tape would have warned me.
The guy systematically threatened and terrorized me—a personal, intimate kind of terrorism. My terrorist was a stranger, a male voice on the phone that began calling me over Memorial Day weekend in 1982. The calls ranged from sweet to obscene to threatening, the tone of his voice piercing and insistent. He told me that if I didn't talk to him, he'd kill me. He knew my home address. Because he'd threatened my life, I called the police.
The police could do nothing unless he acted on his threat: tried to kill me. They told me how to document the calls; they told me who to call at the phone company; and they encouraged me to seek support from friends, family, and victims' organizations, all of which I did. They advised me to never be alone when I left the apartment and to vary my routine—especially my commute to and from work. Every male in my life became a suspect, including the guy I was dating. The phone company did their best, but their call tracing equipment was not very sophisticated and to build a legal case, we had to document a minimum of three traced calls. It took time.
Most days during June 1982 when I arrived home after work, I followed a routine: walk through the apartment, check inside closets, check the bathroom tub, wash up, change to casual clothes, and turn on my stereo. What I did next kept me sane during this stressful, terrifying time: I played my vinyl LP of the Brahms First Piano Concerto.
I don't recall now how I chose the Brahms First as comfort music for soothing and calming me, for helping me to ground myself so the fear could not blow me away. I heard defiance as well as passion in the first movement (Maestoso). The tempo and rhythms took control of my breathing. I lay down on the floor equidistant between the stereo speakers and closed my eyes to listen. I imagined myself defying my terrorist. I imagined trapping him. I imagined the police arresting him.
The second movement (Adagio) captured my despair exactly. I longed for my life to return to the way it had been. The piano played the sound of my loss of innocence, my sorrow. I listened as my breathing slowed to the Adagio's time and my muscles relaxed slowly. I floated in this sound like in water. It buoyed me. I could open to surviving the terrorist, overcoming my fear, being strong.
By the time the last movement began with its driving, confident piano, I had totally relaxed, ready for that music's propulsive determination. I heard hope in the rising lyrical melody. I would get through this terrifying time, and I would survive. I'd win. The terrorist would lose. Brahms replenished my strength and cleared my thinking.
After the phone company told me they'd need a second month of tracing the terrorist's calls, I decided that I'd had enough. I changed my phone number. The police warned me that the week after I did so would be the most dangerous for me—and indeed, the terrorist tried to break into my apartment but failed. Other residents frightened him away, but couldn't describe him. The police never caught him—but I won, thanks to Brahms.
Cinda Yager writes essays, fiction, and two blogs in Minnesota. She loves classical music and has just published an e-book novel set in the classical music world, Perceval's Secret.