Six years ago, Jeanette Buck, was standing in her kitchen preparing a salad for her evening meal when a man entered her apartment, brutally beat her until her head cracked open, and left her for dead in a pool of blood on the floor. Ms. Buck survived, and has written a play about her physical and, perhaps more importantly, emotional and spiritual recuperation. Now, "There Are No Strangers" has premiered in Washington, D.C.
All she can remember is heavy black boots. She doesn't remember the face of the man who was wearing them, and he hasn't been caught. Those are the answers to the most frequent questions Jeanette Buck gets about her attack. But they're not the most important questions for her and they're not what she dwells on in her one-woman play.
"I was in the wrong place at a very wrong time. Or was I? Were we destined to meet? Was he waiting for me? Was this experience waiting for me?"
Jeanette Buck says she avoided describing the gruesome details of the assault in her play.
"There's not dunh-dunh dunh-dunh, you know, there's not those kind of details, there's all the other details that are involved with pulling yourself back together after this has happened and the search for why and the search for meaning and the search for what do I do now."
In 1999, Jeanette Buck, a seasoned theatrical stage manager and budding filmmaker, had just moved into a new apartment in Los Angeles, California. Here's how she describes it in the play:
"I would come home late from work. I'd walk along the alleyway through the Mexican tiled courtyard to my little bougainvillea-covered house. The police found a dusty chair imprinted with footprints on the other side of our fence. Could he see through my windows from that vantage point? If he was watching me, how come I didn't notice? How long did he know about me without me knowing about him? I struggled to uncover the lessons this experience has to offer. I hope that they're there. I worry that if I don't learn from this experience I will have to relive it."
One of the first lessons was how to accept help. And Jeanette Buck says she learned it well because of an overwhelming outpouring of support from people she knew ... and those she didn't.
"When people that I didn't know, when friends of friends, sent me money to help me with my medical bills, I'll never be able to thank those people appropriately because I don't even know them. "
Others offered spiritual guidance. One friend, a Quaker, asked "Are you holding your attacker in the light?" [looking for the good in him?]
"I'm being held in the light by so many people. Can I hold my attacker in the light? Am I capable of seeing, as the Quakers say, 'that of God in this man?'"
Another of Jeanette's lessons is captured in the title of her play, "There Are No Strangers."
"I say in the play, and I think about this in life, that everything is connected. Are he and I connected? Is it possible that our souls have made an agreement? A pact of sorts in which he has agreed to damage me?"
In the play, she says: "So how do you make sense of the connections between things? I try to make sense of the relationship that I have to this man who attacked me, if there is one. And so when you start thinking about how everybody is connected, then you start to think, well, we all have a relationship with each other in some way or another. And so, in that sense, we aren't strangers with one another."
Actress Holly Twyford, who portrays Jeanette in the play, says she didn't see it that way at first.
"It would be a better world if we looked at it that way. It isn't just us and them. We're all in it together." Ms Twyford goes on to say, "I have not had the experiences that Jeanette has had, and yet I am, I think, in a lot of ways, a much more cynical person. So I think my initial reaction was, 'You're kidding me, right? Why are you not incredibly pissed off (angry) at this experience?' And I was not the only one. Other people have said, 'Where's the rage?' And I think that I've come to a place now where I understand it."
So where is Jeanette's rage? She says, "I don't have what everybody seems to thinks I should have. I mean, we have to help these people [people who do bad things] because they're lost. That's kind of where I'm coming from. I mean, that man lives in a lot of darkness. And I obviously don't."
As Jeanette Buck writes in play, "We come to agreements with each other maybe in this life, maybe beyond. Either way, there are no strangers."
For now, Jeanette is enjoying positive reviews of her first play. Since the assault, she has become a licensed massage therapist, continues to work as a stage manager, and is the production manager for Washington's Theater J, where her play premiered. As for filmmaking? It's no longer her focus, but she says she remains open to whatever life brings her way.