Hiding in Plain Sight
Updated: Nov 21
Twelve years ago I visited Costa Rica with a dear friend who was trying to escape an abusive relationship. She never did.
Recently I discovered my photos of our visit to this tropical paradise. Our first meal in a café was shared with monkeys surrounding us. They danced above us as we dined. They dove through the cafe’s latticework roof onto tables and landed on our shoulders. It seemed funny, at first. The monkeys were entertaining. They were so cute. Suddenly, they became frightening. They landed on our table, snapping their teeth, grabbing food from our plates, then disappearing into the jungle canopy above us. We felt threatened, uneasy. These adorable looking monkeys had suddenly turned into vicious predators. Who knew?
We visited the famous San Antonio Park National. Visitors were limited, so we arrived early to a vacant beach. The beautiful harbor was peaceful. We were the only two on the beach. The locals had warned us of this secluded spot. “Watch out for the Manchineel Trees” (Hippomane Mancinella) they said. “They are highly poisonous. If you touch the leaves, the bark or the tree it can be a deadly wound. Be sure to stay away from these trees, don’t scratch yourself on its surface.” A tree? Really? I thought, as we made our way to the water and plunged into the delightful cooling waves.
Mountains surrounded our little secluded beach, raising their heavenly heads above us as we contentedly floated on the pristine waters. We raced from the water to where we had draped our beach towels. That’s where I stumbled over the devious hidden branch of the dreaded Manchineel Tree. My leg bled and bled, all the way up and down the streets of the tiny town. Monkeys chattered above me, laughing, no doubt. Souvenir hawkers screamed their wares. I still wear the scar which took a year to heal from a weeping wound consecrated to me from the hidden Manchineel Tree. Who knew?
There were so many beautiful sights as we toured Costa Rica, as well as many frightening moments. The drive in our rented jeep up the long, wash-boarded dirt road to Volcano Arenal at sunset rattled our teeth and tailbones. The volcano erupted, as if on cue, from its depths. Bus-sized flaming lava flew from its gaping depths.
In the darkening twilight we drove back down the wash-boarded dirt road contentedly. In a ditch by the side of the road we passed what appeared to be a disabled vehicle with people in need of help. We had read of this ploy: Americans always stop to help others. We knew. We raced by the disabled vehicle. In our rear-view mirror we saw four men jump into the vehicle, fly out of the ditch, and follow us at breakneck speed. The men were screaming in their vehicle behind us. My dear, brave, amazing- driving-maniac friend drove like a wild woman. We were pitched from side to side on the dirt wash-boarded road, closely followed by the four screaming men. We jumped ditches and potholes and finally reached the main road back to Hotel California. Suddenly, the raging, screaming men dropped back and disappeared.
My leg continued to bleed. My dear friend cried herself to sleep every night. She missed the abusive man she had fled. I missed my loving sweetheart, waiting at home for me, the salve for my wounds.
We two women travelers realized our limitations and the dangers of a strange country. This was an other-culture, absent-law, non-policing country we did not understand. There were threats all around us from people, animals and trees hidden in the sand at peaceful-seeming lagoons.
My faithful traveling companion was much braver than I. She ziplined over the jungle canopy serenaded by eerily screaming Howler Monkeys.
I floated in our Hotel California pool, sipping Vodka Tonics.
We spent hours every night in the hotel lobby, me, trying to connect with my sweetheart in our Tampa home. She, trying to avoid the constant nasty, sweet, threatening phone messages from her abuser in Clearwater.
* * *
I brought home many souvenirs and memories from Costa Rica: a box of Dominoes for Tim, fabrics and feather paintings for friends, and a special pencil box for me. I cherish this pencil box. It is wooden, carved and hand painted with the portraits of two women, surrounded with the flora of Costa Rica and the Arenal Volcano in the background. Within this box I hold my most treasured pens and pencils. I know the faces on this box very well. I never really examined the faces on my pencil box closely. For some reason, tonight, I did.
The faces of the two women are unsmiling. Their eyes are filled with pain, despair. There is the beauty behind them of the Arenal Volcano, the jungle, but their eyes tell the true story of the landscape.
Why had I never noticed their mournful expressions before? To my eyes n of today, they appeared hopeless, despairing and sorrowful. How had I overlooked their pain for all these years on my coffee table which I used everyday? They were hiding in plain sight.
I had gone on this journey to heal my abused friend, who couldn’t be helped by me, or anyone. These two sad women stared at me from my pencil box. All were hidden in plain sight, the same way in which I overlook women in my world today. Abused women hide in the outliers of my life. Women who hurt and hide their pain. It requires work to unearth their hiding places, wherever these women might be. I recognize those hidden in plain sight. Many years ago I came out of the shadows.
My friends tell me I watch too much crime. I concur. I am obsessed with the entrapment, nightmares, horrific assaults and murders of women. We are so vulnerable. Tim always says, “Women go through life with a target on their backs.” Reluctantly, I agree.
In this holiday season let’s discover, unearth and lift up, in whatever means possible, these women immersed in their ponds of pain. They are looking for an uplifting hand to pull them from their muck of abuse. This abuse is the danger that lurks in beautiful, camouflaged, hidden places; the monkeys on our backs. These women who hide in plain sight.
Be on the alert, ladies. We never know when that monkey will land on our shoulders, looking adorable, to suddenly change into a predator with gnashing teeth and grasping hands. Take care of one another.
Look for those hidden women in our everyday lives.
To contribute to women in need contact:
The Spring, 813.247.7233,
National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 800.799.7233,
Tampa Crisis Center: 855.773.6800
or your favorite charity.