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Left for Dead
Brutally attacked on a desolate highway in northern British Columbia, cab driver Marlene Swift thought she’d never see another day.


Brutally attacked on a desolate highway in northern British Columbia, cab driver Marlene Swift thought she’d never see another day.

Marlene Swift

For decades Marlene endured emotional, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of relatives and companions. But nothing matched the nightmare she experienced on a brisk November morning in 1983.

“It was 6:30 a.m.,” recalls Marlene. “A young clean-cut 19-year-old jumped into the front seat of my cab. His destination was Port Edward, a 15-minute highway drive from Prince Rupert, B.C.

“We immediately started to chat,” she continues. “He was looking for work and we discussed the ups and downs of the Prince Rupert economy.”

But as Marlene exited the highway for Port Edward, the young man suddenly slid across the front seat and planted a large knife at the base of her neck. His harsh command was loud and clear. “Turn this cab around and head for Terrace. Do as I say or I’ll slit your throat. I’ve done this before!”

Her mind raced. How can I save my life? Should I drive into the ocean and kill us both? Trembling, Marlene drove back to the highway. She saw the gas tank was near empty. If I can reach the next station, maybe I can get help.

“But I didn’t make it that far,” she states. “The attacker forced me to pull off the road, dragged me out of the cab, beat me and sexually assaulted me. I was left for dead in a ditch.”

A troubled past

When Marlene was just three months old, her mother, who was a heavy drinker, gave her to her grandparents to be raised. Later, two brothers joined Marlene, and two sisters were adopted outside the family.

Young Marlene quickly saw that Grandma and Grandpa were also heavy drinkers. “One thing I detested was Christmas,” says Marlene. “There was constant drinking from December 23 until mid-January. I witnessed arguments that often ended in fist fights. I fought back tears as our Christmas tree was trashed in the middle of one confrontation.”

Although her grandparents were drunk most weekends, they sent Marlene and her brothers to Sunday school. “I was always ready and waiting outdoors before the pastor picked us up,” says Marlene. “My grandparents were always, without exception, intoxicated. I was embarrassed.”

Answered prayer

Because alcohol abuse was prevalent at home, life was turbulent for Marlene, 10, and her younger brothers. One stormy night, they huddled together and prayed that their grandparents would stop drinking and going to bars, and instead go to church.

One week later, her grandmother unexpectedly announced that she had attended a Salvation Army revival service in Prince Rupert. There, she committed her life to Jesus and since then had not returned to the bottle. Later that week, she took Marlene to the revival.

“It was a service I’ll always remember,” says Marlene. In the middle of the preacher’s sermon, the back doors of the church flung open and there stood her drunk grandfather. Marlene was mortified.

He shouted, “I’m a bum. The devil doesn’t want me and God doesn’t want me.” Sobbing and slinging his bottle of wine, he came to the front of the hall, confessed his sins and accepted Christ into his life. From that day forward, he never touched a drink.

Downward spiral

A few years later, Marlene discovered an older sister was actually her birth mother. “I was angry and never called her ‘Mother.’ ” Marlene felt so betrayed she quit going to church. She became timid and shy in high school and was a loner, desperate for love and attention.

At a school dance, Marlene was introduced to alcohol and her first boyfriend. When she turned 16, they married. Over the next 30 years, Marlene married three times, had a son and daughter by different men and lived with two other men.

“All were alcoholics, drug dealers, had extra-marital relations and were violent,” she says. “I still have the scar on my head where I was hit with the spike of a high-heel shoe. There had been drinking and arguing. I lost so much blood, the doctors in emergency said I wouldn’t last the night.”

Marlene’s alcohol and drug abuse escalated each time she was faced with a situation she couldn’t cope with. She gave her daughter to her now-sober grandmother to care for. At 21, she was mixing drinking and hard-core drugs, but felt she was “under control.”

Six months later, Marlene watched her companion, Gord, inject himself in the ankle with drugs. Because of his consistent drug abuse, there was no place left on his body he could puncture. What am I doing? she thought. She abandoned the relationship and her drug use.

“God spared me”

Marlene went to work as a dispatcher at a taxi company in Prince Rupert. She was still drinking heavily while she got her cab-driver’s licence.

“I loved it,” she says. “Until I was attacked.” Marlene still has scars on her hands from protecting herself from the knife-wielding assailant. She dragged herself out of the ditch, crawled to the highway and hailed a truck that took her to safety.

A few days later, Marlene, hidden behind one-way glass, identified her assailant in a line-up at the local jail. It was a traumatic experience and Marlene suffered severe depression as a result. For nine months she never left home. During this time the Prince Rupert Salvation Army pastors, Majors Stan and Judy Folkins, offered her emotional support. “Although I did not attend church, I believed that God spared my life.”

In her darkest hours, Marlene had liquor delivered to her home and gobbled up pills the doctor gave her to suppress the depression. Then, one year after the horrific ordeal, Marlene was to appear in court to testify against her attacker face to face.

“I was so scared,” she says. “I drank until I could drink no more. Disgusted with myself, I called a 12- step program. After one hour on the phone, I put my drink down. The next day, I joined the program. After 20 years, I stopped drinking.”

A life changed

“Although I was clean, I felt something was missing in my life,” says Marlene. “The following Sunday, I went to The Salvation Army, where my grandparents attended, and accepted Christ into my heart.” She began volunteering at the church and drove children to Sunday school.

Bill Swift was Marlene’s husband at the time and she loved him dearly, but her life was changed. “When Bill’s continued drug use drove me down, I asked him to leave,” continues Marlene. “I was new in the Christian walk and sober, and didn’t want to relapse. Not long after Bill left, I received a call saying he was found dead in his bed. There were traces of cocaine and alcohol in his blood. He was 42.”

Marlene was eventually asked to train as an addictions counsellor with The Salvation Army’s Harbour Light program, a residential treatment program for men with addictions. “I was honoured and loved it,” she enthuses.

Over the years Marlene has held various positions in the addictions field. She is currently the victim services program co-ordinator with the RCMP in Prince Rupert and is involved with “Highway of Tears,” a support group for those whose children are missing or have been found dead on Highway 16—the very highway where Marlene was assaulted.

“The attack is something I will never forget,” she says. “I continue to have heartaches and disappointments, but I am also living proof of God’s promise in Philippians 4:13 (NIV): ‘I can do everything through [Christ] who gives me strength.’”

Linda Leigh is a staff writer and proofreader for Faith & Friends.

Originally published in Faith & Friends, November, 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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