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I LIVE IN THE HOUSE OF MY DREAM -- the answer to my childhood prayers. By the time I was 17, we had moved 12 times. I used to bargain with God for a home, a permanent place I would never have to leave.

When I was 23, I won a "nobody-ever-wins" junk-mail contest. The winnings bought this 150-year-old farmhouse in Eden that has become my refuge.

Several weeks ago, my 14-year-old daughter and a friend were walking in our woods when they were frightened by a four-legged creature that looked like a mountain lion. The girls were so upset that I called the Eden police.

The officer was concerned and had me call the wildlife officer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. He in turn confirmed that he knew of at least two lions roaming Western New York. Based on my daughter's description, he was sure one was now in Eden.

There is no true security in this life, and the shock of a predator in my back yard shattered my illusion of safety. My daughter's dreams were filled with images of the creature that prowled our woods.

This new encounter with danger awakened memories of my own childhood terror. I remembered the 14-year-old who learned to "sleep" with a baseball bat next to her bed and dreamt of two-legged predators who shadowed her days and haunted her fitful nights.

My mother's often poor choices of male companions put her children at risk. When she ended the last abusive relationship, she was stalked and nearly strangled. Then he turned on her daughter with a butcher knife.

Third person became the mirror through which I have viewed the most painful moments of my life. My uncles took turns living in our house to protect us. I remember the words of the state trooper who had responded one too many times to my mother's frantic calls: "If you shoot him, make sure I find the body in the house."

The trauma becomes clearer when I see my own daughter at the ages when life was the most unbearable. I remember the brute who whispered in our windows at night what he would do to my brothers and me to punish our mother.

I remember waking to my mother's screams and seeing her beaten and pistol-whipped. I remember holding my little brother as he shook uncontrollably in my arms. I remember. There is no forgetting -- one can only hope to learn to live with the scars.

My present home and its gift of inner peace are the weapons I use to keep fear at bay. I will never leave this place.

My husband and I warned our neighbors about the mountain lions. One person asked me what "they" were going to do about them. I told her "nothing." The DEC is only monitoring the animals. I would hate to see them harmed.

It's the two-legged predators of this world who prey on innocents that need to be caged. Laws governing domestic violence need to be strictly enforced to protect our children. They can't be ignored as they were when I was a child.

I try not to be overprotective of my daughter, but it's hard to let her go into a world where monsters walk among us in the guise of respectability. My fear goes beyond maternal concern. It comes from a dark corner of my soul where a survival instinct learned as a child stabs at my conscience.

I want her safe. She wants more freedom. My daughter does not understand my fear. Thank God.

LAURIE SCHWAB lives in Eden.

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