Tonight I’ll write about something that’s been on my mind for the last few days… a memory that I haven’t thought of for years and years, but suddenly has started bobbing to the surface. I’ve been made aware of it bumping around inside my head, and so I’ll notice it… truly notice it by writing about it… and maybe by letting it see the light of day I’ll set it to rest again. This is what blogging is supposed to be, for me. To share the stories inside my heart, and maybe to reach the heart of another.
We are in the van. Maddie excitedly mentions that her very best friend in the whole wide world is likely going to moving in to our neighborhood. Not next door, or even down the block, but within a short walking distance. She’s beside herself, and she says, “And Mommy, someday, maybe next year, I’ll be old enough that I can walk there and she can walk here all by ourselves!”
I feel as if the wind has been knocked from my lungs.
My heart pounds.
“No, Maddie… I don’t think so. We can just walk there together. I’m not comfortable with you walking alone… even when you’re older.”
“What?!! Mommy! I’ll be 10! That’s old enough to walk around the block.”
She might be right. And if she wasn’t my daughter, and I wasn’t her mother, she likely would be allowed to do it even now.
But I remember.
I’m 14 years old. I’m walking home from my friend’s house, just a short distance into town. We had gone together to the hair salon, where I had a practice session for the hairspray-lacquered style that I would wind up wearing to my first semi-formal that weekend. I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and sandals. I remember the sandals because they made it hard for me to run.
I’m walking down the side of my road, and I’m about a block and a half from home. My parents aren’t home from work yet, So I’m returning to an empty house. I’m aware of how silly I probably look, with my hair put up in a pile of curls and bobby pins, in the middle of the afternoon. I’d already gotten quite a few stares.
The truck is old and rusted, and it rolls past me at a slower than normal speed. I notice it, but don’t truly notice it until it pulls a U-turn a bit down the road. It then turns down the side street that I’m about to walk past. He rolls down his window and calls to me.
“Hi there. I’m sorry… I think I’m lost. I’m wondering if you could give me directions?”
I slow, then I stop.
He pulls a piece of paper out to show me, holds it up as though it were a map, but I’m still across the street. He motions me over to his side of the truck. Beckons me to look.
I can visualize the next part as though it were yesterday, but when I look with my almost-40-year-old-mother eyes I want to scream. I don’t know why I didn’t run then.
I step closer to the truck. Put my hand across the door, lean over to see the paper.
He grabs my hand. Hard. Pulls my arm inside the open window. Other hand on my shoulder and he pulls me to him. I can smell cigarettes. His breath. The whiskers on his face scratch my cheek as he leans in. I scream. Wrestle my arm free. Pull away with all of my might.
And now I’m running. The sound of flipflops in my ears only slightly louder than my heartbeat. He’s behind me now, driving slowly, telling me that he’s sorry… he didn’t mean to scare me… could we talk?
I’m at my parents driveway now, and I’m running up the porch. He yells that he knows where I live. I’m crying. I’m in the house. Lock the door, pick up the phone. It’s over.
Later, I would recount the whole scene to my parents and then to the police. I would help them make a composite sketch. They would find out who he was, and they would let him off with a warning. I never saw him again.
We all have our stories like this. The stories that make us remember and cringe. The stories that influence every decision we make thereafter. I know what could have happened. Even then, I knew. That was the day that my blind-trust died. I would see that truck in my mind for years, until I didn’t anymore. That day in the van with Maddie it came back, and it’s been idling in my head ever since. How I’d like to go back to that moment. What I would like to do, to scream.
I can’t. I’ve made peace with that.
But, I can’t make peace with the fact that I have three beautiful children, and that we live in a world even scarier than the one that I grew up in. My parents did everything they could to try to prepare me for situations like these, but terror exists where you don’t expect it.
All I can do, as a woman who has had this experience, is make damn sure that I do every possible thing in my power to make sure that my children are better equipped. That they know to be wary. That they are watchful, and careful, and take care of each other. That they are confident in their ability, and their right, to say no. To scream no. To scream it at the top of their lungs.
I can do everything in my power to make sure that my children don’t go through what I went through.
And you can do everything in your power to make sure that yours don’t, either.