Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lesson 17: Almost a Victim

I am reading this book right now.  It gets a big WOW!  It's not a book for everyone and the beginning is very tough unless you are up to date on your Swedish history.  Steig Larsson was a Swedish author who climbed to posthumous fame.  I wrote in the past tense there specifically because he died before his three manuscripts made it through publishing (that would be just my luck).  The book has sold over 21 million copies to date.  When 21 million people had read the book, I felt like I was missing out on the party.  One run down the book aisle at Sam's Club and that baby was mine!

I am a sucker for a well written mystery, and this one keeps you guessing.  As a caution to my readers, there are parts that are quite grotesque.   I passed on the book a couple of times due to readers' comments about "graphic sexual violence against women."  I finally decided to be a big girl and try to read it with the full lights on at night, not just my book lamp.  It has a "Kiss the Girls" feel to it.  Not Freddie Krugger frightening, but scary more so because this #@%! happens.  Women vanish every day in this world and some may suffer similar fates at the hands of sick and twisted individuals. 

If you too, are a chicken but still want to read the book, send me an e-mail and I'll warn you about some rough parts and reword them in such a way that will allow you to sleep at night.  I am the queen of softening the blow.  I'll tell you the pages you can pick back up on without losing the gist of the story.  And if you do read the book you most certainly will think to yourself, "What the heck were these girls thinking?  How dumb can a person be?" 

Guess what?  I was that dumb and lived to tell about it.  This is the scariest story I can tell you during Halloween week.  It happened several years ago, but it is a story worth sharing and serves as reminder for us all to be careful--even in little Mayberry where I live.   My story appears in colored print below.

It was the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend in a year I can't quite pinpoint.  It seems I can't remember certain years anymore, but I can recall dates on my BS/AS time schedule--that is Before Sam and After Sam.  Everything else just blends together.  So it is definitely a BS year, as the girls were small and I was working in North East.  So let's just say it was around 2004. 

We realized that we didn't have school the next day and the girls wanted to stay up late and watch a movie.  I volunteered to drive into Video USA to grab a movie.  I snatched the keys and five bucks out of the cookie jar, stuffed it in the waistband of my gym shorts, threw on a pair of flip flops, and jumped in the van.   I'm not much for purses or cell phones, so I left my bag sit on the kitchen counter. It was dark outside, maybe about 9:00, but not quite pitch black. 

I was zipping up Clark Road, probably a bit too fast, because the kids weren't with me.  I know the road like the back of my hand because I've been driving on it my entire life, as I now reside next door to where I was born.  I can tell right way when something is out of the ordinary, even in the dark.

As I crossed the bridge for 6-Mile Creek,  and was rounding the uphill bend by my old hot spot, The Fireside.  To my left, on the west side of the bridge, I saw something out of the ordinary sitting in the parking lot.  Remember, I was speeding, so I thought I saw a baby in a car seat carrier.  I hit the brakes for a second, but it was hard to control a speeding car up that hill if you are familiar with the area.   I got up to Route 20 and I couldn't get the image out of my head.  I had to go back and see for myself.  I spun the car around and headed back for another look-see. 

I crept back down Clark Road much more slowly this time, aiming my headlights to where I thought I saw the carrier.  For a second, I thought I had imagined it, because the carrier was not in the middle of the parking lot where I thought I saw it.  A second or so later I spotted it.  It was up on a grassy knoll a bit, right along the edge of the creek.  There is a tree lined area at the south end of the parking lot, along about a twenty foot cliff to Six Mile.   I berated myself for going too fast, as I had misjudged where this object was in my mind.  Still, there it was, albeit a bit off from where I had thought, but it definitely looked like some sort of baby carrier with something in it.  I had to go check it out.

Being that I am an imaginative person,  I wondered if someone had actually left a baby there for someone to find--you know, like the little orphan Annie thing.  Maybe a distraught teen who felt she had no other alternatives.  Or, more rationally, I thought that maybe it was a toy that a child left behind mistakenly.  I had two little girls at the time who were insanely attached to their dolls.  I felt bad for the child who left the toy at the restaurant.  I aimed the car's headlights at that spot, but still could not tell if it was a real baby in the carrier or a doll. 

I left the keys in the ignition and kept the car running, opened the driver's side door, and began calling to it, clapping my hands, and honking the horn, but I heard no sounds.  I was so lost in thoughts of "dead baby" that I could barely breathe.  Nothing in the seat moved, and I felt a strong urge to rescue this thing--whatever I happened to find.

I walked around the front of the car and out about 20 feet, into the path of the headlights and bent over the carrier with my heart pounding.  I pulled back the knitted afghan that the thing was wrapped in, and was startled to find an odd looking plastic doll in a black leather biker outfit.  I still remember the matted hair and the smudgy face.  I stood there for a second relieved to find that it was just a doll.  I didn't even have to think twice about scarfing it up and bringing it home to the girls for a "look what Mommy found" surprise.  It was gross.  I stood there chuckling to myself about being such a sucker when I got a very funny feeling--a sensation, rather.  Then a stick snapped.

You've heard the phrase "blood runs cold."  I know now what that means.  It was the only time I felt that kind of fear and it is something I never want to experience again.  It was as if my mind was spinning in a spiral when I realized what I had just done.  I had fallen into a trap.  More than that, I had been lured. That baby carrier was out further along the road in plain sight, then was deliberately moved closer to the tree line.   I was literally paralyzed with fear, a doe frozen in the headlights.

Then I saw the movement along the tree line.  A charcoal gray shirt perhaps.  My fight or flight instincts told me to fly, and I ran like I have never have before.  I don't  remember screaming.  I don't remember breathing.  All I can remember is trying to jump in that car from that awkward angle and throw it in drive with the door still open.  Thankfully the car was running and I think that made the difference for me to this day.  The car slid in the gravel and the nose ended up pointing north, back towards Route 20.   I gunned it and sped onto Clark.  I got to the intersection of Route 20 and drove right through it.  Had there been a car coming, I would have t-boned them at a high rate of speed while not wearing a seat belt.  I only knew I wanted to get as far away from that place as I could, as quickly as I could. 

The thing that happened to me next was very unexpected.  This still seems strange to me when I think back about it, and even stranger to write it, but the next thing I remember is walking into Video USA barefoot.  How or why I kept driving that way, I haven't a clue.  I had lost one of my flip flops, and must have left the other in a car.  I walked blindly to the kids' shelf, grabbed a video without looking at the title, and when I was checking it out I realized that I had peed my pants.  The clerk must have noticed something and I remembered the long haired teen say "Hey, lady--are you OK?"  I guess that is what shock must look like.

When I got in the car, all I wanted to do is get home, but I had to drive back past that spot.  It was then that the gravity of the situation set in.  I was furious at the person who was behind it and mad as hell at myself for falling for it.  I never once thought about heading directly to the police station either.  I now realize I must have been in shock, and that is what people in shock do--an auto pilot just takes over.  Something to block out fear and pain so you can survive. 

I just wanted to go see if that carrier was still there or perhaps catch sight of someone running.  Within three minutes or less, I was back at the same spot, speeding again.  No sign of anyone AND THE BABY CARRIER WAS GONE!  Upon my return home, I spewed the story as quickly as I could to my family and called the State Police.  They said they would send someone out to investigate.  I never got a call back that night. 

Annoyed that I had to call THEM the next day, I was somewhat impatient with the police officer handling the investigation.  I guess its the same with cops as it is with nurses--they've seen and heard it all, so nothing is really that big of a deal.  Besides, there really was no "crime" to report.  The officer told me that upon investigation they had found two things in that area, but no sign of the baby carrier.  One was my flip flop, the other was a rope.   They had taken both into the station.  Given that I live less than a mile from that spot, I was irritated that someone didn't even call to tell me what they found that night.  I locked everything up nice and tight for sure, but had I known that, I'd have put someone on watch with a shot gun, too.  I have a couple of farmer neighbors who would have gladly volunteered for that job.

The policeman dismissed the incident as a juvenile prank.  There was one other report of something similar the week before that on Hannon Road and two in July in Girard.  They were unsure if the cases were connected.  I was surprised when the officer began to turn the tables a bit, which I guess, is what officers are trained to do.  He began having me repeat my story over and over again, almost as if he were trying to confuse me.  He then asked why I didn't return directly home to my husband and why after all of that I would continue on to purchase a video.

Looking back, I can see how that must have looked.  The policeman didn't know me.  And more importantly, I couldn't believe my reaction either.  You think you know what you would do in any given situation.  Me, being slightly opinionated so I am told, always had a plan for everything.  "If this happened to me I would blah, blah, blah..." I would always say.   I learned a harsh lesson there.  Face the fact folks, you just don't know what you'd do until you were in the situation.  Withhold judgment if you can.

Being that I am a teacher, we are constantly reminded about safety.  We have fire drills, bomb drills, and armed intruder drills.  McGruff the Crime Dog still visits and we all know to be on alert for Stranger Danger.  I teach that stuff for cripes sake!   And look what I did. 

Here are some of Eloise's words of wisdom:  women, be wise.  Don't leave home without your cell phone and your purse, even if it is just a quick trip to the store.  Be cautious of your surroundings.  Don't ever think that you are immune from being outsmarted.

Will I ever know if it was some twisted person looking to tie me up and drag me away, or if it was a little jerk that I went on to teach?  Probably not.  I hold on to the hope that it was the same little jerk who stole my birdhouse out of my front yard and all the beer out of my dad's garage refrigerator (but they did leave him one, so the thief must have some heart). 

It did change me forever though.  I am a little more careful now.  I also own a big, black dog, which I decided upon after much careful research.  I found out more people fear black dogs than any other color, which led me to that purchase six years ago.  Funny to think of if you know my Josie given her gentle eyes and docile nature.  But to a stranger passing by my house that sees me or the kids playing in the yard, she's a big, black dog, nonetheless. 

If this story sounds familiar to you, it may have been passed to you several years ago through an e-mail.  Circulating e-mails--the predecessor to blogs.   

I was telling my story in the teachers' room in North East the following Tuesday.  It so happened that the Superintendent was in there at the time and also was female.  She insisted that I go back, type the story into an e-mail, and click "send to district." Every teacher, aide, custodian, bus driver, cafeteria worker, and maintenance man received it and read it.  I heard from people far and wide for a good part of that month.  In fact, one of my teacher friends sent me an e-mail a year and a half later, stating "Look what I found in my in-box!"  There it was again, coming from a friend of hers in Ohio.  What do you know?  I am an urban legend.

I sometimes get those Internet stories too, and I've shared a few on this blog.  You just never are 100% sure if those things are real.  But when it comes time for me to decide the authenticity of a piece, I do what I do with just about everything in my life, pray about it and trust the feeling I get after that.  I can now tell when it's a "no" and when it's a "go."  I guess that is what you get with a little life experience and lots of trust in the Lord.  40 is looking better by the minute.

Be safe,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact that I would not have stopped in the first place. I guess I'm just suspicious, must be from living with a cop all these years! Great Halloween story and it's nonfiction!