I am 8 years old. I am on the playground at the school across the street from my house. I am with my friend Jenny and we are sitting on top of the metal bars, something we are not allowed to do during school hours. We are comparing blisters on our hands when we hear voices. We look up and see two older boys walking across the grass in our direction. I look around and notice that the vast schoolyard is unusually empty. My stomach twists like something is wrong. The boys continue to walk towards us and stop at the end of the grass with their arms folded across their chest.
"Hi" the taller one says
"Hello" we both mumble back
I am studying the metal bar, running my hands over the worn places that are discolored.
"What are you girls up to?" the younger one says
"Nothing, just talking" Jenny says
"Why don't you come here and talk to us?" the older one says
"No thanks" she says and jumps off her bar into the sand below.
She turns around and looks at me with big eyes that say we need to leave. I look at the boys standing there and they are whispering to each other...I normally wouldn't jump off such a high bar, but I take a deep breath and drop myself into the sand.
We start walking up onto the grass and then onto the blacktop.
They follow and again we hear "Hey...hold on a second"
For some reason, we stop - turn - and look at them. They are standing about 10 feet away and the taller one says "how about we take you girls into the bushes and get fresh with you"...
My stomach flips around and my throat feels tight and I know we're in danger.
"yeah right" Jenny says...and she grabs my arm and we start walking back across the asphalt. Soon we are on the grassy field. We stop and glance back to see that the boys have followed.
Jenny looks at me and whispers "we're gonna have to run...on the count of three...."
the boys are catching up to us
I can't breathe. I'm looking at my feet and hoping they know what to do...
I am frozen. I am watching Jenny run across the big schoolyard towards my house. Away from the boys...away from the danger. My feet are stuck...and I feel like things are going in slow motion.
The ground finally loosens it's hold on me, and just as I start to run, I feel a hand on my arm. I turn and open my mouth to scream, but no sound comes out. The taller boy grabs both of my wrists hard and bends my arms in front of him - between us. I'm trying to twist and flail my arms out of his grasp and I hear tiny squeals of struggle escape my lips. In my head I am screaming and panic-stricken. The boy just grips my wrists tighter and sneers at me with a sideways grin on his face. He has dark red hair and a smattering of freckles on his face. He is calm and controlled and smiling. The smaller boy with dark hair and a hat, watches this all take place, and laughs.
He starts walking backwards, pulling me across the grass. I am filled with an immense sense of terror and urgency and I start kicking my legs and thrashing around. At some point I connect hard with his shin and he lets go of my wrists. I turn and run as hard as I can towards home. I see Jenny has made it across the street and is running up to my front door. I don't even remember crossing the street. Suddenly I am home, and out of breath, and there is Jenny gasping for air and trying to tell my mom what happened. I see my mom's eyes are wide and her face is a combination of fear and distress as she hears what we have to say. She takes a deep breath, and grits her teeth. She looks out our big living room window to the schoolyard and I can see her jaw muscles moving on the sides of her face. She tells us to lock the door behind her and she will be right back and then we will call the police. Jenny and I look at each other when we hear the word police. At that moment, I realize how terrified I am. We both start to shake and we climb up and lean over the back of our sofa to look out the big window. We watch my mom swiftly moving across the big yard towards the playground. We hold hands and I am scared that the boys will do something to my mom.
The playground is empty.
My mom walks all over and never finds the boys. She comes home and calls the police and tells us everything will be okay. She seems angry, and there are tears in her eyes. She is a mama bear, and somebody has messed with her cubs.
The police come and ask alot of questions. They seperate Jenny and I and ask more questions. They bring out books with pages and pages of men and ask us to point to some that resemble the boys. I point to a few and the policeman asks "are you sure?" and I look at his face and think maybe I don't remember the details like I should. Things are getting fuzzy. I feel like maybe somehow we've done something wrong, only I don't know what. One of the policeman says to me "you are lucky you got away". And my mind plays that sentence over and over and I know he's right, but I can't help but think of the what if's. To think of the girls who didn't get away. At some point it dawns on me that the boys saw us run home. They know were I live. My bedroom is at the front of the house...with windows accessible from the street. They know where I live.
I don't remember telling my dad or my brother what happened. I don't remember the few days immediately following. I just remember I was suddenly afraid to sleep in my own room. I was suddenly afraid of the dark. I was suddenly afraid to knock on my neighbors doors and sell candy...or collect money from my paper route. I was afraid because I thought perhaps one day, that sneering face would open the door.
I got away.
But in my mind...I was still sometimes trapped by the fear I felt. I knew I was too old to be sleeping on the floor in my parents room. But my fear of that controlled, and smiling face in my bedroom window beat out all the reasons I had to sleep in my own room.
Even living in a small town - I never saw those boys again. A few years later we moved out of that house...and as much as I didn't want to leave my friends or my school...I finally felt safe. They saw where I lived - but I got away.