When I was a kid things were different. This was before helicopter parents and the internet. It was before cell phones and even pagers. The street lights were my curfew and we weren’t afraid. We played kick the can and hide and seek for hours with the neighborhood kids. We wandered around freely without a worry at all. As long as I was honest with my mom and told her where I was, she was okay with it. We walked down the busy street in our town to the movie store. I rode my bike a few miles to my grandma’s and didn’t think twice.
Behind my house was a giant field with power lines running through. If I wanted to get to any of my friends houses I took a left out of my driveway, walked to the end of the block, another left through a trail at the back side of that field and came out in another neighborhood. My high school was back there and over a walking bridge a few more blocks away was the school my grandma taught at. These were different times and I often think how lucky I am we survived them. It’s not like there weren’t the same dangers in the 80’s that there are today. Knowledge is power, but ignorance was bliss.
I remember walking home one day. It was sunny, and I’m not sure where I was walking from, but I was alone. I headed East down Dennis and North on 7th. My best friend lived on 7th Avenue SW – this is the street that met up with the trail connecting our neighborhoods. Just before I reached my best friend’s house, a car pulled up headed south on 7th. This car was old, maybe a Toyota or Datsun of some sort, it didn’t have tinted windows. It was oxidized red with ratty tan interior. The front two windows were down and the man inside with scraggly blond hair and tan skin called out to me through the passenger window. He said “Excuse me, do you know where McIver street is”….at the time I didn’t, but McIver Street is only over the freeway and a few blocks away – every time I pass it now, I think of this moment. He couldn’t hear me as I told him I didn’t know, so I walked a little closer. I got close enough to see in the window and notice he wasn’t wearing pants, or underwear, and he had his private parts in his hand, just as if he was playing with anything on any normal day…like it was okay to drive around like that. After I saw him, I just started to walk away, and thought nothing of it – aside from my 12 year old brain thinking, “ew, that was gross, and weird”….but again….ignorance is bliss. I knew nothing of the stories we hear now like those of Jaycee Dugard, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus, or Elizabeth Smart. I had no idea these terrible things happen to people.
I didn’t tell anyone about this man in the red car. Not till years later. And truthfully, it fills me with guilt. Because what if he saw another girl who knew where McIver street was, and what if she got in his car to show him?
I had a great relationship with my mom, and I still do. I have always told her everything (some of which she didn’t care to hear), and I can’t explain why I didn’t tell her this. It just goes to show – all we can do as adults is make kids aware of right and wrong. We can’t protect them all the time, and we can’t expect them to tell us anything. I’ve made plenty of jokes about this experience, but the truth is…I’m lucky. I feel really lucky that I didn’t know where that street was and that I at least knew the difference between being helpful and making bad choices. Would he have grabbed me if I got close enough? Or what if I knew where the street was, would I have gotten closer? I’m so thankful there was something inside me that made me walk away, but I wish I had told someone.