“That guy’s following us,” said the eight year old sister.
The older sister’s friend gave a nervous smile. “He looks dirty,” she said on a whisper.
The younger sister looked up at her older sister, and then back behind them, where her sister was looking. Back there was a man. He looked tall, old, and dirty. He also looked mad.
“What’s happening?” asked the six year old.
“Nothing! Don’t look at him!” chastised the older sister. She was used to corralling and babysitting her younger siblings, even while being a child herself.
The younger sister did as she was told.
“He’s walking faster,” said the friend.
“Let’s run for Sears!” said the older sister.
The older sister grabbed her younger sister’s hand and they began to run. The little sister looked back and saw that the man was starting to run, too. She began to cry. In her fear, the older sister forgot that her sister could not run as fast as she could and left her behind.
“Wait for me!” cried the six year old.
“Come on!” waved the older sister.
The friend looked back and smiled on the little sister.
“Come on. You can do it!” she encouraged.
Somehow, the younger girl caught up with the older girls. Not paying attention to the traffic, they ran across West Burnham Street and to the Sears on West Maple Street and West Burnham Street. They made it into the Sears department store and looked around.
“What do we do?” asked the friend.
“Let’s go hide in that cartoon machine,” suggested the older sister.
The three young girls crammed into the cartoon machine. Their hiding spot worked, thankfully, as the creepy man entered the store looking left and right - presumably for the girls that did not belong to him. He left, but the girls remained in the cartoon booth. Ironically, the friend had a quarter on her; they used it to watch a cartoon.
Once the older sister decided that the coast was clear, they continued their journey to the school to collect the little brother of the sisters. They then went home, but all the while watching and all the while scared.
The bad man didn’t get us, but we did not escape unscathed. I blocked the incident from my mind for many years, but eventually remembered it. I asked my older sister how she could do that to me - how she could let go of my hand and run with her friend, leaving me behind and closer to the bad man.
“I am sorry,” my twenty-something year old sister told me. “I was eight. I was a kid,” she said to me in a sorrowful voice.
Her apology reminded me of my own parents; we should not have been made to collect our little brother from school. That was their job. My parents were long divorced, but I asked my mother about the incident.
“I am sorry,” she said, echoing my sister’s apology. “We both needed to work to get by. But I remember that day,” she said in a thick voice. “I remember going outside that evening with your father and the neighbors to look for that bad man.”
In my mother’s apology I found another memory. In my mind, I could see my mom’s watery green eyes as she looked left and right down a street - looking for anyone that matched the description that my older sister had given her. I forgave her then, too.
The man was never found. As a matter of fact, my sister remembers that guy looking young - maybe in his twenties, while I remember him looking older - like a man in his fifties.
What was also lost were the friendly walks to collect my brother from his Pre-K class. My sister and I stayed at home while an adult collected him for a while. After a few weeks of that, I was made to stay at home alone while my sister went to collect him (but that’s another scary story for another time). After my parents’ divorce and a subsequent move, we also lost contact with the girl who lived across from us.
What remains is the fear of what happens when parents aren’t looking - not of what can happen, but the stuff that truly does happen. After giving birth to my son, I devised a childhood for him that involved my availability to him at all times. My sister did the same for her daughter. We don’t hold on too tightly to our children, but we are always close. During my son’s once weekly, two hour homeschool classes (which convene in a schoolhouse), I can be found in my vehicle - parked near the school’s entrance. I write, text and read while I wait. During my niece’s longer school days, my sister can be found in the parking lot of her daughter’s school, reading a book while she stares at an entrance, too.
We can’t be there all the time, we know, but while our children are young and powerless, we will be there. Watching and waiting.
Photo Credit: Flickr