Content warning for stalking and childhood trauma.
“Dad, I have to ask the traumatic question. What do you know about The Guy …the pediphile?” Three glasses of red wine has made me bold. I don’t really want to talk about this but my thirst for answers and truth override my fear and the anxiety that is threatening to push the throttle on my brain into full blown panic.
His anger is palpable. We are reliving twenty year old trauma that I didn’t realize we shared. He is yelling at his invisible Ex, or as he likes to say his Why?, my mother. The woman who kept so much from him about the abuse of his daughters at her hands.
He tells me how he didn’t know about the man until the day The Guy slowly drove passed our house only to peel down the quiet, small town street once he knew he was made. That’s when the police came. The Guy was a known pediphile from another city. My father told the police that they better find The Guy before he did or else there wouldn’t be much left.
“You told me to go for it,” dad says with a hint of pride. I don’t remember saying that. I don’t remember anything after recognizing The Guy hunched down in his car while my sisters and I frolic on the front lawn. My sleepy neighborhood no longer safe.
I do remember three weeks earlier. The Guy stood on the beach with my mother while I played in the lake with my best friend and my sisters as the sun set on a hot summer evening. Unknown to me at the time, he held a camera discreetly by his side, snapping pictures of us little girls. Of me.
I remember him sticking around for the outdoor children’s performance we attended that night. I remember him sitting so close to me that the heat from his thigh radiated against my left leg. I wondered if the bench was crowded to my left as I dismissed my feelings of unease. I’m only 11. My mother trusted him enough to talk with him all evening so my discomfort must be wrong. I need to be nice and accommodating.
I remember him still standing with us afterward in the evening dusk. Bats flitting from tree to tree above our heads, wet dewy grass under our feet. The wetness doesn’t stop me and my friend from repeatedly running and rolling down a grassy slope that eventually gets the better of her. She slips, falling hard on her coller bone.
I remember rushing into town for the emergency room worried about my friend but glad to be away from The Guy.
I remember The Guy standing in the hospital parking lot waiting for us. I was left to sit with him in the waiting room while my mother tends to my injured friend.
I remember staring at the linoleum floor as I waged an internal battle with my feelings of danger when he asked me where I live. I’m not suppose to tell strangers where I live. But if my mom trusts him enough to leave me here, does that make him a stranger? I don’t want to be rude. I don’t want to get into trouble. So I find a middle ground.
“I live down a hill, then up a hill, and there is a white fence…” I trail off hoping that I satisfied the question while wishing it never happened. Why does he need to know?
I remember bumping into him a week later when my sisters and I are out grocery shopping with our mother. He greets us in the grocery store and chats all the way to the car. I climb into the back of our van and refuse to make eye contact with him when he taps on the widow to smile and wave at me.
He challenges me asking, “won’t you come out and say hi?”
I know I’m being rude. But I just don’t feel safe. My stomach churns as I stare at the back of the seat in front of me. I want to leave but mom keeps talking.
I’ll have anxiety attacks, although I won’t know what those are and I’ll suffer them silently alone, for months or maybe years to follow after this. I always think I see him out of the corner of my eye or in a crowd or in line for groceries.
By now I am shaking as I recount my part of the story to my dad. I stand up and declare that I have to go for a walk. At 10pm. I have to get away from this story. This story that I go through phases forgetting about. This story that is always somewhere underneath. This story that reminds me I was never protected.
“Why didn’t she protect me? Why was I so alone?” My throat is closing up with anger and fear.
“If I had known, you would have been.” And I believe him.