We must have been between 11 and 15 years old, because we were old enough to go out on our own, but not old enough to drive ourselves. I think we were probably 13, and we hitched a ride with Dee's older sister, Ali.
I don't know why we thought hanging out at the Fred Meyer off Foothill after dark would be a fun idea, but that's where we had Ali drop us off. We wandered the store, looking at clothes and shoes, and whatever else caught our fancy. We probably shopped for an hour, and then, having had our fill, made way for the pay phones to call Ali.
The pay phones were nestled in the corner of the little foyer that divides the parking lot from the store, two sets of automatic doors on either side enclosing the room and protecting the store from the elements. There were also shopping carts and baskets, a couple soda machines, and one of those rip-off claw games in which you pay a buck to fail to snare a stuffed animal much heavier than the strength of the claws could carry.
We were on the phone for two or three minutes, or I should say Dee was on the phone, and I was listening and unconsciously taking in our surroundings. I did register the fact that a man stood in front of one of the soda machines for the entire time that we made our call, and that during that time he never made a purchase. It was one of those facts that you register instantly, but notice only later.
Dee hung up with Ali, who was finishing up her own shopping at some other stores, and would be by to get us in a few minutes. We decided to wait on the curb, and began walking toward the external automatic doors. Just as we passed the vending machines in the middle of the foyer, and in the split instant between the time the automatic door registered our presence and opened, I noticed the reflection of the man who had been deliberating over the sodas. He had turned just as we passed, and followed a mere foot or two behind us. Odd.
The doors opened and we stepped outside. I tried to sense whether the man was still behind us without turning around. One step. If he was there, he was very silent. Two steps. He probably wasn't there. Three steps. But then I didn't notice him in my periphery, either, so he hadn't veered off to the side. Just then a white 4-door sedan with tinted windows pulled quickly to the curb in front of us, 5-10 paces away. The rear door swung open, but nobody stepped out. A dimly lit and apparently empty back seat lined with cushy red velvet lay open toward us. That was enough for me.
"Dee," I said, grabbing my friend's elbow and pulling her abruptly off to the left, quickening our pace.
"What is it?" she asked. I pulled on her arm and continued to tug her along with me several more paces before, breathing heavily, I glanced over my shoulder and watched the soda man shuffle into the back seat of the sedan, which immediately peeled off.
"I think we were almost kidnapped."
The above story is true, to the best of my memory. I can't be sure there was anything nefarious going on with that man, but my instinct told me something wasn't right, and I listened to it. And doing so might have saved the lives of my friend and I.
The memory came to me last night as I took a break from the two novels I'm reading to begin a bit of non-fiction: The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker. This book is recommended all the time by Carolyn Hax, one of my beloved advice columnists, so I finally decided to put it on my library list. I was skeptical that a book about trusting your intuition would offer much interest, since it seems too much like common sense, but it ended up hooking me from the first sentence:
He had probably been watching her for awhile.Ooh, chilling.
I usually read for about a half hour before going to bed, even if I'm going to bed late. It helps me relax. So when I looked up from my book after many adrenaline-filled pages to check if I had time to read on, I was surprised to see that my clock read 1:32 AM. I had been reading an hour and a half and would be sorry in the morning. I begrudgingly surrendered my book to my bedside table, and then realized that I had to pee, but was too scared to make the trek down the dark hallway to the bathroom.
Don't be silly, I told myself, you know the door was locked. It's always locked before bed, and you know nobody got in before then. But I would have to pass the sometimes opened doorway of the second bedroom, and the always opened doorway to the living room on the way, and I didn't want to be grabbed by someone lurking in the shadows.
I thought about just sucking it up and going to sleep without visiting the toilet, but that always results in uncomfortable urination dreams. I also thought about waking E and asking him to protect me on the way to the bathroom, but I knew that would piss him off.
So, not wanting to piss E off, or piss on myself, I decided that if I was facing my impending doom in the form of a villain in the shadows, I might as well just get it over with. So I jumped out of the covers and hurried down the hall, adrenaline pumping and pulse quickening. I made it to the bathroom and quickly shut the door behind me, relief flooding my system. But after finishing my business, I realized I still had to face the return trek. Maybe I could just sleep in the bathroom, I thought, but the cold porcelain tub was uninviting. So I opened the door and let the light from the bathroom flood into the hallway. I squinted and examined the shadows with my uncorrected vision. Maybe I should invest in some of those 24-hour contact lenses, I thought. But that wouldn't help me now.
Ok, it's now or never. Go! I raced down the hallway past the opened doorways with their threatening shadows, and pushed through my bedroom door, thrusting it shut behind me. I climbed safely into my bed, snuggled under my down comforter, and watched the shadows of the crooked tree behind my blinds blowing in the wind, before drifting off to sleep.
The moral of this story: There's a difference between instinctual fear, and irrational fear, and it's important to recognize the difference, so that you can successfully dodge the kidnapper behind you, but also successfully make your way to the bathroom in the night without inviting a coronary. So maybe reading this book isn't such a bad idea after all. Reading it right before bed, on the other hand, is ill advised.