It was a Sunday afternoon in May, a beautiful, bright, sunny day. My husband was home with my son, my niece and nephew, and his own son from his first marriage. I needed to buy some earphones for my radio, so I said goodbye to this happy group and drove a few minutes down the street to the Dow store on Sports Arena Boulevard. This is a large shopping center with a Ralphs grocery store on one side and a Target department store on the other.
I bought my earphones and came out of the store. I was parked close by, since the lot wasn’t full. I got in my car. I sat down and began to put the key in the ignition. Suddenly, a man put his body between me and the door. He was a transient, filthy, in crusty jeans and a wrinkled flannel shirt. His hair was long and greasy. He said, “Just scoot over, lady, and give me the keys,” and pushed his hip against my body. I said, “No — oh” in a weak, surprised voice.
He shoved me with his hip again and showed me a knife, turning it and making a jabbing motion. “I have a knife,” he said, and I felt, looking at the knife, as if I were in a movie or a dream, not in real life. This could not be happening.
I moved over. His black, oily hair swung in my face as he reached over to lock the passenger door. He had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Hand-rolled. I thought it was a joint, and a tremor passed over me. Someone on drugs, someone crazed.
He started the car and drove out of the parking lot. “Please,” I said, “you can have my car and my purse. Please, just let me go.”
“No,” he said. “I have to take you with me.” My mind began to race. Where was he taking me? What was he going to do? I saw another car pass close by. I could see the faces of the people inside, and I looked them dead in the eye and let all the fear I felt show in my face. “Help me,” I mouthed; and then I realized with a jolt of fear that my captor might see me do this. I looked over at him, but he was watching the road. I closed my eyes for a moment and made myself passive to him.
He pulled out onto Sports Arena Boulevard and turned left. I looked out the window at the Wherehouse video store, so familiar to me. It seemed as if I’d died and come back to Earth. The Wherehouse was not mine anymore. “Please don’t hurt me,” I said. “I’m a mother. Please don’t hurt me.”
“Hey, lady, I don’t want to hurt you any more than you...I just got to get out of this mess. You just do what I tell you to do.”
“Don’t try anything funny.”
“You already did,” he said, and his voice broke with anger, and he glanced at me with two cold, mean eyes. I knew he meant I’d caused trouble when I said no as he got in the car. I also knew from his voice that he would use that as an excuse to hurt me. I looked around the car, eyeing my escape routes. I didn’t think it could be done.
I looked back out the window and felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life. I realized with dead finality that nothing I had could save me, not money, not my house, not my car, not my husband. Nothing I had built up over the years to protect me. I might as well have been naked, newly born, alone in that car with a stranger who could do anything he wanted to me. The car reeked of cigarette smoke and urine and the musty scent of a person living outdoors. “I’m not going to rape you or anything,” he said and laughed. “Think of me as your brother, for that matter.” He turned the wheel, squinting his eyes in the smoke of his cigarette. Then he looked me over, up and down, and I knew he was thinking about raping me now that he’d said it, seeing what he had.
I was weak with fear. I reached down inside myself to see if there was anything to hang on to. I have no belief in God, not in a God in heaven watching over me, and I knew I could not conjure up one now for the occasion. I had been searching for a belief before this happened, my own belief, but the only thing I had come up with so far was that I believed in the power of good. The power of optimism over pessimism, of love over hate, of “yes, you can” over “no, you can’t.” I touched on this belief, half expecting it to seem foolish and naive under the circumstances. The power of good — yeah, tell him that. But I was surprised to find my belief had weight and substance. I could feel it deep within myself, and feeling it made me stronger and calmer, less alone.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, sounding sincere, sounding like a nice girl from a nice family who was sweetly concerned about him. “Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“Oh, it’s a long story...” he began, turning onto Hancock Road. Hancock is a one-way street with boat shipyards and businesses on it. Fairly deserted. “I’ve just got to get out of this living on the streets. I can’t get a start. Then I broke my arm a few months ago...” He slowed the car. “We got to pick up Bud.”
“He’s going to come right out.”
“Oh please!” I knew once another man got in the car there was no hope for me. My heart began to pound and my knees trembled.