“Come on, hop in, I’ll give you a ride.” I glanced through the open sliding door of a blue panel-truck. A man was at the steering wheel on the right-hand side of the panel-truck. He was tall and thin, with dark, slicked-back hair, and a creased face smiling with yellow teeth. The truck moved slowly along the curb where I was walking home from school for lunch. It was a 10-minute walk that I usually liked, scuffing my shoes in the fallen red and gold leaves during the crisp sunny days of autumn. I was a first grader, so Mom always made my favorite sandwiches such as egg salad, meatloaf, or turkey with gravy.
“No thanks,” I replied walking a little faster as I clutched my sweater around me a little tighter. My muscles tightened, and my lips stuck to my teeth as my mouth dried out when he continued to beckon me with one hand, the other on the steering wheel. I was about half-way home. Questions raced through my head: Should I run? Scream? Was he really a bad man? The longer he followed me, the more scared I became. Goosebumps grew on my arms, and the back of my neck prickled. I walked faster and faster. I looked at the neighborhood homes. Why wasn’t anyone out in their yard? Should I run up to a neighbor’s front door? What if no one was home?
His blue shirt-sleeves were rolled up to the elbow. He seemed even closer to me, close enough that I could see long dirty fingers continuing to motion to me. “Get in with me. I’ll take you for a hot dog and ice cream and then back to school. I even have a puppy that you would love in the back of the truck.”
Abruptly blocking the sidewalk, he forced the truck over the curb and stepped out. “You’re coming with me! Come here, you,” he growled as the long thin arm reached out for me. But I was already sprinting toward the next house. My legs took on a life of their own. My arms pumped.
I screamed, “Help, help!” over and over as loud as I could, but no one was there. I heard his shoes pounding the pavement behind me. The house next to me had a fenced in yard, but at the next home, I crossed the grass and made it up the porch steps, when I realized he was on his way back to his truck.
Shaking, crying, and panting for breath, I rang the doorbell. A kind-faced woman opened the door and asked what was wrong.
“There was a man in a blue truck trying to get me,” I blubbered.
“I don’t see a blue truck,” she said, peering over the top of her glasses. I turned to look, and she was right. The truck was gone. “Do you want me to call your mother to come get you?” I nodded. “Okay, I’ll call her. Give me the number and just wait right there in the rocking chair.
The rocker calmed me a little, but I was still shaking and nervous. Would he come back? Why did he want me to go with him? Would he be there on the walk back to school after lunch? I considered the options. There was a back-way to get to school, but a big scary dog always was loose in one of the yards. It was almost as big as me and barked and growled in a very convincing way. On some days an older boy was outside. He was a bully, called me names, and threw stones. Maybe Mom would walk with me, at least for today.
Mom arrived on foot. “Linda, what happened?” she asked, her voice filled with concern. I told her about the man in the truck, and she said maybe I was imagining it, that maybe, if it really did happen, he just was trying to be friendly to give me a ride home.
“I’m telling the truth,” I cried, tears coming again. I never make up stories. Why would I do that?
“Okay, let’s go home and have lunch. I’m sure it won’t happen again.” I wondered why Mom didn’t seem concerned that this man was still out there and might try to get me again, or some other little girl. My stomach was in a knot and I could hardly swallow my food. Not only was I afraid of the man in the blue panel-truck but was also hurt and confused by Mom’s lack of caring about my fear and safety.
I went back to school that afternoon by staying on the grass and ducking behind trees instead of walking on the sidewalk near the street. Returning home later that day, I walked with neighborhood kids. Maybe there was safety in numbers.
That night, as I lay in bed, still riled up with thoughts of that dirty hand reaching out for me, I caught bits of heated conversation between Mom and Dad.
“Why would you do such a thing?” demanded Mom.
“… such a burden financially. Always in the way. Taking up our time,” replied Dad.
“Don’t you ever do that…” she replied, but I couldn’t hear all of it as she was crying.
“I keep telling you, we don’t need her. I’ve been telling you that forever,” replied Dad. His voice was easier to hear as he spoke so loudly and angrily.
“I’ll take her to…” said Mom.
“Absolutely not!” He was almost shouting.
“One day I’ll do it and you’ll never know.”
Only the sound of sobbing from Mom.
Were they talking about me? Did this have anything to do with the man in the blue panel-truck? Fear continued to crawl underneath my skin as I fell into an uneasy sleep, waking once with the image of that dirty hand reaching out for me.