The Right Place At The Right Time

Certainly, most of us will encounter a sound, a song, a comment, a place, a color, what-have-you, that will jog a memory. This phenomenon has always amazed me, how the strangest things can prompt a remembrance, buried deeply in our minds, to float to the surface. When that happens, it seems almost paranormal because, for the briefest of moments, it can feel like you are right there, experiencing everything for the first time.

Sometimes, I'll remember a time and a place that was fun, warm and inviting. Those are good memory joggers. I don't know what else really to call them. Other times of course, dark memories can surface like a pipe rupturing under a beautiful garden, bubbling rotten, black sewage through the vibrant flowers, killing them and leaving a stinking, wretched mess.

Those can be dreadful to deal with. Thoughts and emotions can overwhelm and virtually cripple us.

I started my day like most days, getting mundane things accomplished like checking email, paying bills, and running the dishwasher. While I putter about my house doing these things, I will turn on the TV to a program I like to keep me company with its background noise. This morning I happened to turn on Cold Case Files, and, the story being told in the program prompted a memory I had literally not thought about for years and years.

The story being told on the show was about a young girl who had been abducted from a small town in Ohio, and it took over 20 years to figure out who had taken her, and sadly, killed her. The events being told on the show triggered a memory. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, and, had a studio above my garage where I would work during the day.

It faced a pretty tree lined street that was very quiet. Very few cars travelled on this road because it did not hook up with any of the main thoroughfares in the area. At the end of my street was a good sized neighborhood park, and, the road wound around the edge of it.

There was a school not far from my house and every so often I would see young people walking down the road, heading there. Between some of the houses were walkways they could use to get back to the main road where the school was located. This morning, it was a very pretty day, and I was standing out on one of the balconies I had enjoying a coffee and watching the cute birdies in the trees.

I saw a young girl coming down the street, walking along on the sidewalk and she appeared to be heading to school. She was carrying some books with her arms wrapped around them and she had a small backpack.

There weren't any cars around which was typical for my street, so, when I saw this battered looking car slow down as it approached this girl, my attention was riveted on it.

I could tell by the way she hesitated for a moment that she had seen this car too. I can't remember exactly what kind it was, but, all of those things I had been learning in my neighborhood watch group came immediately to mind. I knew back then what kind it was, and that, it was a dull white/yellow color with a black rag top roof and the tires had different logos on them. There were also lots of rust patches all along the lower edges. It looked a bit like an Impala as I recall.

I also noticed the license plate and quickly wrote that information down. There was just something sinister to me about how the car was still slowing down. Then, it stopped. This young girl had just passed by my house and was on the sidewalk of the house next door, keeping her head down and marching forward, ignoring whoever was in that car.

Through the front windshield I could see a man was driving. He was alone in the car, and appeared to be a pretty big guy with a thick head of shaggy dark hair and a beard. I could see that he was talking to her through the open window of the passenger door. And then, he opened that door and started to back his car up, keeping pace with her.

Holy Crap! What was I seeing here? What was happening right then and there on my street?! I knew I needed to do something, because, I thought something bad was going to happen. I was sure of it. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I couldn't stop it, or could I? What should I do? Call the police or run down to the street? I didn't want to take my eyes off of what was happening, and I suddenly remembered something one of the police officers told us to do if we were witnessing an assault, like say, a man physically or verbally attacking a woman in the park.

We had neighborhood watch meetings every few months, and this one, I had actually hosted. One of my neighbors had asked the question, which made sense actually, because people would sometimes drive into our neighborhood just to use the park there.

He told us, that if we were witnessing something like that, call the police immediately, but do not try to get between them, and, keep our distance.

His directive seemed odd, like, we were just supposed to stand and watch and will the police to get there as soon as possible.

"What else can we do?"

He explained to us that we could stop the violence of the situation by yelling at the man, telling him that we could see him.

"Yell as loudly as you can, so that he can hear you and so can anyone else who might be in the park. Point at him. Draw as much attention to this guy as you can. Let him know you see him. Let him know police are coming." Usually, he explained, other people in the park would start yelling and pointing at him too. This way we could stay safe and diffuse the situation long enough that the police could arrive in time to stop him and help her.

That seemed like the best strategy to use for this little girl. I was very afraid for her. I dialed 911, and held the phone so that I could talk with their dispatcher and yell at that man at the same time. I truly felt like, he was going to get out and grab her since she kept shaking her head and marching forward, not getting into his car.

So, I started yelling, as loudly as I could. I was just screaming at the POS that I could see him and that I was on the phone with the police and he better get the hell away from that little girl.

He stopped what he was doing and I could see him leaning down and forward, peering out his filthy front windshield, trying to figure out where I was. When I saw him look in the direction of my house, I'd duck out the way, then step forward and start screaming again.

The 911 operator could hear all of this of course, and between screaming at this man, I would do my best to give her the address of my house. She told me police were on their way, and asked where the little girl was. As soon as this man stopped harassing her and was focused on trying to find me, she took off like a startled rabbit and raced down one of those walkways between the neighbor's houses across the street. That would put her on the sidewalk up at the main road where there were a lot of cars and people and her school. She probably ran the rest of the way there.

This guy in the car, believing that police were coming, stepped on the gas of his beat up pile of scrap metal he was currently using as a vehicle. He had left the passenger door hanging open and I watched him careen down the road towards the park, then, he drove out of sight.

A police cruiser pulled up at my house a few minutes after that. I ran down to meet them, and pointed in the direction he had gone. I gave them a description of the car and they were surprised when I also gave them the license information. Off they went, in pursuit. I looked around, feeling badly shaken and suddenly very alone and vulnerable out there by myself, so, I ran back inside my house and locked every door I had.

I didn't hear anything about this until the next day when one of the officer's who would come to our houses for the neighborhood watch meetings called me. I could barely speak when I knew it was him on the line. Finally, I managed to squeak something out.

"What...where is he? Do you know if the little girl is OK? What has happened?"

I had started shaking so quieted down and waited for him to tell me what had happened.

"What you did Briar, was exactly what you people who come to all of those neighborhood watch meetings should do. You did it perfectly, and, we just couldn't be more proud over here that all of the effort that goes into attending these meetings and trying educate people with what to do in a situation like this worked. You proved that a neighborhood watch really works."

He went on to explain the little girl was OK, then told me the guy in the yellow car had driven right across the open lawn of the park in my neighborhood and parked his car in the middle of some bushes and trees behind the washrooms there. Apparently, he had been living out of his car for some time, and, he also had an arrest warrant from another state so they happily arrested him and were holding him until arrangements could be made to get him back to that other state.

This had a good ending, not for that guy in the car, but I truly do not care about him. I dread to think of what might have happened to that little girl had he grabbed her. What the police taught us to do saved her and me from what could have been a really bad situation. I try to avoid going to that "What if..." place, because that can cripple you.

That memory shakes me up when I recall it, however, any time it does surface I am scared at first, remembering how close we were to an actual, evil person, then smile and feel really good knowing that everything was ok. I am grateful for all of those neighborhood watch meetings and the things the police had taught us. I certainly learned that lesson extremely well.

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The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated - Mahatma Ghandi

©  Briar Lee Mitchell, 2014