I’m maybe 8 or 9 years old at most, and with a group of neighborhood friends, selling lemonade and candies from my long driveway. I remember we didn’t get much business in our quiet residential development. But suddenly, a car pulled up, and out walked a man dressed like the Easter Bunny, and a woman dressed like a cross between a fairy and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.
We went down to them with the lemonade cups and a Tupperware container full of Jolly Ranchers. I think they paid and then went on their way. There was no reason why such people would be driving down our street – no birthday parties were planned that day, and no costume parties, either. Later, when I told my parents about meeting the Easter Bunny, they weren’t happy. I know they must have told me about watching out for strangers (and not for the first time), and probably went into dramatic detail about how easily the couple could have grabbed me and my friends and locked us in their car and driven away.
It’s a Saturday afternoon two or three years later, and as we often did then, my sister and I have gone with my dad to his office while he catches up on some work. My dad’s generally a practical, no-nonsense guy, and I think that trait overcame what he knew about being a parent to one troublemaking girl (my sister) and one skittish one (me). And so, he told us he needed to run an errand at the grocery store just across the street, and would only be gone about 15 minutes at most. He told us to stay there, safely in his office, where we had things to do and play with.
After about 5 minutes, my sister, never able to stay still, thought we should cross the busy four-lane street to see where my father was and why he was taking so long to get back. I told her we should stay where we were, but I knew she wouldn’t agree. A few years prior, she’d run away from a kids’ camp at a vacation resort we were staying at, so she had a history of these things. I had a history, too, which was either to stay put and worry, or to follow her and try to keep her from getting into more trouble. We left my father’s empty office building and headed towards the busy street.
Somehow, we managed to cross without any major problems. But once we set foot in the shopping center’s massive parking lot, we realized we were totally out of our depth. Had our father said he was going to the supermarket, or was he in one of the smaller stores? How did we know he only needed to go to one place? I guess we decided to go back. Suddenly, a man spotted us and asked if we were all right. He was young and seemed nice. We told him we were looking for our dad, but wanted to cross the street again to get back to the office building. The man told us it would be dangerous to cross the busy street, and said he’d take us in his car.
In my defense, I saw he had a baby in a car seat in there, and figured he was a dad, too. I decided to trust him. Strangely, I don’t remember now if we got into the car and he took us to the office, or if we were about to when my father came out of the grocery store and saw us. Either way, I know the whole experience didn’t last long before we were discovered. I remember my father thanked the man, and then, after he’d driven away, gave us a long lecture about how dangerous that was, undoubtedly telling us horror stories about what could have happened.
I haven’t gotten myself nearly kidnapped any other times since then, or at least, not to my knowledge. A few years ago I took a taxi ride and thought the driver was taking a strange way to get where I needed to go, so I took out my phone and pretended to call someone and tell them I’d be home in a few minutes. I don’t know if I foiled a kidnapping plot that night, but I felt triumphant when we reached my apartment building.
That time, my parents weren’t there to tell me what could have happened, and I didn’t bother telling them about the experience. If I ever do, though, at least they’ll know that I hadn’t put myself into a particularly strange and potentially dangerous situation – and that maybe their many scenarios about what could have been had made me aware enough to make my fake phone call. I’m also pretty sure I’ve told my younger siblings and several tutoring students about the terrible things that could happen to them if they did something rash. So maybe all that means I’m an adult now.
Even if I am, the terrifying thing is, I could still get kidnapped.