Read this and tell me if I'm the one to blame.
Friday night, our 18-year-old daughter arrived on the train from Philadelphia where she goes to school. It was a ten hour trip, she was coming off a week of finals and ready to collapse. The train was supposed to get into Montpelier at 8:20 p.m. - or so we thought. Instead, it got in at 8:02 which meant Anna had to wait awhile until my husband picked her up.
Now, to fully tell this story, I have to set the scene. Montpelier, Vermont, is a cold place and the train station is a remote shack stuck behind warehouses and bare lots. Your typical train environment. There are two passenger trains a day - one heading to Washington, D.C., via New York at 9:42 a.m. and one arriving at 8:02 p.m. That's it. As a result, the station isn't staffed though sometimes a volunteer will come in the morning to open it up so people have a relatively warm place to wait.
Arriving in Montpelier in December is often something out of Doctor Zhivago. Last year around this time, I came back from New York and was blown away, quite literally, by the snow rushing into the door as we pulled to the stop. I was the only one who got off. The station was pitch black, the platform deserted. This was what my daughter found, too, though, unlike me, she didn't have a car to get into and drive away in. She had to wait. In the dark. In the cold. Alone.
To pass the time, she called me at home, eight miles away. She was chit chatting about her friends and school when suddenly she gasped, "Mom! Mom! There's a guy here!"
Heart, mine, quit. "What do you mean there's a guy?"
"He's in a van and he's talking to me." More gasps, deep breaths. "He won't go. Mom....there's no one else here. He's...getting out and coming toward me."
What do you do in a situation like this? Charlie's probably a good five minutes away, I don't want to hang up and call the cops because that would disconnect me from Anna. All I can think is that I'm going to hear my daughter being kidnapped and raped and I will be powerless to do anything. So, I say....
"Scream, Anna, like I told you." By now, of course, I am screaming too. "Scream, 'Get the fuck away from me you fucking asshole. Get the fuck away from me!'"
Because if there's anything I've learned from my days as a reporter covering criminal cases it's that generally pervs will steer clear of crazy out-of-control women. The problem we women have is that we're too afraid of embarrassing ourselves to make it clear early on that we're screaming, kicking, crazy bitches and by the time we want to scream and kick, he's got his arm around our throats.
So, Anna does. At the top of her voice she lets out a scream that pierces my ear. "Did he go away?" I asked.
"I don't know. No!" She starts running. I hear her running and panting. It's straight from Blair Witch, footsteps, crying, heavy breathing. The works. My heart has resumed beating at several miles a minute. Years are being peeled off my life like layers on an onion. I picture this guy having fun with her, torturing this poor child, this straight A student, who just wants to live and have a happy life.
"Where's Dad?" She pants some more. "Where's Dad?"
Thump! Silence. I think, he's hit her on the head and now she's down. "Anna!"
"I slipped and fell," she says, starting to run again.
I tell her to stay in the road, don't be tempted to duck around the warehouses. Zig, zag. Wave your arms so that if any passing car - unlikely since there's no one there - comes by they won't miss you.
The only passing car that comes by is the one carrying Charlie and our 19-year-old nephew who's staying with us for the winter. They're having a cheerful conversation when they see this girl in the road loaded down with backpacks running zig zag and waving her arms. It's...Anna?!
(Oh, sure, it's funny now!)
She opens the back door, tears streaming down her face, panicked. "Some guy tried to accost me!"
That's it. That's all Charlie needs to turn him from mild mannered attorney into the Incredible Hulk.
Who can blame him? He's a father and some creep just terrorized his daughter. Meanwhile, is anyone talking to me? No. Anna has hung up and I have to call back to find out what's going on.
"I think they went into the train station," says my nephew who, being from rural Ohio where people are normal, isn't quite used the daily drama of our house. "Charlie's going to find the guy."
Charlie runs to the station and yanks open the door where he is greeted by a little old lady in a Fair Isle sweater. Okay, that's the first WTF moment since we thought the station was empty. Certainly not occupied by little old ladies in Fair Isle sweaters. Turns out it's not only not empty, it's packed. (Why? We have no idea.) And warm. And lit.
"I'm looking for the man who accosted my daughter," says Charles.
The station master - don't even start with me - looks up from his cribbage game. "Who...what?" As if Charles had said, "話しかけられる."
"Accosted, accosted, accosted." Charlie's impatient, blood pumping through his veins. "Where is he?" He scans the room for a large man, ugly and mean as Anna described.
From the back a hand shoots up. "I think I might have been the one," says a little fellow, about yeah high. "I was looking for my daughter."
The door flies open and there's Anna, a teary mess. Charlie says apologetically, "I think my daughter might have overreacted."
(Though later we would wonder why the guy was there looking for his daughter if there was only one train rolling through. And how come he insisted on talking to her after she screamed?)
Charlie and Anna pile back into the car and immediately blame...me! That's right. This is MY fault because not only did I tell Anna to scream and run like a crazy woman, but I have spent years filling her head with all sorts of awful crime stories.
I've told her about the college freshman in Lorain, Ohio, who went out for a bottle of vanilla on Christmas eve and was kidnapped, raped, pistol whipped and left for dead by a repeat offender just released on holiday furlough. About the woman in a tranquil Vermont village who, coming back from a run, finds a man in her driveway with a gas can, his truck a quarter mile down the road. She, foolishly, went with him into her garage to look for gasoline and ended up being hit over the head, kidnapped, bound with duct taped, raped, burned, and violated. She escaped with her quick wits a and lived to tell the tale.
I told Anna these stories because these women survived the most horrific ordeals. They were smart and resourceful and persistent. I will never forget the college freshman, her eyesight permanently damaged, getting off the witness stand and walking right past her attacker who whispered to his lawyer to, "take her down." Nor will I forget the uniform expressions of shock on the faces of the jurors who ate lunch on the state's nickel and then sent his ass up the river.
So, okay. Maybe this was my fault. But Anna's alive and unharmed - knock on wood - and that's my only concern. Plus, it makes for one hell of a story.
Happy Festivus! Merry Christmas!
P.S. Between wrapping presents and baking cookies, you might wanna take a look at this. Mr. International Competition. "Intelligence." Yeah. Right. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8421514.stm