There is a knock at the door, which is strange. But it is ok, I can answer it.
Mom and my sister CAS have just left to go to Safeway. That left me there in charge. I am so excited. Ten is plenty old enough to be left alone. I loved being alone, it so seldom happens in the small houses we lived in with so many people. And now someone was at the door and I get to answer it all by myself.
I don’t recognize the man at the door. He doesn’t say hello or ask for anyone in my family, instead he quickly scans the room behind me and asks if my parents are home.
“No..” I begin, “That’s Ok, you can help me.” he interrupts as he pushes his way in, and closes the door behind himself.
We live in the projects. Church projects, but projects none the less. They are two-story townhome like units. Four to a row. Living/dining room and the kitchen on the first floor, 3 bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Our place is second from the end and closest to the parking lot off the alley. It faces north and is tucked back between the units on either side.
The stranger strides into the house without hesitation. He goes directly through the living room area to the linoleum dinning room table and spreads out a map. He takes out a highlighter and makes two x’s, one on the left and one on the right of the map. He pulls a chair out and instructs me to kneel on the chair and place my hands on each of the x’s. I am in an awkward pose, leaning forward over the table, arms out wide like I am about to do a push up. “Wait,” he says, “let me move the chair.” He rotates the chair so the back of it is on my left and has me put my hands on the x’s again.
The floor plan is an open rectangle. The living room at the front end has the front door and a window. The dining room had a patio slider. The patio faced out to a common area with a building that houses the laundry room. There is a sidewalk that is directly behind our patio door that people used to get to the parking lot or the laundry. Mom keeps the curtains closed most of the time so people wouldn’t be nosy and look into our place.
I am facing those closed curtains now. Everything has happened so fast since this man came in, I am so confused. I don’t know what to make of any of it. He is still talking, fast now. He is telling me I am doing a good job and that I am doing it right but he is only talking about my hand on the x’s. Why are my hands on the x’s? What am I suppose to be looking at? He is standing behind me now and places his hands next to mine on either side. Then he leans against me from behind. I feel something press against my buttocks. I don’t know what it is, I think it is the highlighter he used but it is still on the table in front of me.
Safeway is a five block walk away. There is a small store that is only two blocks away but it really doesn’t carry much and it costs way more so mom tries not to buy stuff there. Us kids go there a lot however for candy or soda. We can also turn in old soda bottles for cash. My sister TJS’s favorite thing there is the burritos. They cook them on a stove they have there and sell them wrapped in foil. My sister is right, they are yummy.
It is a quick walk to the little store but Safeway is a long five block walk, ten blocks round trip not counting shopping time. Mom and CAS will be gone for a while.
His voice changes now, deeper and slower, telling me I am doing a good job and he is moving back and forth behind me pressing harder now. I have no idea what is going on but something is wrong. It all feels wrong. My mouth has gone dry, I am scared and I don’t know what to do. Without thinking I duck under his right arm and am off the chair. “You have to go,” I say. “My mom and sister just went to the corner store and will be back soon and I will get in trouble for letting anyone in.” I lie the thing I hear a thousand times in the projects. No one is allowed in the house if a parent isn’t there. We don’t have that rule at home but it is a convincing lie. And thankfully it works. He quickly gathers up his map and highlighter off the table, is mumbling something about coming back another time when my mom is home and is out the door as fast as he came in it. I lock the door behind him and then I start to shake. I still don’t know what has happened but I know I feel sick to my stomach and I am suddenly cold. I want to go outside and stand in the sun but am scared. I sit down on the couch and stare blindly at the TV.
Mom and CAS come home about a half hour later with the groceries. I help put them away. I don’t tell them or anyone else what has happened. I didn’t want to get in trouble. When I am asked if I am ok, I say I have a headache. No one knows the truth.
A few years later this day makes sense. I understand what had happened. And a few years after that, I understand what could have happened and I realized how incredibly lucky I was.
I see this man once more in my life. I am still ten and some months have passed since I first saw him. I am on the swing set in the courtyard in front of our row of townhouses swinging away. I love the sensation of swinging. The back and forth rhythm and the weightless sensation at the top before falling back again. The feeling of the wind blowing in my hair. I love using the weight if my body and stretch of my legs to keep the constant pace. I always feel so peaceful swinging. There is no one else on the swing set, lucky me; I have it all to myself. Then I get the feeling that someone is looking at me.
I look to my left and there in our next door neighbor’s window, he is. There is a faint smile on his face as he stares straight at me. I am so suddenly and completely scared I almost pee myself. I quickly look away. A thousand thoughts flitter through my mind at once. RUN being the first and most consistent. I am confused again. He must be in the neighbor’s house without their knowing, they are moving today and he must have snuck in. Then the realization comes. They know him.
RUN RUN RUN my brain keeps saying. I slowly stop the swing. I don’t want him to know that I am aware who he is or that I am scared. I want to run but I am afraid that if I do he will chase me. You know, like dogs will do, if you run, they chase you. Instead I walk mechanically to my front door using all my strength to not look at the window again. I am scared he will still be there and I am scared he won’t.
I am back on the couch, staring at the TV, when they ask, I'll say I have a headache.