At 10 years old, a friend and I were playing in the street near our house, in Oman. A man who I had never met asked if we would like to come see his puppies. And I said YES! Exclamation point. Sounds like the opening to a CSI episode, doesn’t it? To me now, it screams child abduction. But in the moment, all I could think of was. Puppies.
We entered his patio area, where there were indeed 6 or 7 delicious puppies. After playing for a while, we decided to go home and we left.
Here is where it’s fuzzy for me, I’m not sure if he asked us inside and we got frightened and we left, or he genuinely was a nice man and just thought we would enjoy hanging out with some puppies and we left naturally.
That night my mother was incredibly upset with me. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t seem to find it worrying that I wandered into a stranger’s yard. She only found out after a worried call from my friend’s mother. Apparently my friend had been quite upset about the whole thing realizing the possible danger we put ourselves in, or rather, I put us in. I never even thought to mention it.
In fact, I only recently recalled the entire incident. Late one night when I couldn’t fall asleep, it all came flooding back to me. After playing over the memory in my mind several times I was freaked. What if it had ended differently? What if I had gone inside his house? What if my friend hadn’t been there?
I woke up Maria and exclaimed “I think I was nearly murdered when I was 10 because of puppies and I’m very very distressed about the whole thing.”
“Well you weren’t. It’s all ok. So go back to sleep”.
Needless to say I couldn’t.
I think this must have been the turning point. When I stopped being the child that would say yes to puppies, or testing out new roller-skates at the top of a hill and started becoming the child that wouldn’t go on carnival rides and would remind herself that if something went wrong she might end up dead or horribly deformed.
When contemplating my activities, I’d weigh up the odds of my survival. If there was a chance it wouldn’t end well, I’d picture my poor parents receiving the news of my demise, and think better of it.
At 13 I would to babysit for children in our sleepy English countryside village, I would sometimes walk home alone at 10 or 11pm. I would be terrified. Convinced I was about to be attacked and raped and cut up into tiny pieces. I don’t know why. Nothing bad has ever happened there. I believe the worst crime committed was when someone added an ‘I’ in between the ‘To Let’ sign.
To combat my own murder, I would pull up my coat hood and walk like a man. This meant large burly steps my arms swaying side to side. I figured this way, any potential rapist looking for his next victim would see me and keep on going.
Any time I was home alone, I was also convinced I would be robbed and murdered and again chopped up into tiny pieces.
This actually might have stemmed from when our mentally disturbed Uncle babysat and read my brother and I a terrifying children’s story called ‘The Three Robbers’. The jist of the story is that three men robbed the villagers over and over again, until the villagers caught them and beat them to death with various farming tools.
This is a real children’s story.
Uncle Tim convinced us that it was based on a true story and that the 3 robbers were nearby, in fact they were ready to rob our village any time soon…
My parents arrived home to find us crying behind the couch clutching spatulas and Uncle Tim enjoying his beer by the fire, pleased as punch.
During summer vacations, when we were back in England, our father would make us attend the local primary school for the last few weeks of the British school year. “You’ll make friends!” (I didn’t), “You’ll have fun” (I didn’t). “You’re bloody well going, so stop whining”.
There were many difference from our international school in the middle east, to this sleepy countryside village school, but one of the major differences were that many of these children lived on a farm. This opened up a whole new world of dangers I didn’t even know could exsist.
They played us a video, a PSA about all possible horrific ways you could die on a farm. One by one the children were killed off in gruesome and detailed ways. One run over by a tractor, another drowned in the slurry, electrocuted, impaled by sharp farm equipment, kicked by a horse, crushed by a hay bail…it went on and on.
Needless to say I couldn’t be on a farm without seeing death round every corner. I’d warn anyone and everyone who would listen to me. Do not climb into the hay stack – just trust me on this one.
During my college years I avoiding doing many things for fear of being attacked. If alone, I never went out when it was dark, which in England, during the winter is about 3pm. If I had to come home or go somewhere alone at night, I was like an animal in the jungle – alert to every movement and sound that could be an indicator of potential life threatening danger.
I was never not on guard. Did that man just look at me funny. Is he lingering a little too long? Did his pace just quicken?
Often I had 99…already dialed...waiting to punch in that final number.
For a while I pretended to talk on the phone, loudly letting the imaginary friend on the other end of the line know the exact street I was on, until I read an article that you could actually be MORE at risk from being on your phone. I stopped doing that.
I do however employ those tactics now, in a taxi or an Uber. I’ll phone my imaginary friend and say ‘Just got in the Uber, it’s a black Honda accord, license plate 6GUH980. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.’. The driver should hopefully interpret this as “Someone knows where I am and your details so don’t even think about murdering me’. I don’t know why I don’t actually phone someone, perhaps I’m too embarrassed…
I can provide you with terrifying stories of how someone has perished in a multitude of ways. I have filed these stories away as constant reminders of how many dangers lurk around each and every corner. And I will remind you. Before you get on that rollercoaster, while you’re at the top of the stairs, before you decide to swing back on your chair…
You could say that I am this way because of my upbringing, but my brother doesn’t have this fear. He’s done more stupid things than I care to think about. In fact, he eventually stopped inviting me to hang out with him and telling me what he’d been up to. Something about being a kill joy.