I will never forget a certain Saturday afternoon . . . I was “babysitting” my younger sister and a family friend. We walked to a local shopping mall and wandered around for the afternoon. Just before we set off for the long walk home, I decided to treat them to pizza. I was just a high school girl at the time. We were “cool” and so in the nearly empty pizza place, we sat in the very back of the shop.
We were finishing our pizza and the girls, sitting opposite me, grew frightened. I turned slightly to see what was happening at the table behind me which was connected to ours as “booths” so often are. What I saw is burned in my memory and always will be. I saw two men who were likely quite young, though in the eyes of a teenage girl, seemed much older. One held a gun and was swinging it around his finger and smacking it against the jukebox at the table. I can’t tell you what they looked like, I’d never seen a gun aside from a rare television show . . . not the sort of show my parents would approve of as a rule, but I knew what I was seeing.
All I could think of was how to protect myself and the girls in my care and my body just froze. The girls began to chatter and I told them to sit quietly and focus on their food. There was no way we could move from our seats without making our situation worse. Then the men saw us and approached out table.
As one man leaned very close to me . . . so much so that I could smell the garlic on his breath, he said to me “you’re not going to say anything about this are you?” In that couple of seconds, I could think of nothing to say to make this any less ugly than it was. I made an effort not to look into their faces, trying not to shake even though every fiber of my being seemed to be shaking so badly my stomach was sick . . . I heard my voice say “the jukebox was broken anyway.” He leaned even closer, he touched my shoulder, and said “you’re a good girl” and left. The young girls and I just sat there. I saw the men walk out the exit of the mall into the street. When my body was able to move once more, I awkwardly comforted the girls and walked silently, with them, to another exit and we walked home. I can still recall assuring the girls, whom I insisted walk ahead of me so I could keep an eye on them, that it was a fake gun and that the guys were long gone, but with every step I walked, I expected it to be my last. Was the gun real? Was it fake? Why did they have one? Had they ever “done anything” with it? I’ll never know. I can feel my stomach twisting now just as it did that day. True to my word, I’ve never spoken of it, until this moment.