I was fifteen years old when a violent murder far away stabbed my psyche and dumped trauma into my very cells.
“I didn’t want to get involved,” rang the famous words that self-exonerated over thirty “ear witnesses.” The chilling screams of a young woman enduring stab wound after stab wound fell on it’s-just-a-lovers’-quarrel ears, someone-else-will-help-her ears, I-don’t-want-to-get-hurt ears.
The horrific fear that must have engulfed Kitty Genovese settled in my depths and never left.
Someone should’ve, we all could’ve, I would’ve.
In my young heart, I made a promise to myself that if life ever put me in the situation of witness, I would act.
It happens, twenty-five years later.
It’s the summer equinox, the longest day of the year, and the sun, sneaking toward the west, begs to delay its bedtime. I’m on my way to a prayer group twenty miles from my home, heading north on Wadsworth, a wide, traffic-laden boulevard lined with office buildings, strip malls, and apartments. Tendrils of exhaust swirl over warm asphalt, brake lights flash caution, drivers mindlessly tap their knuckles on their steering wheels to music locked inside—a predictable, almost comforting background for my mind as I rehash the stuff of my life.
So I barely notice when an older-model vehicle slips in right in front of me. Lots of kids inside. Teenagers? Young adults? I don’t really care.
Back to my thoughts.
Suddenly an undefined flash of something jolts me out of my reverie. My eyes dart to the car ahead. Did I see something? Hmm. Guess not.
And then it happens again. Did someone just hit that guy?
Denial instantly drowns me. Naw. Those are just kids messing around with each other.
And then it happens a third time. I’m not wrong. Smacking that kid on the side of the head is exactly what that mob is doing.
Flustered, I’m not sure what to do. I trail the car for a while. Then I move over to the next lane and creep up on the hostage-takers. I peer into the back window. Tears are streaming down the cheeks of the young man squished in the middle, imprisoned by his batterers.
I glance frantically at the drivers around me. Does no one see this? I desperately want someone else to take charge of getting this young man some help. But no one registers any concern whatsoever.
I don’t want to get hurt, I think. But clearly, it’s up to me. Once I accept that, ideas for rescuing the terrified captive storm my brain.
Take down the license plate number. I blindly rummage through my purse until I find a pen and scribble on the first thing my fingers grab—my checkbook.
Notice the color and make of the car. I write it down.
Stay on his tail. I am, I am.
Be ready in case they turn onto a side street. Whoa. I’m not getting off the main road. My quarry turns off the main road onto a side street.
Crap. Now what? Somehow I have the presence of mind to jot down the name of the street and the direction the car is heading.
Still several miles from my destination, and not seeing any open businesses or payphones, I do the only thing I can think of: I step on the gas and charge down Wadsworth Boulevard—way over the speed limit—because now a cop will stop me.
Not a patrol car in sight.
Terror fuels me. Finally, I pull into the parking lot of the church, bolt for the door, tear into the office and, out of breath and trembling, call the police.
The dispatcher wants to know my name. I plead into the phone. “If you don’t hurry, they’re going to kill that boy.”
But the truth is that I’m in the grips of what I promised I would never do: I don’t want to get involved.
At least not enough.
I don’t want my identity known, don’t want to testify, don’t want to do everything I can to save that young man and bring his kidnappers to justice.
I don’t want to get involved, for heaven’s sake. Shame fills me.
Then something humbling happens. My own voice calls me out—with the same admonishment I deal my children: You don’t have to want to do it. You just have to do it.
So I give my name to the police.
It’s been a long, long day. I retire to the chapel to pray for a call that the abductors have been stopped in time.
My 25-year-old mantra returns, twirling in my head. Someone should’ve, we all could’ve, I would’ve.
At last, the call comes. My young man is safe.
I have cared enough.
Copyright 2015. Maggie McCann Pike.
Maggie McCann Pike
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