CONTINUED FROM WHERE PART I LEFT OFF.
EXCERPT FROM PART I, ABOUT THE DINOSAUR TRACKS PARK OFF ROUTE 5 IN HOLYOKE:
“At times the parking lot is full, and it seems there is always a Subaru something-er with roof racks parked in the lot, as kayakers seem to use this spot as frequently as hikers, as well as families and sometimes people walking alone or mothers with a child or two. It seems safe, an innocent diversion even, far from the flats of Holyoke where I have my studio and where I exercise increased caution. So I thought nothing of taking my dog Jamoka for a walk there, that day a few years ago, a day much like today… beautiful, breezy, sunny, quiet..”
We’d been here often, perhaps daily at times, and at least once or twice a week, for many months. That there were days we left without having our walk because the lot was full — all the cars overcrowding the little arc-shaped slip of a parking lot seemed to reinforce that this was a safe and well-inhabited spot. Jamoka loved to walk out onto the sun-warmed rocks and down into the water where they made a little ramp, and then he’d lie in the sun and dry off, after first doggie-shaking off the excess water followed by that little butt-only wiggle-flourish he’d do and I’d laugh out loud every time. On the way down the path I’d throw sticks I’d collected along the trail and he’d gleefully run for them, tongue flying, through the woods and over downed trees, ultimately diving into the river and doggie-paddling triumphantly back with the stick held aloft in his mouth. I’d wade around up to my knees collecting and throwing the sticks that he’d drop just shy of dry land and then we’d sit and watch the dusk gather unto itself and start the uphill walk back to the car before the dusk actually began it’s show.
On this particular day of which I write, the tiny park was an especially glorious, quiet, and un-crowded retreat; as we’d headed down the trail I’d encountered only a very charming and smiley elderly man and his companion, a boy who was possibly his adolescent grandson and who was also very endearing — noticeably well-mannered, and eager to recount that which he’d learned in school about dinosaurs and tracks. The boy had told me all about the age and history of these tracks including how they rated in comparison to others he’d studied and encountered in his travels, as driven by his interest in geology. I remember being rather fascinated, thinking to myself “I must tell ___ or ____ about this! Who knew that dinosaurs _____-ed?”, yet that was all quickly erased, existing now only as blanks in my memory of that day, though for some reason I can recall almost all but those sundry dinosaur facts.
It was a ridiculously picture perfect day; the sun shined so brightly, the sky a cartoonish blue — complete with such fluffy cotton clouds as those crudely shaped by a child un-self-conscientiously wielding an ample supply of chalk — and a soft breeze blew which I very much remember thinking of as “delicious” (I have always had a thing for wind), which, combined with the tweeting of myriad birds and the waves lapping against the rocks, seemed the most delightful cacophony of sights and sounds as we sat on the rock looking out onto the river. I felt consciously content, happy.
But then, though it was far from dusk, I felt a gnawing unease and decided it was time to go; I was hungry and had dinner plans that night for which I’d need to change clothes. Jamoka was ready for dinner. As I gathered up the sweater upon which had served as seat cushion and picked up my cell phone, the one I always carried in my hand due to my aversion to carrying a pocketbook, I hoped that whatever dinner plans I’d made would consist of a cookout so I could get more of this lovely, breezy, near-perfect day.
As I stood up, thus signalling to Jamoka that it was time to go, I remember realizing how suddenly very quiet the area was, and wondering if the birds were all at dinner or having siestas. Looking around, I realized everyone had left but for us — it was definitely time to head home. As we started from the clearing by the water toward the trees and the trail to my car, I saw something move through the trees, and then something else; my instinct told me it was not the elderly man and has grandson and I longed for the sight of them, as instinctual warning bells clanged in my mind.
And then a guy appeared, looking a bit shifty, and slowly there appeared another, and another. I felt that feeling in my gut that I get when I know something isn’t right or when I hear a strange noise in the middle of the night which seems to be inside my home. They seemed about 20-ish or even late teen-ish, and looked to be the type one frequently sees in the flats of Holyoke, from my personal experience, and one wore a hoodie which pretty much obliterated his face, and which seemed odd for such an almost-hot day.
Now a fourth appeared, much heavier, sloppier, and I was closer now, close enough to see them give each other the side-eye as some signal seemed to pass between them. They each moved slightly, nodding at each other and looking toward me, forming a line across the only entrance to the narrow trail and, once in place, they all turned, almost at once, and faced me, looking directly AT me now, not merely toward me, and that’s when my being seemed to seize. I glanced at Jamoka to my left and he was not wagging his tail, which to me was a sure sign that he had a bad vibe. I wondered how Jamoka would protect me from 5 men.
And then there were 6, and I froze, as one last man appeared and stood across the last small gap between their human chain and the entrance to the trail, tilting his head back and looking me over through slitted eyes, spreading his legs apart as if expecting some sort of impact, as if to lower his center of gravity, with arms crossed and menacing expression.
I saw that now that they had all 6 of them assumed this legs-apart, arms-crossed, leering, determined, hard and hardened stance, and were all facing me, eyes on me, all on me alone, for a split second on Jamoka, gauging his strength and ferocity perhaps, nodding almost imperceptibly yet again to each other, slow smirks appearing on a few faces, a bored look on another, cheshire cat smile of anticipation or excitement on another, who seemed to lick his lips, with a resulting palpable tension in the air which seemed almost to thrill them as their body language said little yet everything; I was in danger, this was the only certainty, I felt extreme fear in every cell. I started mulling, figuring, running through every possible scenario and option, in what felt like minutes but which was about 10 seconds in reality. I was 12 feet away now and I heard no sounds but the water hitting the rocks. What had happened to the birds? How could the sun be shining and how could the cartoon clouds just… be there… as if nothing were wrong? Time seemed to stop, and my mind went into fast forward; and this is what I thought, for it is imprinted on my memory and has been relived in many a subsequent dream:
They will hear me call 911 and there is no way a dispatcher will get anyone here in time to help me, if I can even finish the call. Calling for help is useless. It would only take them a few minutes to attack. There is not time to explain to a dispatcher or to anyone where I am exactly. There is nowhere to run. They have me surrounded but for the water behind me. They cannot be up to any good. They have spread out like a line of soldiers and they all have sinister faces, evil, they are frowning, why are they frowning at me? EVIL. Evil is here. I am done. What will happen to Jamoka? Will he rip them to shreds? There are too many. OH SHIT, A ROPE!? What is in that guy’s pocket? Am I dreaming. This is NOT happening. Denial will do me no good. Will they let me by? Maybe it’s not a rope, they don’t even need a rope. No. No. No. I can’t risk getting close enough to find out and I can’t turn around. I have to go through them. I have to get out. To hesitate is to show fear, fear would appeal to their worst instincts, these animalistic damaged “humans”. They will be excited by my fear.
I wonder if they know how to swim. Maybe they don’t know how to swim… If they don’t know how to swim then maybe Jamoka and I can run and jump into the river and swim down river using the current to help move us move quickly and we’ll emerge on the riverbank farther down. Will Jamoka know to follow me? What if he doesn’t? I will not leave him. We are in this together. Why is he frozen like that? Then we will have to walk along Rt 5 to my car but that’s ok because cars will be driving by and will see me, or them chasing me. My cell phone will get wet and I’ll have no way to call. I can run out into traffic. But what if Jamoka follows me into traffic? I wonder if that guy from the trophy house is out walking his dog along RT 5. It is usually at this time. But he can’t help me. He’d get hurt. He’d have no time to call the police either. His dog might be able to help. No his dog has only 3 legs.
Oh my god, they just took a step closer and spread out more. They are blocking every possible direction between me and the road. We are too low to be seen by passing cars. Why didn’t I notice everyone else leave? If I scream I wonder if anyone will hear me. What if I can’t scream, like in those dreams? They just moved toward me again. This is like a bizarre game of chess. One is grabbing his crotch, no, is he? He IS looking at me, into my eyes, they are ALL looking into my eyes… there is no way that is not a signal. Is this how it ends? It can’t be. It’s not fair, it can’t be, I have overcome far too much for it to end this way. Jamoka will be scarred for life by what he sees, or he could get killed trying to help me. SHIT. Who will take him in if he makes it? Dianna?
I wonder if, when my father sees this on the news, he will care at all. No, I doubt it. I guess Marty didn’t need to go to all that trouble to steal my half of the inheritance. It won’t matter now. See? He didn’t need to go to all that trouble. I wonder if he will ever feel at all ever guilty, or, sad. Will my father even mourn a little bit? No. I should have a will. Who will get all my art and all my belongings? What if the landlord takes them? No, I want my friends to get everything. Maybe my father will try to claim it all? I could actually see that. Marty stole my money but for some reason he wouldn’t give back my paintings though I asked him WHY the hell he would even want them, given that he admitted his theft and practically gloated about it. They would have my stuff on eBay in a week. But no, my friends won’t allow that, no way. He will tell all the relatives it was my own damn fault like he told me when I was chased by the 5 drunk guys in the North End after dropping Melissa at Logan Airport — and they LOVE her — so she’d not have to pay for a cab. Everything is always my fault. I got out of that potential gang rape when they yelled “LOOK! It’s a girl! let’s get some asssss”. But I had room to run and already had my keys intertwined in my hands, the vestibule key ready.
Why do I care what they will think after I am gone? They have never valued my life. This time I have no room to run past the group of guys and no key in hand to slide into the lock, just in time. Why is my mace at home? Where is my mace? It would never work with 6 guys. They could simply grab it and use it on me. FOCUS.
If there were only one of them I could try the moves we learned in self-defense class at UMASS. Maybe Matt is watching me from the beyond like he does and will send help. Grammie and Grampie are always watching me. I definitely have guardian angels, they saved me when I skied off that cliff; they turned me around in mid-air so I didn’t hit the trees head-first. I almost bit it then. Yes, they will help me. NO, I have to help myself. Maybe someone will show up any minute and they will save me. Maybe these guys will leave me alone. NO, that is foolish thinking, they have a plan, that much is glaringly obvious. Maybe they will just gang rape me and leave me? But if Jamoka attacks them will they kill him? No, cannot let anything happen to Jamoka.
Did they just take another step? Oh shit now 3 of them are grinning, smirking, look away, no don’t look away, act confident, be alert, think, did I just hear a zipper? My mind is playing tricks on me, they are screwing with me, warning me, that will be the end, snap out of it, do something. BE the Practical Princess. What would she do? She’d use her wits against them. She’d throw them an effigy dressed as herself, filled with gunpowder – how can I do that? They can’t be too bright, outwit them. Look confident. Someone is snickering, this is a game to them, they are bad, definitely bad people, EVIL, I need someone to show up right now, I will invent people, people very near, it’s worth a shot, How many people do I need? I can only pull off a few, maybe that will be enough, don’t over do it and make it implausible… I don’t have time to even dial out. I’ll fake it… now, it’s gotta be now… NOWNOWNOW, DO SOMETHING, nothing to lose, everything to gain… be confident…. DO SOMETHING. This will NOT be how it ends. FUCK THEM.
“Hey Dean!”, I began cheerfully, after doing a little ‘oops’ maneuver, as if jolted by the vibration of the phone, and putting my phone to my ear as one finger pushed the green button twice thus dialing the last call, “Yeah, I am on my way… nooooo, yes, to meet YOU, yesss, at the parking lot…huh?.. yes, at the parking lot, like I said I would … yes, right now… (using that “duh” tone of voice, which I usually disdain)…
As I spoke, to a ringing phone, I started walking purposely and confidently toward the men, continuing my “conversation”, trying to act as nonplussed, as natural as possible, looking at the ground a few steps ahead of me as one does on uneven terrain, heart pounding, turning to Jamoka saying, “Come on little guy! Let’s go see Uncle Dean!”, praying they’d not hear the pounding of my heart, sense my fear, and call my bluff… it wasn’t perfect but it was a shot… make the call seem very natural, not an act…
“I am NOT late! I am NEVER late! NOoooo, bullSHIT, I AM here, yes, on my way up the trail… you ARE? Then why are you pretending you didn’t see my car? loser!….
By now Dean has mercifully answered though I cannot fill him in on what is going down, and he is saying, “What ARE you talking about, Mo? Are you ok? Where ARE you?…”
“…No, not at all. Yeah, well just keep walking down the trail and you’ll see me, we are heading toward each other… Yes! About 20 steps from the parking lot, right below the dinosaur tracks…”
Dean is now asking if I am ok, should he come to meet me? Do I mean I am at the dinosaur tracks on Rt 5?….
“Yes, exactly! …. what? You can? I don’t see youuuuuu? (craning my neck, looking into the woods over the men’s heads) Oh, well, then I am more like 15 feet away from you, no, not yet, but I don’t have my glasses… (squinting [hoping it is not too theatrical] into the woods between the two men closest to the mouth of the trail)…. Billy is here too? No, it’s fine that you brought him. I am surprised Mr. Vanity took an evening off from the gym. So where are we going for dinner?” (NOTE: Billy is not a Mr. Vanity type, I actually call him Mr. Fabulous, Mr. Sir, or Mr. Elusive, but I wanted to get the idea across that my men were capable)
I am hoping Dean thinks to jump in his car and head over to help me… knowing there isn’t likely anything he can do, yet feeling guilty if he does show up and ends up in danger too, knowing there isn’t possibly time for Dean to help, though he is not even a mile away…
“Wait, I think I do see you guys…”, (craning, smiling directly at the man chain, as if I am about to bump into my men friends)… “Wait, are you wearing pink?”
Fortunately not one of the men turns around. They are holding their stance yet I think I feel some nearly imperceptible shifting or un-spoken plan re-assessment…
At this point I was about a foot from the line of men blocking the trail and Dean hadn’t actually said he was en route but he was staying on the phone with me. Not more than a minute has passed since I “answered’ my phone. Time is moving too fast and not fast enough. That I could hear the fear and concern in Dean’s voice ever-so-briefly snapped me out of my act but then fear turned back to adrenaline channeled into my faux chipper “call”, but here was my big moment when I’d try to get past the men… it was the moment when I’d succeed, or not… FOCUS.
As I approached the human blockade I took a deep breath and said into my phone, “Well, this DOES count as being on time… I’m, like, a few yards away from you. Will you stop saying I’m late AGAIN? Uh-huhhhh…”, and as I broke through the human chain — at this most crucial and precarious fraction of a moment — deftly taking a casual diagonal side-step around the legs most directly in my way, and thus slipping nonchalantly between the middle guy and the next guy in line, I threw them a smile. I smiled right at them and added a conspiratorial eye roll regarding the shit I was clearly taking on the phone for being late. And suddenly I was past them, almost free.
It took all I had to not turn around and to refrain from breaking into a run. It seemed imperative to be confident, to not show fear, to NOT turn around, though I was tensed for the smallest of noises which might indicate that they had even merely turned around to watch me, their prey, go; I consciously identified as “the prey” during this ordeal. I heard the single crackle of a twig but I did not turn around, instead I laughed into the phone at some pretended bon mot. The tension was achingly palpable and I feared that to run would blow my confidence act and trigger a chase, if they sensed fear they’d know I was meeting no one on the trail, my charade would collapse, so I continued the “call” all the way to the parking lot and then, suddenly, I was running to the car, shoving Jamoka in the back seat, and hitting the button that locks all the doors.
Even with Dean still on the phone (by now I had assured him that I was in my car, safe, though I would not feel safe for a long time) I could not feel safe till I had pulled out onto RT 5 and pulled into traffic gunning the engine, thinking at this point that should I get pulled over for speeding it might serve me well, that they might have time to catch the guys, but then my mind raced still, and I was simultaneously afraid to have to identify these guys and… for what? They’d not touched me. I was safe. And so I slowed down.
I don’t know if I stopped at Dean’s house on my way home as he’d suggested on the phone; maybe I did, or maybe I went straight home and locked the door, sobbing. I have forgotten all but for the contrast; the beauty of the day and how it so suddenly changed, about my evidently successful “acting”. To be that close to… to that which I could not allow myself to name, or to picture (though I ponder it still), was traumatic. I did grudgingly allow for a bit of self-congratulatory sentiment for my quick thinking, but yet, I cried at odd moments over the next few weeks, maybe even months. For to be that close to the possibility of a violent death, to the R word which is every woman’s fear, to contemplate all 100 pounds of me trying to fight 6 men, is all too much to ponder.
In fact, what began since that day, by way of forcing myself to focus on something/anything else as I drive through that area, has become a somewhat obsessive game of sorts in which I delight with almost too much glee, on the how the trophies are arranged in the window of what we call, “The Trophy House”, (many frequent drivers of Rt 5 along the Holyoke/Easthampton line will know the teeny house with the trophies in the front window, will know what I mean, instantly) to an unusual degree, calling Billy or Dean to report with awe and wonder that “Trophy Guy” has now moved all his trophies to the other window! Now they are in a circle! Now they are in a square! OMG! Today they are all lying on their side! Maybe he is cleaning? Maybe he no longer bowls and as such does not want them around as a reminder of his bowling days? Whoa, They are back! There is one less today! OMG, I saw “Trophy Guy” walking his dog and he isn’t limping!
I realize only now, as I write this, that the trophy house and it’s myriad trophies has become symbolic of the extraordinary use of my wit in my conquest of the Six Bad Men.
So long as the trophies are there, in whatever new arrangement, they are a reminder that yes, I am The Practical Princess.
And I still call Billy and Dean to report on the ever-changing display of trophies in that teeny house near the tracks.