This happened one afternoon when I was in 7th grade. No names have been changed to protect the innocent. I never learned their names anyway.
That afternoon, like most, I walked the last few blocks toward home by myself after parting ways with friends. My shoulder purse swung against my hip as I walked; my arms hugged the binder and books I carried home every day. I was probably lost in thought, daydreaming about some boy I liked or going over what my best friend said to make me mad, or humming the songs we were learning in chorus. My favorite song was Dona Nobis Pacem. Grant us peace.
So I didn’t really hear the car drive up until it was almost beside me.
“Hey girl, you got a nickel?”
There wasn’t anyone I knew in the car, just a bunch of high school kids yelling out the car window. I kept walking.
“Hey, bitch. I said do you have a nickel?”
I snapped out of my reverie.They were talking to me. I looked over at the car which had now slowed to match my pace.
“No, I don’t have a nickel,” I said. I didn’t need money at school and never carried any unless there was a bake sale or something special going on. I heard the car stop and a door open and close. I kept walking, going faster but not running. Two girls—they had teased out hair and wore heavy black eyeliner, thick make-up and tight skirts—the kind of girls we called skags—came up behind me. One of them put her arm around my neck in a choke hold while the other one grabbed my purse, opened it and saw it was nearly empty.
“Shit. Let’s go,” one of them said to the other.
“Next time, you better have something for us,” the other one snarled at me. Then they both hopped back in the car. The boy at the wheel sped off up the street and turned the corner.
My knees were shaking so badly I could hardly make my legs move. I walked half a block before I started to cry. Huge, gulping sobs. I didn’t stop for anything, just ran for home—past all the houses on the block where my friends lived, past the scruffy old man in his driveway with Blackie, his mangy old dog, past all the houses— the Russos, the Greens, the Cunninghams, the Richards, the Rices—until I got to our green house with the red porch.
My father opened the door and looked at my tear-stained face. He did a head-to-toe inspection and started to ask me what happened when I blurted out, “A bunch of teenagers hurt me and looked in my purse!”
“Can you remember what their car looked like?” he asked.
I said, “I think so.” I was still shaking and breathing hard.
My father grabbed his car keys and took me by the hand. We ran out of the house and got into our old gray Plymouth. He backed out of the driveway and sped off down the street in search of the car I had described. We cruised down our block and up the next. No sign of the car on the quiet streets. We kept driving up and down the wide streets in the neighborhood, looking right and left at each intersection. My father’s lips were compressed into a tight line. His eyes were focused on the road. And then we saw a car a few blocks ahead of us. Dad drove a little faster to catch up so I could get a good look.
“Is that it?” he asked.
“Yes! See those girls in the back seat? It’s them.”
My dad hit the gas. Seconds later, we were right behind the car full of teenagers. He hit the gas again and we heard the metal-hitting-metal crunch as our fender connected with their bumper. The kids sped up, but so did my dad. BAM! He hit them again, ramming our car into their bumper with teeth-rattling force. The girls turned around and saw us. Their black-rimmed eyes were wide and their mouths formed a silent O. Again and again, they sped up and we hit them. They finally turned onto San Pablo Avenue and my dad let them get out of our sight.
But by then Dad was on a different mission. He spied a police car going the opposite direction, rolled down his window and waved his arm in the air at the cops. We pulled over to the same side of the street as the police car. My father got out and spoke to the policemen, describing the car, the kids, and the crime they had committed. He left our names and our phone number, shook their hands and took me home.
For the next few days, I lived in fear that my attackers were waiting around every corner. I got friends to walk me all the way home. I felt that arm around my neck. I heard the words, “Hey bitch,” over and over.I saw that car on every block.
Several days later,we got a call from the Richmond police. They had the kids in custody, and needed me to come to headquarters to identify them. I didn’t want to go. I never wanted to see those girls again in my life. What if they had friends who would come after me if I was responsible for sending them to jail? How could I escape being caught like that again?
But instead, I went. I had to. I sat in a windowless room across the table from a nice policeman who asked me to tell him what had happened. “Now, I want you to take a look at these girls and tell me if they are the ones who did this to you.” He paused, smiled a little, and added, “They may look different than when you last saw them, but take your time and when they leave, you let me know if you recognize them.”
The girls were brought into the room by a stern-looking woman in a uniform. Instead of the heavily made-up girls with stiff mile-high hair, these girls looked like they were ready for Sunday school. Their faces were scrubbed clean, their hair lay flat and fell softly to their shoulders. They both wore an expression of wide-eyed innocence.The woman led the girls out after a couple of minutes.
“Those are the ones,” I said.
The girls were sent off to juvenile hall for all I knew. I never found out, but I never saw them again either. As long as I lived in Richmond—just until the end of that school year—I lived in fear of retribution. I thought I was marked for life, that those kids would hunt me down and find me again no matter where I lived.
After a very long while, I stopped looking for them around every corner.