It was a little after 5 p.m. on Good Friday, 1964, when a 9.2 earthquake shook, rattled and devastated all of Anchorage for five long minutes.
Monica Hall was 7 years old then, living in her family’s home in midtown when the TV she was watching fell to the floor.
“What I remember most was a roar, a deafening roar at your door. It was terrifying,” Hall said last week, back in town for the second time in three years. “I was watching this woman across the street on Arctic and 30th trying to get to her kids. She got up, fell down, got up, fell down… My mom said my face turned gray — not white, gray.”
Meanwhile, near the Parkstrip downtown, Monica’s 6-year-old friend Kelly was narrowly dodging crevasses opening up in the earth right before her eyes.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who survived that cannot have PTSD,” Hall said. “It was the second largest ever recorded and the only reason there weren’t more fatalities is that we didn’t have more buildings. The nice houses out on Turnagain (Arm) — they liquefied like ocean waves and went into the inlet.”
When it was all over, Don Taylor, the 11-year-old son of the captain of the APD’s violent crime unit, was never the same, either.
“He was supposed to be coming home for dinner and he was just a little kid,” said Levi Taylor, the son of now-deceased Don. “That really left him with a lot of fear. One minute he was OK, the next, houses were sinking into the ground.”
In the months and years that followed, young Don Taylor became a bed-wetter, and as the 60s gave way to the 70s, he became the charismatic — and arguably psychopathic — leader of a tribe of mostly rotten youths, which included Hall, who described herself at the time as a ‘badass — super insecure, maybe because of my being adopted I don’t know. My defense mode was that I was a badass, I kicked butt, vandalized all over town, just like (Levi’s) dad.”
One night in 1972, Monica, then 15, went out with Don, then 19. Years later, the term ‘date rape’ would be used to describe what went down.
“I snuck out of the house and that took place and for years I felt guilty, like it was my fault because I didn’t get beat up. I didn’t fight and he just kind of took what he wanted,” Hall said. “He knew I was a virgin. He shamed me and when I was done I didn’t bleed and he said, you ain’t no damn virgin.”
Days earlier, Monica had been on a date with another boy closer to her age. A good Catholic girl in spite of her rough ways, Monica wasn’t about to go all the way, though she did acquiesce to his request to dry hump her leg. It didn’t end dry. He ejaculated on her leg.
Weeks after intercourse with Don, Monica realized she was pregnant. With the given adopted name Mary Monica, it wasn’t a stretch for her to come up with a ridiculous explanation.
“I knew it was Don, but I wouldn’t tell my parents what happened. They’d think I was a whore or a slut. We were Catholic and I didn’t want big drama,” Hall said. “I went to counseling with this nun with CCS and I told her about the boy with the thing on my leg… That fixed everything. I was still a virgin. I’d never been raped.”
Monica had good reason to believe she’d be judged harshly for turning up pregnant. None but the most naïve of nuns would possibly buy her cockamamie immaculate conception story.
A couple months after being raped, Monica, still not knowing she was pregnant, attended a house party. On the way out the door, she wound up hopping in the car of an unknown, large black man with yellowed eyes. He was supposed to drop her off at home, but upon coming upon her curbside, he stuck the blade end of a knife to her chest and drove off with her.
This account is described in Hall’s short story titled ‘Narcissistic Underbelly’ that will presumably be part of her in-progress memoir about growing up in early 70s Anchorage. It is included below.
Not to give away the ending, but as the man drove off with her at knifepoint, Monica managed to jerk the steering wheel and send the car into a snowbank enabling her to get away. When she got home she told her parents about it and demanded they call the police. That didn’t turn out so well.
“When the police came to my house they questioned me and said, ‘what did you say to this man to lead him on?’” Hall recalled, still incredulous.
Monica carried the child — a girl — to term and gave it up for adoption without telling Don, or anyone in her clique for that matter.
Just over a year later, she and her family moved to Sacramento, California, where Hall lives to this day, the mother of children in addition to the daughter she gave up.
Monica was 33 when her firstborn turned 18, her whereabouts unknown to her birth mother. Eventually Monica worked up the courage to write a letter to send to the adoption department and didn’t have to wait long at all for the matching letter desiring contact.
Monica and Mary Claire hit it off right away. As years passed, she decided to call Don to let him know he had a daughter, now living in Michigan, married with children of her own.
“I said, ‘Hi, it’s Monica. How are you?’” Hall recalled. “My palms are sweaty. I felt like the same girl being told I wasn’t a virgin, a lousy lay. I said, ‘do you remember what happened?’ He goes, ‘yes,’ and I didn’t say ‘rape’ and I don’t know his perception, but he knew.”
Don told Monica to tell his newly discovered daughter that her father was a Baptist preacher, just one of many hats worn by Taylor, who, according to his son Levi in his award-winning screenplay ‘Midnight Son’ was also a gang member, a bootlegger and notorious criminal of just about every variety.
After Don’s death, Monica reached out to Levi, looking for photos of his father to share with Mary Claire.
“I wasn’t going to tell him what happened, but we start talking I felt like it was OK to tell him the sex wasn’t consensual, and he said, ‘I’m not surprised — my father was a wicked man.’” Hall said. “Then it was like a balloon deflated. As a result, we’ve become close. We’re healing through talking about it — sort of like survivors of the Titanic, you have this connection.”
Taylor shared with Hall his screenplay, which took first place at the Beverly Hills Film Festival earlier this year.
“I read it; he’s very talented and I get what he’s doing,” Hall said. “I’m trying to heal my demons through writing, and part of writing is also the investigation.”
In her professional life, Hall launched a successful line of organic body care products available in stores nationwide, including Alaska, but other than the journals she kept as a teenager, she never sought to write about her experiences in adulthood.
Just over a year ago, Hall began writing a memoir. So far she’s written two stories from her teenage years in Anchorage — ‘Narcissistic Underbelly’ included in this edition of the Press, and another called ‘A Lousy Lay’, which details the sexual encounter between her and Don.
Likewise, Levi Taylor has used writing to make sense of the trauma he endured from being raised by such a complex, charismatic, paranoid and nefarious father, who was often on the run from the law, or rival gangs.
“For a lot of my life I idolized him. He was a really cool guy in a lot of ways,” Levi said. “He was also the guy who introduced me to drugs when I was 12 and used me to bootleg liquor (in Bethel). He believed in demons and told me he’d sold my soul to the devil for the power to quit heroin.”
The idea of trauma and the role of paranormal activity is a thread that runs through Levi’s screenwriting. It’s also the focal point of his accompanying art piece, a series of interviews he’s collecting into one documentary meant to complement the semi-fictional ‘Midnight Son’ treatment. All of it attempts to answer, or at least raise the question of whether paranormal events are real or the coping mechanisms of the traumatized.
“My dad full-heartedly believed in the paranormal and the more research I did I found more family members who’d experienced it, too. It became an interesting exploration,” Levi said. “The focus of my work now is telling ghost stories and also examining the people telling stories.”
Among those storytellers participating in Taylor’s documentary is Hall, who was in Anchorage last week to shoot her portion of the film.
“I’ve felt alone with that for a long time, but people tell me they’ve had the same experience, so really I’m not alone,” Taylor said. “My dad was somebody who did not have somebody to talk to and that really ate him alive. He filled that hole with drugs and alcohol and crime and money. I was one of the few people he could vent to.”
Easy to judge, hard to hate, Don Taylor has become a bridge connecting Monica and Levi.
“Hers is definitely a powerful experience. She not only had a traumatic experience with my dad, she knew him as a teenager, who’d also been hurt by somebody,” Levi said. “My dad traumatized me; my dad abused me. I don’t think he meant to abuse me. I think good people are capable of bad things especially if they’re not capable of looking at the place they’re in.”
Levi and Monica also shared a common bloodline with Mary Claire — or at least so they thought so until four months ago when this story takes a bizarre twist.
Through the website ancestry.com, Mary had discovered she was of Scandinavian descent, which didn’t jibe at all with either Monica’s or Don’s background. A DNA test revealed Mary was not the daughter of Don, but rather the young man who came on Monica’s 15-year-old leg. What had been Monica’s absurd Catholic cover story, turned out to be the unlikely truth.
“I just assumed I was lying all the time,” Monica said.
Monica said she then tracked down Mary’s real father in the Seattle area. She said he has 11 kids, a testament to his apparently super-potent sperm.
For Monica, this revelation made the experience with Don suddenly much harder to deal with.
“I could make sense of it because of this beautiful girl; I could make sense of the horrible act with her father. And then, all of a sudden, I never got anything out of it,” Monica said. “I could justify it because I got Mary Claire, but now my head couldn’t quite grasp it… to find out something you thought for 43 years wasn’t true.”
Don went to his grave believing Mary was his daughter, even though she wanted little to do with him. Nine months before Don passed, Monica spoke with him for the last time. She remembers him having a picture of Mary’s daughter on his Myspace page.
“There was no fear at all; it was just like talking to an old friend,” Monica said. “This last winter, writing it all out, I realized it was not my fault… There’s a lot of good to come out of this — layers of accumulated stuff, these experiences that make us who we are, they made me this person, but I want to get to the core of who I am and I can’t do that until I peel these layers. This is some hard shit to write.”
By Monica Hall
The man who gave us a ride home from the party never revealed his name. He seemed polite but I was distracted by his bulging yellow eyeballs, fluorescent against his black skin. They looked like they would pop out of their sockets with a sneeze. I had never seen the whites of eyes that were yellow, the color of dark urine.
* * *
Mr. Hamilton taught U.S. History so I didn’t get why he was going on about a recent break-in at some office building in Washington. This sounded like news, not history. We didn’t know it then, but that break-in began President Nixon’s unraveling. He would resign two years later.
While Mr. Hamilton droned on, I chewed my lip, tuned out, and watched the clock hands barely advance as I tried to find an excuse to get out of class early. I wanted to take a quick cig in the atrium, the school’s designated smoking area, before catching the bus home. If I got there early enough, I could stare out the windows that overlooked the hallway and watch the cute boys as they came out of class.
The bustling halls of East Anchorage High smelled of adolescence and were a blur of shiny faces, gleaming tiled floors, and rows of lockers that extended like mirrors in a fun house. The hum of chattering voices, the stink of body odor, and the smell of stale cigarette smoke made a river of chaos. Packs of cute boys roamed around in letter jackets and pretty cheerleaders with shapely legs wore short pleated skirts and had tiny red-and-blue pompoms hanging from their shoelaces. I loved it, and I was eager to be at its center. But during my first year of high school, I felt invisible.
I thought I had been a big deal in junior high because of my reputation for beating people up behind the Tastee-Freez. I vandalized, broke into houses, smoked pot, sniffed glue, took psychedelics, and bulldozed anything in my path. Escaping out my bedroom window was a weekly occurrence in junior high and granted me the breath I craved as I fled my mom’s overprotectiveness. I lived for Friday night movies, the one place she felt safe leaving me unsupervised. When she drove up to Fireweed Theatre, I could see my friends through the bank of glass windows that provided a view of the huge lobby and its expansive red carpet.
This was the junior high hangout, where many kids, including me, dropped acid. I was always high when my mom picked me up. I could usually “maintain,” but there were nights when it was difficult. I’d climb out my window and leave until I “came down” enough to return home. I usually headed to the shortcut through the woods, back to the theatre for the midnight movies.
I was never afraid to be out alone on those Alaska nights. It didn’t matter if there was a tar-black winter sky or it was a twilit summer night. I was fearless, or so I thought. I felt safe under the watch of the immense Chugach Range; its jagged horizon loomed overhead, verdant green in summer and protective white in winter. I always felt secure when I looked up, but I soon learned that nothing and no one could protect me from myself.
I didn’t consciously decide to become the “bad” kid, but I claimed my place in the underbelly of the social heap and became the badass that the other badasses looked up to. My huge ego demanded, “Look at me, look at me, look at me!” This was fueled by a bottomless need: “Please, oh please, please look at me.” The more I acted out, the more attention I received—albeit negative attention from my “bad” peers. When I was feared and looked up to (or so I thought), I felt powerful, important, and, in some sick way, loved. A narcissist can never get enough attention. I had mistaken fear for respect. I was just a fucked up kid.
I hadn’t always been like that. My earliest memory is of being curled up in the crook of Mama’s arm, bathing in the sweet hum of her voice while she fed me lullabies of how I was special. I can still feel my warm little face glow with the story of my parents flying far away to pick me from a group of babies and bring me home as their very own.
My light began to dim when I was three years old and no longer had the feeling of security that I remember from before my baby brother was adopted. In my mind, he took my place as the special one. Because of that shift in self-worth, I’ve wondered if my brother’s adoption awakened the primal wound I’d read that most adopted children have. Could it have been the reason that I later invited so much chaos?
* * *
Sitting on the stool facing my dresser mirror, I took a deep breath and sighed as I pulled some of my thin, brown hair back, exposing my globe of a forehead. My hair fell past my waist and I wanted to do something different with it for my first real high school party. I didn’t understand why ponytails and headbands looked great on the cute popular girls but not on me. I looked like I was trying too hard when I attempted these styles, so I chickened out. Long, limp hair it was.
My cool midi camel coat hung well past my knees and the sleeves hung almost to my fingertips. Mom said I would grow into it. It covered my petite, skinny body and twig legs. Too skinny, I thought. I wished I could get away with miniskirts like the cheerleaders.
Now I look back at those years and marvel at my skewed self-image. In reality I had long, shiny chestnut hair, a clear complexion of olive skin, Cupid’s-bow lips that defined my heart-shaped face, and slender legs that would one day be among my best features. I was a beautiful girl with a perception problem.
My need for approval was evident as early as the second week of first grade. My classmates and I squirmed in our desks, waiting for recess. I played with my loose tooth while the teacher drew a lesson on the blackboard. Mrs. Sower wore the same black pencil skirt every day, and her puffy orange hair was perched atop her head like a bird’s nest. What got me in trouble that day was probably her black eyeliner, which matched both her witchy demeanor and my favorite TV show.
I raised my hand, excited to share a witticism that was sure to gain me praise and a host of new friends. I don’t recall exactly what I said that was so offensive, but it was probably something like, “Mrs. Sower, you look like Tabitha’s grandma on Bewitched.” There was an audible gasp. No one thought I was clever, least of all Mrs. Sower Puss.
“Monica Hall, right now! Get in that closet and put your nose in the corner. You can stay there for the rest of the day!”
My classmates were silent as I got up from my seat. I felt them staring as if I had just barfed all over myself. The long, dark closet ran the length of the wall and had a grey, accordion-like rubber curtain that was pulled to one side, creating a barrier for me to stand behind. I tucked myself behind the curtain with my nose pressed to the wall, tears running down my cheeks and falling among the coats and boots puddled at my feet. I didn’t understand what had gone wrong. All I wanted was to be liked.
* * *
Lunch was over and five of us girls trekked up the long hall to have a smoke in the atrium before class. Luckily, my locker was right at the entrance to the hangout spot. I dumped my books on the top shelf and turned to see an intent-looking senior with straight brown hair, a pink headband, and a matching dress. I thought she must be either shy or a serious student because of the way her arms wrapped around her books, clutching them tightly to her chest. I was surprised when she said, “I love your purse.” I had the coolest leather saddlebag purse. It was stitched with leather laces and had a large green cannabis leaf tooled on the front flap. I doubted that she had a clue what the leaf was. Even though we were two years apart, we became fast friends. I suppose we balanced each other. I was drawn to her sensibility and she loved my free spirit.
The high school girls were so unlike the friends I’d had in junior high. Debbie was feminine, smart, and kind. I cringed whenever I remembered the previous few years, a time when I thought it was cool to sit cross-legged on a street corner flipping the bird to cars as they passed by, wearing jeans and a ripped pea coat. I was sure these girls wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore if they knew the trouble I’d caused or realized I was no longer a virgin.
He was nineteen-years-old—an acquaintance—and I was fifteen. I hadn’t yet found the strength to tell anyone what had happened to me the previous summer, nor did I have the courage or understanding to label it rape. It would be almost twenty years before I told anyone about the sexual assault that ended my window escapes. I ripened into a more caring person in the summer before high school as flashes and images haunted me. Now I felt the victim’s pain.
Puberty slapped me across the face during seventh grade. Gone was the girl who had been teased in elementary school; my crazy hormones unleashed an angry adolescent. Maybe it was an explosion of suppressed rage at my mother’s overprotectiveness and her hypervigilant attempts to control me, or an abnormal surge of testosterone since I was stronger than most of the girls (if not all of them) and some of the boys.
When I was thirteen, I foolishly picked a fight with another cocky thirteen-year-old whose balls had obviously dropped. He thought he was the king of the mountain and claimed the top of the seven-story J.C. Penney’s parking lot where my friends and I had already been playing target practice with large ice chunks, aiming at people on the sidewalk below. During our tussle, I realized he was going to kick my ass. I had never lost a fight before, mostly because of my reputation: “Watch out! Monica Hall is going to kick your ass!” I just roared and intimidated kids until they ran away or let me knock them around. But this bad boy was strong. I couldn’t lose face so I backed down without the humiliation of getting pummeled in front of my cohort. After that, I was careful to only pick on girls.
My need for attention was so consuming that I became immune to the suffering my actions caused. Being raped opened my eyes to that pathetic girl who hurt people. I saw that many of the goodie goodies I’d picked on had the goodness I lacked. I consciously decided to be a different girl.
* * *
The buzz of a big party made its way through the school like electrical current. All the popular kids were going, and I didn’t want to miss my chance to hang out with them and catch the attention of the cute lettermen. My overprotective mother would never let me attend without first talking to the host’s parents to make sure there would be adult supervision. I knew there wouldn’t be any, but that was fine. I had a plan. I was no longer embarrassed by her hypervigilance. I just circumvented it by lying and sneaking around.
My mom hadn’t seemed different from any other parent when I was little. It wasn’t until late elementary school, around the time I began to care about fitting in, that it became problematic. I left Mr. Martin’s fifth grade class when the bell rang at the end of the day. I was headed across the school lawn when six of the popular latchkey kids approached. I was eager for the attention and Billy—my crush—was with them. It had been a long time since they invited me to hang out with them. My heart skipped a beat and I was hopeful they would ask.
“Hey Monica,” Lynn said. “We’re going to Billy’s to play spin the bottle. You wanna come?” My heart leaped at the thought of kissing Billy.
“Oh, that’s right,” Lynn said. “Never mind. We forgot, your mommy won’t let you. She never lets you do anything. That’s okay. We don’t want you around anyway!” Then she pushed me.
I tried to catch myself but landed on my bottom, spilling my books as I fell. I didn’t look up but heard the cool kids laugh as they walked away.
* * *
On the night of the party, I told my parents that Debbie’s parents were giving us a ride to the movies. Unknown to my parents, Debbie’s mom and dad both worked nights. My dad dropped me off at Debbie’s in the early evening and we took a taxi to the party.
I had been caught in many lies over the years, but I’d gotten better at lying with practice. My parents had no idea I was taking drugs or the extent of the destruction I was causing. My mom always wanted to believe the best about me and bought my stories of woe when I was picked up for joy riding in a stolen car or charged with assault and battery. Luckily, none of those charges stuck.
Although I hadn’t told my parents about the rape, they noticed the resulting changes in friends, apparel, and attitude. They were ecstatic that I’d befriended Debbie, whom they trusted. They didn’t bother to call her parents to confirm our movie plans or verify that her dad would bring me home for my midnight curfew. I’d gotten away with my lie.
It was a short taxi ride from Debbie’s house to the party. The upper middle class homes of College Village were grand and the neighborhood streets were lined with cars. Some of my school friends lived in this neighborhood; their parents had come to Anchorage to work for the oil companies when black gold was discovered four years earlier.
It was the first snowfall of the year and it came down in huge white clumps as Debbie and I carefully picked our steps to the house. The double front doors were wide open and kids crowded the entryway, holding Styrofoam cups and cans of beer. Neither of us would be drinking that night as Debbie was too sensible and I had an aversion to vomiting.
As we entered the house, the chorus of merging voices gave me a rush. I stood at the center of the party with giggling, flirty girls and macho, bantering jocks, voices melding into an indistinguishable roar. I could have been standing on the moon for how isolated I felt. I wanted to be part of it all but I froze at the thought of trying to insert myself into a conversation. The cute boys didn’t notice me and the thought of making eye contact was paralyzing, so attempting a conversation was as likely as busting loose with the national anthem. Instead, I huddled up with a few girls. We circled each other in an adolescent cocoon of protection. I pretended to look like I was part of the conversation and tried not to be as invisible and awkward as I felt. At least I wasn’t standing by myself. I never wanted to be that girl.
I panicked when I realized it was almost my witching hour. It would have taken too long for a taxi to arrive at this time on a Friday night, so Debbie and I began searching for a ride home. We didn’t have any luck. Nobody wanted to leave while the party was in full swing.
Most of my friends had permission to attend the party, but I knew better than to ask. I’d learned my lesson the previous summer when I missed The Battle of the Bands. My friends and I had been excited for weeks because live outdoor music would be the highlight of our short summer break. Even though my friends were allowed to go, my mom said “no” when I asked for permission and that was that. No discussion. I missed the social event of the summer, and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake with my first high school party.
Debbie asked Rick, her star wrestler friend, if he could find someone to take us home. About five minutes later, he delivered a tall, dark-skinned black man with yellow bug eyes. He looked much older than us. Rick introduced the man via a simple hand gesture. “He said he would give you a ride.”
I assumed Rick knew the man and figured he was a friend or relative of one of the school’s basketball players. He was in his thirties, at least 6’ 4”, and huge—not fat, but strong, like a body builder. His extremely short hair stuck to his head, the opposite of the round Afros that were in style. There were no other options for a ride and we thought he was a friend of Rick’s, so we felt reasonably comfortable going with this creepy-looking man.
As we left the party, clumps of damp, fluffy flakes fell from the sky and blankets of pristine snow covered sidewalks and cars. I selected my steps carefully, planting my feet inside the impressions left by the man’s large shoes. My unease grew with every step into his massive footprints, but the certainty that my parents would restrict my freedoms when they learned that I’d lied again was more concerning than getting into the car with this yellow-eyed man. As we approached the car, I shivered and pulled my unbuttoned coat tighter around me.
The yellow Chevy with the black top was well kept and fairly new. It was parked up a slight hill, along with other partygoers’ cars. The man opened the front passenger side door for me and I slid across the black bench seat; Debbie soon joined me on the cold Naugahyde. He cleaned snow off the windows before getting behind the wheel.
I sat in the middle, squished between him and Debbie. I was uncomfortable with his body pressed so close to mine. The heat from his leg seeped through my wool slacks, and his breath stunk like an empty stomach. I was way too close to this man.
As we pulled onto the street, the car wouldn’t make it up the small incline because the tires spun in the snow. He got out and said, “Hold on, I’ll be right back.” I watched in the rearview mirror as he pushed the car. His large, wide nostrils flared and his yellow eyes popped as he strained, making him look like an enraged bull charging a matador. I shivered and thought that he must be strong to push the car up the incline, especially with us in it. Just then he looked through the back window and into the mirror. He knew I had been watching him. I quickly looked away.
It was a short, awkward ride to Debbie’s house. The man was silent as we gave him directions, only acknowledging them with a nod. Debbie couldn’t say anything as she exited the car, but her eyes sent a clear message: “Are you going to be okay?”
Mine said, “I think so.”
* * *
I slid over to the door after Debbie got out of the car. I felt awkward and even embarrassed, concerned the man would realize he repulsed me. But I knew it would seem like I welcomed his attention if I didn’t. It’s odd that I cared what he felt, as if protecting his feelings mattered more than my instinct that the situation was unsafe.
The air was dense with silence as he drove, like something was on his mind. As we approached a turn, I flashed on an incident from when I was twelve and on my way home from a Little League game. I was walking down the sidewalk when a white station wagon stopped next to me. A man said, “Can you help me with some directions?” I bent down to look in the open passenger window and saw a man smiling at me while he held his penis.
The memory reminded me that I was way too alone with this strange man who was driving me home, and I felt the same discomfort I had years earlier. As we neared my cul-de-sac I asked him to slow down and drop me off before the entrance so my parents wouldn’t see I’d ridden home with someone other than Debbie’s dad. He said, “Wait, let me get my car up the hill.” Had I not been so concerned that my parents would discover my lie, I would have noticed that he hesitated so he could grab something that was stashed next to the seat.
He stopped the Chevy under the streetlight just before the entrance to my cul-de-sac. Although his eyeballs were spooky, his expression was friendly. He beckoned, motioning with his hand. In a pleasant voice, he said, “Come here for a sec.”
My gut told me this wasn’t good, but we were at the end of my street and I was almost home, so I hesitated. Not wanting to let him down, I slid over, just a bit.
With a suddenness that took my breath away, he swung his long arm around my shoulders, pulled me across the seat, and held me to his side. I was locked in a vice grip with his right arm around my back and the tip of a six-inch blade pressed against my heart. My eyes locked on his huge, dark claw wrapped around the hilt of the hunting knife. I thought I was going to die.
The shock was so terrifying and the threat to my life so imminent that I exploded into sobs and begged for my life. “Please! Please let me go! Pleeeease…”
He pressed his mouth to my ear and his bile breath warmed my cheek. He pushed harder on the knife. Growling like a Rottweiler, he said, “Don’t press me. I’ll push it through. Don’t ask me any questions!” The elevator in my chest plummeted.
Now I was being bullied. I was no longer the badass who called the shots; I was just a scared little girl. I was in over my head, weak and helpless with no idea what to do or who to be. I wanted my overprotective mom and dad.
The man gripped the steering wheel with his left hand as he pulled away from my cul-de-sac, his right arm tight around my shoulders, my body pressed against his. I cried as he drove away, watching in horror as the safety and warmth of my living room window disappeared, knowing my parents were just on the other side, waiting for me to come home and not suspecting I was in danger. The darkness folded in as we turned the corner.
The sound of my heart thumping in my ears was broken only by the crunch of snow under the tires. In that instant, I knew I had only one chance to escape. I switched to survival mode and turned on the charm.
Using my sweet, perky voice, I said, “Wow! There’s so much snow! There sure will be a lot of people shoveling to get their cars out of their garages tomorrow.”
As we passed the corner market, the man’s profile and protruding eyes glowed under the streetlight. I shuddered from a cold sweat and wondered how I would escape. I continued chattering. “We’re in for a long winter. I like summer so much more, and I can hardly wait for spring. Winter wouldn’t be so bad if I skied, but I don’t know how. I’ve lived here all my life and never learned.” As I babbled, the pressure from the knife lessened and his body relaxed.
We had only gone a few blocks when he said, “What’s your name?” Without skipping a beat, and in a bubbly voice I made up a name.. “I can’t believe how strong you are. You pushed the car up the hill all by yourself with us in it!”
He nodded and I sensed he reveled in the praise. He seemed to assume that I’d be enamored with him, just as everyone else probably was. Even though he’d told me not to ask him any questions, I said, “So what’s your name?” as if I was so captivated by his presence that it just popped out of my mouth. I then quickly pretended to catch myself, as if I’d had a ditzy moment of amnesia, and said, “Oops. That’s right. I forgot. I’m not supposed to ask any questions.”
He hesitated as if he’d forgotten his own demand and then nodded in agreement. He seemed pleased that I enjoyed his narcissistic company.
Our behavior was more alike that I cared to admit. The repulsion I felt for my abductor and his self-absorbed gullibility was similar to the repulsion I felt when I thought about the ways I’d sought attention in junior high.
My ploy to gain his trust worked because he relaxed his arm so the knife was no longer pressed to my chest, and my intense fear morphed into a morsel of hope. This is what I wanted: for him to feel at ease so he’d be confident and sloppy. I was alert for an opportunity to escape.
Heading south down Lake Otis Road, we approached the four-way stop at Northern Lights Boulevard. It was a typical black winter night, empty and lonely with few cars on the road. Although the knife no longer pushed on my sternum, I felt horribly alone knowing there was no one to help. The streets were foreboding, and I wondered where he would take me.
It was still snowing, and snowbanks lined the streets. Ahead, a lone streetlight illuminated the intersection. As we neared it, a police car approached, preparing to make a left turn in front of us. It was the break I’d been waiting for.
My abductor’s arm was still around my shoulders when I threw both hands to the middle of the steering wheel and pounded on the horn. To my horror, the police car drove away. My heart dropped.
Panicked by the honk and the cop, the man dropped his knife to put both hands on the wheel and make a right turn. I scrambled to the door. Between the slippery, wet snow, his fear of police, and me careening to the door to escape, my abductor lost control and plowed into the snowbank, getting his car stuck.
I threw the door open and pitched my feet into the snow. When I was halfway out, he grabbed my coat and pulled me backward so I was lying on the seat face-up. My feet and calves dangled over the edge, knees bent, legs hanging out of the car.
There was a blur of motion as his paws grabbed at me, trying to get a grip on my clothing to pull me into the car while I writhed and flailed with the fury of a coyote caught in a snare. The only sounds were our exerted grunts and the rustle of clothing.
He couldn’t get a good grip because of my violent contortions, nor could he pull me into the car because my feet and calves were outside of the vehicle. I used them as leverage against the chassis.
We thrashed until he finally let go of whatever piece of clothing he gripped. He was probably afraid the police car would circle back or someone would stop to help him remove his car from the snowbank. I fell into the snow on all fours and scrambled away.
I must have twisted out of my coat, or maybe I pulled myself out of it in the struggle. I lost it that night, along with my purse. I ran toward the adjacent road, turning briefly to see if the man was chasing me. To my surprise, he stood on the side of the road. Although he was built like a linebacker, he looked pathetic—nothing like the monster who’d held a knife to my chest. His body was bent and his massive arms were open, palms up, as he shouted a pitiful plea for help. “At least help me get the car out of the ditch!”
I yelled back in a confident cry of freedom. “No way, Jack!”
* * *
My polyester shirt was unbuttoned all the way down to my waist and my white bra shone fluorescent under the streetlight. My vest had been pulled over my head and was stuck behind my neck. I quickly fixed my clothes. Convinced I was safe, I walked to the road to hitchhike home.
Coatless and hyped on adrenaline, I was oblivious to the snowflakes sticking to my clothes. Relief and determination to catch my abductor replaced any worry of punishment from my parents. All I cared about was getting home to call the police so they could snatch my abductor before he freed his car from the snowbank. Luckily, headlights approached the moment I stuck out my thumb. A car stopped and I jumped into the backseat behind Mr. and Mrs. Shaw, who lived in my neighborhood.
It wasn’t until years later that I wondered why the man didn’t use the knife or knock me out and stuff me in the trunk. Maybe he panicked. Someone was sure to stop, and he couldn’t hold me at knifepoint while he dug the car out of the snow.
When my neighbors dropped me off that night, I burst in on my parents watching The Johnny Carson Show. “Daddy,” I cried. “Call the police! I just got away! He had a knife! Call the police!” My parents stared in shocked horror, like my face was melting. There was a five-second delay before my father leaped off the couch and bolted to the kitchen phone. Mom and I followed, and my nosey little brother peeked his head out of his bedroom door.
Daddy dialed the operator and I quickly blurted the story, revealing that I had never gone to the movies. Fortunately, this information fell on deaf ears given the circumstances. Daddy hung up the phone and said, “The police are on their way.”
When I think about that night, I wonder if other teenage girls would have had a different reaction after escaping. I didn’t fall into my mom’s arms with sobs of relief like one might expect after such a close brush with death. Instead, I was anxious for the police to arrive so they could snatch the son-of-a-bitch before he fled.
It wasn’t five minutes before an officer knocked at the door, probably the same one who sailed by when I frantically honked the horn. Daddy invited him into the kitchen where we had been sitting. We were crowded in the small space. The officer had long, dark sideburns and mean eyes. He said, “So, what’s the problem?”
He stood in front of the sink wearing a bulky jacket with a badge-shaped patch on the front. His coat was unzipped; under it, he wore a light blue uniform shirt. He also had a pistol on his hip. I tried to be covert as I eyed the wooden handle and a belt lined with bullets. I wondered if he had ever shot anyone with it.
Still charged up, I said, “I was just kidnapped by a big black man with a knife. His car is stuck in the snow at the corner of—”
Before I could finish, the officer interrupted. “Where did you meet this man?” He looked down on me with intense, suspicious eyes.
“I was at a party and he gave us a ride home, but he’s probably still stuck—”
The cop broke in with another question. “Who else was in the car with you?”
“My friend Debbie.”
“Where is this Debbie-friend now?”
“Home. We dropped her off first.”
“What did you talk about in the car?”
I didn’t understand why he was asking me these questions instead of trying to catch the man. I watched the clock above the sink, wondering how long it would be before the car was out of the snowbank.
“We didn’t really talk. Just directions, that’s all. Please, you can—”
“What did you say in the car to lead him on?”
My parents were silent, probably in shock, completely out of their element. I couldn’t believe his questions. I tried to sound confident.
“Nothing…nothing. We didn’t talk about anything.” I sounded defensive and guilty, even to my own ears.
I had expected the officer to immediately make a call or go after my abductor. Instead, the questioning continued for far too long. The cop eventually called it in, but the police at the scene arrived right as the people who helped the man free his car were leaving.
“You just missed him,” they said.
I couldn’t believe he got away.
* * *
I stood over my dining room table putting away a board game as my daughter-in-law returned the extra chairs to their places. Her pretty face is kind and she has a flawless complexion. She always pulls her brown hair back in a bun and her eyes are an intelligent blue. She is also a cop.
As we tidied up, she related a case that was similar to my abduction so long ago. Hearing the details reminded me of how much I’d changed in forty years. The insecure, people-pleasing brunette of my youth has grown into a trendy and attractive blonde approaching 60. My heart-shaped face has gotten rounder over the years and my eyes have crow’s feet when I smile. That skinny girl now attends Weight Watchers meetings.
I looked beyond my daughter-in-law and through the sliding glass door, noticing how dark my backyard was. “Did you know that someone tried to abduct me at knife-point when I was fifteen?”
Her posture instantly changed, as if she was in uniform. She said, “Interesting. Tell me what happened.”
I flashed back to the cop in my kitchen. “Okay, but we’re gonna need some coffee.” As we sat across from each other at the kitchen table, I launched into my abduction story.
My daughter-in-law has a strong presence and listens intently; I can tell her just about anything. That’s probably why I had a peculiar feeling when I got to the part just moments before the man pulled the knife on me. I paused.
It finally felt right to tell the complete story.
I’d lied by omission over the years when I left out what I always thought was the crucial part: how he’d been able to take control of me. I felt guilty about lying, but I didn’t want people to know that I had been a stupid, weak people-pleaser. I was ashamed because I believed I was complicit when I scooted over in the seat, making it easy for him to grab me with a knife in his hand.
Even in isolated Alaska in the 1970s, teenagers saw newspaper headlines and heard radio broadcasts about scary things happening in the world. Still, my friends and I didn’t believe these things could happen to us. Even though I’d been raped just months before my abduction and should have realized that danger can lurk beneath the surface, I’d turned my life around. I thought bad things couldn’t happen to me anymore since I was associating with good kids.
I explained to her how I believed all the difficulties in my early teens were colored with the same brush; the damage I caused, both to myself and others, came from a narcissistic need for attention. I played the tough kid to feel loved and admired. In reality, I was just a self-absorbed and scared little girl, not the badass I had once portrayed. Every unpleasant situation was driven by my low self-worth. I paused and looked up from my coffee. My daughter-in-law’s steel-blue cop eyes had been replaced by a soft gaze.
I foolishly stayed in my abductor’s car after he dropped Debbie off because my parents would have questioned why her dad didn’t bring me home as planned if I’d called them for a ride. The certainty that they’d discover my lies, and thus further restrict my freedom, held more weight than the possibility that the scary-looking man was actually dangerous. In high school, giving up my freedom felt like death; losing freedom meant losing the opportunity to do cool things with my cool friends—and losing my sense of belonging.
But my abductor was not a cool friend who did cool things, so why did I care what he thought? This puzzled me for more than forty years, but while talking to my daughter-in-law, I finally saw that my insatiable need for acceptance had driven me to scoot closer to him. I had always omitted the detail to project the image of a strong, fearless girl. I’d needed people to see me that way—and I’d needed to see myself that way.
I paused for a moment and took a sip of my cold coffee, wondering what she thought of her mother-in-law now. When I looked up, I was surprised to see admiration in her blue eyes. I stood, pushed back my chair, and stepped away from the table to pantomime how my abductor had looked with his arms outstretched as he implored me to help him free his car from the snow.
She shook her head in disbelief, and in that moment I finally saw my abductor for the colossal idiot that he really was. I smiled when I pictured how pitiful he looked with his pathetic plea for help. I can still envision his confounded expression when he realized that his new friend was abandoning him in his time of need. Had he not been fooled by his egocentric belief that the cute, young girl with a knife to her chest reveled in his magnetism, he would have indeed succeeded in his abduction attempt.
And yet a weak, insecure little girl with the self-worth of a snail, just 105 pounds, had the courage to outwit a man three times her size. I’m in awe of that girl. She blows my mind. And she has survived.