When I was in my early twenties I would stay at my then boyfriend’s (now husband’s) “house” in Huntington Beach. House is a strong term and rather inaccurate. Actually he lived in a converted one car garage behind a house. The garage had room enough for a double bed, a small bathroom and a two burner cook top. It also had an ancient and gargantuan heating unit that reminded me of Dr. Suess and his borfin that shlumps.
The garage made me nervous, especially when alone after dark. The structure felt as if it would blow down with a simple huff and puff. When the police helicopters flew overhead, as they often did, I imagined hardened criminals barreling through the window in attempt to escape the omnipresent spotlight. My only hope was that these nerfarious individuals would bang their heads on the borfin thus knocking themselves unconscious. With the criminal sufficiently stunned I planned on running half naked down the street waving my arms like a lunatic in an attempt to flag down the pursuing helicopter (I actually had this scenario thoroughly worked out in my head. Thankfully it never came to fruition).
Huntington Beach, in and of itself, was not particularly dangerous; at least not any more perilous than any other Southern California metropolis. But I was young, on my own and jumpy. My disquiet was not without foundation.
First I was raised to believe that girls, and women by proxy, should not be alone after dark – especially not alone and outside. It simply was not safe. Females should be in a group or have a male escort. Period. The garage, by nature of it’s original intent to store vehicles, was not technically indoors. Nor was it outdoors. It was more of a middle ground between tent and house; something along the lines of a yurt. I was pretty sure a yurt did not provide adequate asylum.
Second a twenty-three year old friend of ours had recently disappeared, abducted from the side of the freeway. At that time her case had yet to be solved but she was presumed dead. Several of our male friends were “persons of interest” and the investigation was ongoing. ( It wasn’t until three years later that her case was solved when she was found in a freezer in Arizona). This deplorable incident only confirmed my parent’s convictions and gave me a well-founded basis of worry.
I also had other, less valid, reasons to be apprehensive. I had determined, by my prodigious powers of deduction, that a rapist lived in the vicinity. You see there was a person, a man, that drove a van. He parked this van on our street. This was not just any van. It was a monumental black van with darkened windows and a diamond plate sash. There could be no reason for a person to own such a vehicle other than to fulfill societies role of rapist. None. The fact that I’d never actually seen the person who drove this vehicle did nothing to dissuade my fears.
And, of course, this van had to park on the same street as me day in and day out. I’d drive home from work with a sense of foreboding. I was alone and it was dark. My boyfriend, a bartender, wouldn’t be home for hours. Would the van be there? Would he be there? Would I could I cross from street to pseudo-house in safety?
Then one night the van was not there. What a stroke of luck. I was safe. I didn’t have to worry. Nonetheless I positioned my car keys through my fingers as an provisional weapon as I left my car.
Just as I began the gauntlet from car to shelter the van pulled up. He parked ahead of my car. I heard the driver’s door close and then the van door slide open and shut. I paused and gripped my keys tighter. What should I do? Should I run? Should I walk at a fast pace? What I did not do was look behind me. I didn’t want to give him credence. I didn’t want him to know I knew he was there.
Then I heard a gruesome noise. An abominable noise. And I knew. This attacker wasn’t after me. He already had a victim; one that was screaming for help. This was before the day of ubiquitous cell phones. I couldn’t simply dial 911 or send a text to the police. And I also couldn’t decide … should I run? Should I scramble to the nearest house and plead to be let in? Or should I turn and face this man, stab him with my car keys and help his victim escape?
In a moment of undue courage I chose the later. Knowing I too could full well end up in a chest freezer in the middle of the desert I turned and faced the attacker. Only the scene wasn’t as I expected. I stood, slack jawed, trying to process what was in front of me. There stood a man in his early-thirties, barefoot and wearing a kilt. He was playing the bagpipes. The bagpipes!
I turned and ran to the garage laughing all the while. I laughed so hard I peed my pants (a feat not nearly so common in my pre-childbearing days). From that moment forward I was no longer afraid of the man in the van. And, from that day forward, my intrigue with the bagpipes began.