I lived in Newark, Delaware from August 1989 to August 1991. I lived in a complex of suburban townhomes, in a neighborhood full of young families just starting out.
There were quite a few kids in the neighborhood. Little ones, older ones. They were usually left to their own devices, playing in the not-very-busy streets until their parents called them home for supper. It sounds idyllic, but there was a subtext of parental neglect going on here: a lot of these parents were too busy drinking or working on their cars or their boats to be bothered to pay attention to what their kids were doing. One resident elderly woman, Miss Jan, served as a neighborhood mother hen for these kids, but somehow I got roped into playing a sort of mentor and guardian monster whenever I was around.
Usually the kids appeared in groups, and that was fine: if any trouble came up, one could raise the alarm if the others were occupied. I always found it disturbing when I would see single kids playing alone outside, especially the younger ones. Even two decades ago, that was a dumb and dangerous thing.
One day one of the kids stood outside the townhome where I rented a room and called my name. It was Nicole, a little four-year-old. She was standing in the street holding a huge bouncy ball.
I went outside to see what was the matter.
"Will you play ball with me?" she said.
We proceeded to play in the street for a good ten minutes or so, tossing or bouncing the ball to each other. After a while I started to think about all the other things I had wanted to be doing that day, and I made an excuse to stop our game and told her she should head home.
"Wait," she said. "I need to show you something." She took me by the hand. "Come with me, come with me!" she called.
I guessed we were heading to her house. Those developments were - and probably still are - a labyrinth of roads, yards, and houses, and I had gotten myself lost several times just by taking a wrong turn on my ride home.
|Yep. Still a maze.|
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"Come with me me, come with me!" she said, continuing to lead the way.
We came to an open gate leading into the back yard of one of the houses. "Go in here," she said.
I went into the yard. Everything looked OK, but...
Suddenly she threw down the ball, ran out of the yard, and slammed the gate. "Now you have to stay!" she shouted triumphantly.
Aw, dammit. I had just been kidnapped. A little kid of the neighborhood had just gotten herself her own pet adult.
I tried to convince her to let me go. She just giggled. I tried reason. I tried scolding. Nothing worked.
Finally I decided to appeal to her on the most basic level and told her that my mommy would cry if I didn't come home, that she would miss me and be sad because she didn't know where I was. (Never mind that my mother was more than two hours away from where I was living and where I was currently the captive of a four-year-old girl.) That did the trick. She reluctantly agreed to let me go so my mommy wouldn't be sad. I told her she should go in now and see her own mommy.
That was twenty years ago. Nicole would be twenty-three or twenty-four now. Danny and Tabitha (with whom I discussed the concept of death one gloomy afternoon,* after I learned that my childhood pet had just died) would be in their mid-to-late twenties; Rebecca and the two Stephanies - Rich Stephanie and Stephanie With the Heart Condition - would all be in their early thirties. I wonder how they turned out? OK, I hope. I wonder if any of them remember me? I'll probably never know.
What brought this to mind was a random story I heard at a party the other day, when someone related that he had been approached by a little girl who was looking for her lost dog. "She was probably trying to kidnap you! That's the classic approach!" someone else replied, and asked if she had offered him any candy. I suggested that before he knew it he would have found himself being spirited away on the back of her tricycle.
While I was remembering this story, I noticed a new post on Hyperbole and a Half. Wow. At least I didn't go through what that poor guy had to endure.
*Oh, look, there it is. Fifth paragraph. This same story, told in just a few sentences.