by L Spradlin
This is a must-read for anyone who ever goes shopping.
|How my six year old saved our lives; Our own true story
It was December 18th, the day before my birthday in 1987 when it happened.
I worked all day doing day care. I loved my job because it allowed me to stay at home and be with my own two children, April, 6 and Joey, 2. That particular day I had worked until 5:30PM and had taken my laundry to do while I watched the kids. As soon as my work day was over, I put my laundry in my car, and then got the kids ready to go. April was a willing participant in going home, but Joey wanted to stay with his grandma. I let him, too tired and too much on my plate for the evening to fight him. As it turned out, that was the best thing that could have happened.
Already dark outside, on the way to the car I ran down the list of things I needed to do that evening with April, we need to go to the bank and make a deposit, and then go to to the mall to Ames (a local department store) to pick up our layaway. She had no idea it was her own Christmas gifts, along with her brother’s and everyone else on my list. I had paid on it every week for over a month, and I finally had the last payment. Being a single mom with two young children made all shopping difficult, especially at holiday time.
Arriving at the mall, knowing I had to keep track of an antsy 6 year old, and get all my purchases to the car in the dark, I was lucky enough to find a parking place just six spots from the door, and right under a light. Wow, what kind of luck was that!?
As we entered the store we ran into a line. I had no idea that it was the last day to pick up all layaway’s in the store, and that everyone in America had one at Ames. The mother instinct jumps in high gear, April and I played word games and told each other stories and riddles while we waited in the extremely long line. We played and giggled and made faces at each other – anything to keep her happy.
Two hours later we were about out of games to play, her coat was on the floor, and she was hungry for her dinner. I too had stripped off my heavy coat, and held it along with my pocket book to protect it, as my children’s Christmas morning depended on it. I promised her that if she could just wait a little longer that I’d take her to Shoney’s Restaurant for dinner. That was her favorite!
As we moved up close enough to see the actual layaway counter, there was only two girls working, and they weren’t being paid by the speed at which they managed to move folks along. They chatted with each other, and acted as though the layaway was closing in just one more hour whether they actually did any work or not.
Customers were arguing, the heat was certainly on inside the store, and tempers were flaring. There were screaming children with aggravated parents, business people, people who looked like they hadn’t bathed in weeks and even some who smelled like they hadn’t bathed in weeks! Everyone was angry and complaining as they waited to get their layaway and leave.
Another hour passed by the time we made it to the counter. I gave the clerk the receipt for my layaway, and told her I was there to pick it up. I was distracted as I watched my beautiful little girl strike up a conversation with a stranger, about why she wasn’t allowed to talk to strangers. Another half hour or so went by as we waited for them to locate my layaway in the giant back storage area, I remember thinking that it surely it had to be about the only one left back there!
Finally the woman wandered back to the counter with two giant bags of goods, and told me my balance. I paid her every penny of the balance, and with a sigh of relief I struggled to pick up the bags and hold them along with my pocketbook, my heavy winter coat, and my little girl’s hand and head for my car.
As we reached the door of the store I told April to put her coat on because we were about to enter the very cold night air. I let go of her hand and waited at the sidewalk for her to get her coat on both arms, trying to help her with my arms completely full. She gave me a look and stated, “Mommy, you’d better put your coat on too, it’s really cold!” I smiled as I took her hand to cross the driveway into the parking lot to my frozen, awaiting car, still dragging my coat in tow.
We reached the car, just five spaces out, and under a big light, just like I’d left it. I opened the hatchback first and made room for all our goods in the back along with the laundry. I remember thinking, my car’s a real mess, I will need to find time to clean it up soon. I shut the hatch and took April around to the passenger side of the car, unlocked her door and helped her up into the booster seat she loved so much. It made her look taller so people passing by would consider her much older. I buckled her seatbelt, locked her door and walked around to the driver’s side of the car. I opened the door and stood there to put my coat on, it was so very bitter cold out there. I sat down in my seat and stuck the key into the ignition, shivering, knowing I needed to get the heat going before I could do anything else. I got it started, pulled my door shut and turned to push the lock down as April said, “Can we go to Shoney’s now, and I’m so hungry!” I smiled and said “yes, if they’re still open.” I glanced at the clock in the car and read 9:30PM just as I put my finger on the lock, the door swung open.
Just as I glanced up to see what was wrong and I got punched in the face. I threw my hands up to my face to shield from another hit. Then, my whole body lifted and moved to my right, coming to rest on the console between the two buckets seats. My feet were still on the driver’s side, near the pedals, but he hit me in my throat with his elbow, wedging it under my chin, and left it there so I couldn’t look down: all I could see was the ceiling of the car. All I could hear was my little April screaming. I placed my hand on her knee in an attempt to calm her.
It’s almost impossible to explain or accurately describe my next emotion, or feeling, but a very strange calm covered my body like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I just relaxed from my head to my toes, and stared at the ceiling of the car. It was an eerie calm. The man, now in the driver’s seat of the car was still holding his elbow in my throat, as his other hand fumbled around inside my car. I had a very clear thought, “Just take whatever you want and go away.”
The entire time my daughter was screaming this high pitched scream over and over and over again. I somehow, still felt calm. The man’s hand ripped through the front of the car, opening the glove box, and made several attempts to turn the car off and remove the keys. The car had a little lever that you had to push to remove the keys from the ignition that apparently the intruder wasn’t aware of.
My daughter, still screaming, seemingly without stopping for air, apparently annoyed the intruder. He grabbed the hair ion top of my head and pulled my head down to my lap with brute force. He swung his other hand over my head to back hand her. As much as it hurt, I turned my head to my right to see what he had done, and my terrified daughter’s blood splattered the passenger side window. I dove for her door, with one arm in front of her to reach the door handle and one arm behind her to reach the door lock. I pulled the lock up and opened the door in one motion in an attempt to get her out of the car. I shoved the door open and pushed her as hard as I could, thinking that the parking lot would be a safer place for her than inside this car with this obviously deranged man.
I got her halfway out when suddenly she flew back in the car towards me as I saw a hand beak off the lock on her door, and then it slammed shut. For just a brief second the interior light came on inside the car. I saw that there was no button to grab to lock or unlock the passenger side door, it was gone. April sat, in a heap in the booster seat, still sobbing, and bleeding.
I became so totally enraged, like nothing ever before and I began to fight back. I hit, scratched, kicked, and even bit a chunk out of his hand. I grabbed his “family jewels” and gave them as tight a twisting squeeze as I could manage. The man seemed totally unscathed by all my attempts to hurt him. All I seemed to do was make him even angrier, as he hit me over and over again, on my face, my head, and he punched my legs with his fists.
Again the light came on inside the car. I heard a second man outside the car say, “Shit, she saw you man, she saw your face, just kill her, just kill the fuckin’ bitch!”
Stricken with fear, I looked up and peered over the dashboard. I saw people, several of them, just standing there staring at the entire scene unfold, with wide eyes, and gaping mouths. No body moved, it’s like they were frozen with fear.
The man inside the car grabbed my face in his left hand, and the hair on the back of my head with his right, got a good tight grip, leaned me across April’s lap, and began beating my head on the inside of the passenger side door, just where the inside of the door meets the window. I was fear stricken, unable to breathe, unable to think. It was like I could feel my skull cracking, and a thick warm feeling on the side of my head. I was still trying desperately to fight him off, kicking and hitting him, still seeing what he had done to my little girl even though my eyes were closed.
Then, aching all over, my still head pounding on the inside door of the car, the pain in the wound on my head eased up tremendously. I could still feel it, but it was somehow better. It was like my head was hitting a soft cloth instead of the metal. It gave me that split second to think halfway straight. The other man’s words replayed in my head, “Shit, she saw you man, she saw your face, just kill her, just kill the fuckin’ bitch” when it dawned on me that if I die, he’ll stop. I stopped fighting with him. I relaxed my entire body, from my toes to my face and my neck. I went completely limp, and then I stopped breathing. The only sound I could hear was my little girl sobbing, more softly now, as though even she knew it was soon to be over. He finally stopped beating on me, and I could hear him breathing. The inside light came back on, and I felt my arm go up in the air, only to feel it drop heavily down to my side again. At first I thought the crazed man was just checking to make sure I was dead, then I realized he had pulled my pocketbook off my shoulder and down over my arm.
My mind was racing with random thoughts. “Could I pull it off, could I make him believe I was actually dead?! My pocketbook I thought, jeez, all he had to do was ask for that, I’d have given it to him, is that all he wanted?! I could hear my baby girl still sobbing, very lightly, I was laying across her lap. My God, I thought about the fact that if I could convince this man I was dead, that she must think I’m dead too. Crap, I didn’t want to scare her more. Okay, if I can just hold my breath a few more seconds they’ll leave and I can tell her I’m okay. Just a few more seconds and it’ll all be over. The dome light in the car went back out. I didn’t hear the door shut. What was happening?
“Moma, are you okay?” her soft sweet little voice warmed my heart. I barely peeked up to see if they were really gone. I could see the two of them, casually walking away, just a few parking spaces away, carrying my pocketbook as though nothing had happened. They climbed into a very dark colored car, sedan style, and just drove away as nonchalantly as anyone else leaving the mall after a shopping trip. I could see them calmly chatting to each other as they walked to their car. The last thing I saw was their tail lights.
I sat up and pulled my door shut tight. I reached around and locked it. I tried to turn my head to look at April, it hurt so bad to move. Everything hurt, all over. I felt the tears roll down my face at the sight of my bloody little six year old, terrified, bruised and swollen, sitting in her little booster seat.
I started my car, put on my seatbelt, and pulled through the open parking spot in front of mine, and made a left turn towards the store. I saw the very well lit store, and the two pay phones hanging on the outside wall. I stopped the car, thinking I should probably call someone to let them know what had just happened to us. I turned to unlock my door, but the whole scene replayed itself in my head and I couldn’t bring myself to unlock it.
I made a right towards the exit of the parking lot, not sure where I was going, or why. As we sat there, waiting to turn out of the parking lot onto the then, very dark road, April looked up at me with big teary eyes and said, “Can we still go to Shoney’s?” It sounded so ironic to me that I tried to smile a reassuring smile at her, but it hurt too badly.
The next thing I remember I was standing in front of my kitchen sink washing breakfast dishes left-over from that very hectic morning hours ago when that day had first begun. I was thinking that I needed to clean up the house because people would be there later. I hadn’t called anyone, so I don’t know who I thought was coming. I emptied the ash trays and fluffed the pillows on the couch. I went back to the sink and felt a warm tickle on the side of my face. Since my hands were wet, I used my forearm to wipe the side of my face and it felt weird. Slowly, I looked at my own arm almost as though it belonged to someone else, and all I saw was red. I had blood everywhere.
I called my daddy and told him that I’d been beaten up, and that I sure would like it if he came over. He said, “Did you call the police?!”
“No, just you” I responded.
“I’m on my way, hang up the phone and call the police right now.”
I hung up and dialed BJ’s number, a very dear friend of mine who been another ‘grandmother’ to my kids. I told her that I was hurt, and that I needed help. She said “did you call the police?”
As I hung up the phone, it all quickly ran back through my head, like watching a movie trailer, until heard April crying softly in the background. It was almost like waking up, only I was still standing right there at the kitchen sink. But I still heard April’s soft little cry in the background.
I realized I hadn’t seen her for a while, I frantically ran through the house looking for her. At the other end of the house I found her, sitting in the corner of her bedroom floor, with her dresser drawer in her lap, crying. I moved the drawer and picked her up and held her close to me. I asked her what was wrong……….
She looked up at me with those big gorgeous, but tear filled eyes and said, “You’re going to be mad at me mommy.”
I rocked back on my heels to look at her, and said “Why would I be mad at you honey?”
She said, “cause I pee’d my pants…………”
I gave her a hug and told her that if that was all she did, then not to worry about it.
Within what seemed like hours of us just holding each other, people started to show up. First was my daddy, who carried me to the couch and sat me down. April came and crawled up beside me and we stayed very close. He told me that I must have broken bones, and he wanted me to be still until the rescue squad got there. The Granny BJ came in all teary eyed trying to figure out what had happened to us. Then the police came. Everyone was asking me questions and I couldn’t think straight or get them all answered fast enough. Granny BJ laid her hand on my leg and I jerked back from the pain of her touch. She pulled my sweat pants off of me to look at my legs. The EMT said he was sure I had some broken bones and that I needed to be hospitalized. I was black and blue all over. I was swollen and confused about everything. April’s head was knotty, bloody, and swollen. They asked me how I got home and I told them I had to have driven, but I have no memory of the trip.
April was afraid of the rescue squad, so I refused to ride in it. We got into my dad’s car and rode over to the emergency room. I made them put me and April into the same room, because she didn’t want to be away from me.
When the detective came in to talk to us, I told him that I’d bitten a chunk out of the creep’s hand, and I wasn’t talking to anyone until I had a toothbrush and toothpaste. They brought us both brushes and paste so we could brush our teeth together.
I did the best I could to recount all the events of the evening for the detective. Then he told me he was going on vacation so I shouldn’t expect to hear from him for a couple of weeks. That was reassuring. The detective told me that we were number thirty-eight. I asked him what he meant by that.
“Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas these guys get together. There’s a bunch of them” he said, “and they pair off into groups of two. They go out to different parking lots to look for victims.” He went on to explain that they rarely ever pair up the same two guys together, so that the description is different each time. “They search for people like you, you know, distracted people.”
I told him that was strange that I had all our laundry, and all our shopping in the back of the car and they never took a thing. They didn’t even look at it. They did take my pocketbook though. I still smile to this day, because I was one of the smarter ones – I kept my money in my pocket.
Still to this day I have a memory lapse with little flashes of memories about cleaning up my house, and faint memories of making the two or three phone calls, I still don’t know who actually called the police, or anything at all about that drive home.
I do know that it took me quite a while to work up the courage to go look at my own car, which was right in front of the place I called home. My car was a broken and bloody mess. The gear shift was broken, the windshield wiper control arm, the ash tray and hole in the dashboard made to hold it was broken, the windshield was cracked, the rear view mirror was broken off and it hit the back window hard enough to crack it, the door was broken off the glove box, the metal passenger side door was dented, right where it curved up to the window, and the lock was broken off the passenger side door. Knobs and dials were broken off the dashboard and doors. I couldn’t look at it without crying.
The news folks contacted me, and asked me to let them do my story. I couldn’t. They offered to hide my identity, but I just simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was afraid to live in my home, because my attacker had my pocketbook which included my driver’s license with my address and social security number on it, along with checks, credit cards, ATM card, and all my favorite pictures of my kids (you know the really good ones that you show off to friends when you’re out). That man thought I was dead when he stopped and walked away. What would he do if he found out I was still alive? Would he come looking for me? I moved in with my mom and dad.
A couple of weeks later, we got a strange phone call. My mom answered the phone and a woman asked her if she had a daughter named Linda. My mom said “Yes, why do you ask?”
The woman on the phone went on to explain that she was looking for boxes behind a grocery store on Broad Street, and she found a pocketbook. She looked through it and found a number by the word, Mom. She thought I may want my pocketbook back.
The more I thought about it, the more scared I got. What if she found it in her son’s room or something? I knew I wasn’t going to pick it up from her. My dad and my brother went and got it for me.
I recovered all my favorite pictures. Of course, all of my personal and financial information had been stolen, and my eye glasses. I asked the detective why they’d take them of all things, he said they sell the frames and get good money for them.
I know it’s been many, many years ago, but in a way it seems like yesterday. My daughter and I don’t talk about it much, but we will never forget what we went through. April, grown, an Army veteran, now married and living in Iowa, told me a few years ago that she’s really glad she had the presence of mind to put her hand between my head and that metal thing, where that guy was beating my head. All these years I didn’t know she did that. The folks at the hospital said her hand was crushed, but they said it was from being shut in the door. I knew they were wrong because I saw the door bounce off her head, not her hand. It was my own head that crushed it. Her soft, sweet little hand eased my pain long enough for me to think. It’s what saved our lives that night.
I couldn’t tell my story back then, it was too fresh. It hurt too much. I can still remember the pain all through my body, the bruising, the swelling, the concussion, and the head-aches to follow. The passing years have helped to heal the emotional part of the traumatic sequence of events of that night. I still have migraines.
If telling our story makes just one person more alert and less distracted in a parking lot this holiday season, then I guess we didn’t go through it all for nothing.
Have a safe and secure holiday season,