The scream was high-pitched and drawn out, like a tea kettle. It scared me more than what had already happened, and that surprised me, because I had never been so frightened in my life when the man pulled me into the van.
I had spent my morning cleaning my room and wondering if I was worth anything; I had been dumped by my long-term boyfriend because he had fallen in love with someone who “got him” better. I still don’t entirely know what that meant, but of course I figured it was something wrong that I had done. School wasn’t going so well, either – my grades were fine, but I was foundering under the stress of my first semester at college coupled with a lackluster job at the coffee shop. All those hours spent working and studying, but the coffee shop paid a tiny wage, and the studying never resulted in any sense of fulfillment about my chosen major. I still lived at home, for crying out loud. So I cleaned my room meticulously, trying to find, in my intense self-scrutiny, some shred of deserving, some indication that I could be happy, that I could matter, that I was important or useful or necessary.
But I had thought, about noon, to go get something to eat. And I had gotten on my bike and taken off down the quiet suburban street, pedaling cheerfully without any particular cares except to get to the fast-food place at the bottom of the hill. The van came out of nowhere, and I had to slam on the brakes to avoid it. Because I was slightly off-balance from my sudden stop, it was fairly easy for the two men in the van to rush me and pull me off the bike.
I struggled, but an unarmed teenage girl is no match for two muscular men. I tried to scream, but one of the men shoved a greasy rag into my mouth. Before I could even think what to do, I had been shoved into the van, and a third man quickly yanked my arms behind me. He wrapped cord or rope or something around my wrists, so that I couldn’t move at all and could barely feel my hands. The rag was pulled out of my mouth, only to be replaced by a length of duct tape. I was pushed roughly into a corner of the van, tangled up in a ratty blanket that had what looked like blood stains on it.
I was numb, not able even to think or cry or anything.
The only thought I had in my head was that maybe all of my depressed musings had been right – that I didn’t deserve even to live another day.
The van drove for a few minutes, and the men ignored me. All three of them sat in silence in the front of the van, their eyes darting back and forth as though they were searching for something. I finally managed to get my brain functioning, and the fear in that moment nearly overwhelmed me; I forced myself to breathe through it, to start noticing my surroundings, to try to contemplate and orchestrate my own escape. I tried as best I could to wiggle my wrists free of the cord, but it was wrapped so tightly.
Suddenly one of the men grunted and pointed, and the van stopped abruptly. Two of the men slid the side door open, and I saw through the opening a bike smaller than mine – a kids’ bike, and a little boy about ten years old, whipping his arms and legs violently as the two men grabbed him too, and wrangled him easily into the back of the van with me. The door slid shut with a horrible grating sound.
The boy began screaming and tried to open the door again, but one of the men grabbed the boy by the throat and pushed him down onto the blanket beside me. In a moment, the boy’s hands were tied behind him, and tape stretched across his mouth. The men once more went to the front of the van, and sat without speaking.
I stared at the boy, willing him to look back at me. He finally did, tears running down his cheeks. I gazed into his frightened eyes until he started to calm down, and that’s when I realized: this had all happened to me so that I could be here with this little boy. I had been captured so that this little boy wouldn’t have to go through this alone.
Everything in my life had brought me to this exact moment, not so I could wallow in self-pity, but so I could give this boy some tiny piece of hope or love or solidarity.
I leaned forward until my forehead touched the little boy’s forehead. Well, I decided, having no idea at all how to proceed. We need to get out of this.
I figured we could start by kicking at the back door.
We’ll get out of this, I tried to tell him with my eyes. We’ll get out of this. Maybe I was wrong about that, but at least we’d be together.