Strangers with Candy

Photo by EVG photos on Pexels.com

After a four mile jog, I was only a few blocks from my home when I watched a blue van drive past me and unexpectedly slam on the breaks. The van stopped dead in the middle of the road, only a few feet in front of me.

My brain immediately told me that this was odd and that continuing to run past the van probably wasn’t a great idea. I slowed my jog down to a walk and stopped when I saw the van shift into reverse and began driving in my direction.

Of course it was coming my fucking direction.

You know how they say that in the face of danger- your fight or flight response kicks in? Well, my mind has chosen a third option in the face of danger- acceptance. Acceptance of my fate. Acceptance that this is my time to be mauled or stabbed or blown up or whatever. Which is literally the worst possible reaction that a person could have to danger. There is zero survival mode in that reaction.

So…I stood there, frozen.

The van stopped next to me and the driver rolled down his window. I didn’t recognize the driver at all. He was an unassuming black man- tall, slender, and totally average in appearance.

passport

 Wikipedia

He leaned out the window.

“I have something for you. You’ll like it. Get in the van and I’ll show you.”

My response came out of my mouth before I even had time to think of my answer.

“No way, are you crazy? I watch scary movies and this is always how they start!”

I seriously yelled out to this stranger “I watch scary movies”. I’m not entirely sure how I haven’t been murdered yet.

“Seriously, you’ll like it. It’s a gift. You don’t have to get in, just come up to the window and I’ll show you.”

I needed to get out of there. I nervously scanned the area and quickly calculated my escape plan. If I ran north down the street, then I would hit a main road and I could try to flag down a car. If I ran south down the street, then I could make it home. But, with this horror movie theme that seemed to be unfolding, leading my new friend back to my house didn’t seem like a great idea.

Get into a populated area- that’s all I could think.

“Seriously, you’ll like it.”

The stranger’s desperate attempt to sound calming made him sound absolutely terrifying and cold. With my escape plan in mind, I was still just really curious about what he had for me in his van. And yes, I realized that “rape” was likely what he had for me in his van, but I asked him anyway.

“What do you have for me? Show me. Put it out the window so I can see.”

The stranger reached into his vehicle and pulled out a picture. It was a small, wallet-sized photo.

I recognized it immediately.

It was a picture of me.

The photo was a passport picture I had taken at the post office six months prior. I immediately had a flashback of an image of this man taking my picture for my passport and then telling me it was too light and that he would have to take another photo.

“It was too beautiful to throw away.”

The man’s cold voice jarred me from my thoughts and my emotions quickly turned from fear to confusion to rage.

And I wanted my picture back.

The last thing I wanted was this guy to continue driving around with my picture. I was already uncomfortable with the idea that he had been driving around with my photo for six months, and picturing him driving around with it one day more made me sick to my stomach.

But, what I found the most disconcerting was that he admitted to driving around with my photo for that long.

He wanted me to know he had it.

The man held my photo out of the window like he was dangling a treat for a dog.

The stranger’s outstretched arm held out my picture for me to see. I decided to very, very cautiously crouch down and walk over to the window of the van. I squatted low enough so that his hand couldn’t grab me. I ducked under the window, out of kidnapping range, reached my arm up and grabbed the picture. Like the Flash, I was back on the sidewalk before the stranger new I had the picture.

I held the picture close to my chest and mumbled a thanks (perhaps this is the fawn response to a threat? You know- I’m cute and tiny, please don’t hop out of your van and murder me now). Then, I sprinted to the main road and kept running another mile until I was sure I wasn’t being followed.

The next day, I promptly went to the police station.

Because, the cops can save me from getting murdered, right?

“Great story. Now what do you want us to do about it?”

Obviously nothing. I just like to go around telling hilariously unfortunate stories about myself. Thanks for your time, Officer.

Despite my failure to get a restraining order at the police station, I refused to give up. This creep abused his power as the passport-picture-taking guy and I wanted it known and documented.

Next stop was the Post Office where this creep worked. I went in and asked to speak to the manager. A short-haired woman took me into her office and was clearly upset and outraged by the story. When she asked me to write a statement, I felt a wave of relief that someone cared and would actually address this guy’s unnerving behavior.

A month later, I saw the same passport-taking man still working at the post office next to the bank where I worked. I went in to speak to the manager again and get an update, only to learn that she was fired a few weeks earlier. I asked the new manager if he knew anything about my report.

He didn’t.

I asked if he wanted to hear the story.

He shrugged.

So, I told him the story anyway and he gave me the exact same response that I got from the police station.

“What do you want me to do about it?”

Nothing. Because that’s what you’re going to do anyway. I’ll just pray nightly that this place burns to the ground, but thanks for your time.

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