To recognize the power of just a few unseen heroes, you need to know how I coped (or failed to cope) with being raped by my boyfriend.
My initial response was to turn into a zombie (my shock was so deep it took a second rape for me to realize the first time hadn't been fluke), but the zombie phase ended the second I learned my boyfriend had another girlfriend. I sent a scorching Dear John letter.
My ex-boyfriend treated me like I was a runaway pet that needed to be lured back. The nicer he acted the wilder I got. Whenever I felt like it, I stuck my thumb out and hitched rides. Doing so made me feel free. I even hitchhiked halfway across the state to go see Edgar Winters in concert.
The trucker who picked me up on the outskirts of my hometown told me that he would be fired if anyone learned he'd given me a ride. To say I was unimpressed with the risk he was taking would be an overstatement. I thought that statement was his way of letting me know the ride wouldn’t come free. I was more puzzled than relieved when he let me out without making any sexual demands.
I made it to the concert and thought only of my joy at being able to do what I wanted. The feeling lasted until a cop pulled over as I stood on the shoulder of the freeway with my thumb out. I resented being told that I was breaking the law and resented even more being directed off the freeway toward a dinky road only the locals knew existed. As I searched for my next ride toward home, I cursed that stupid cop who didn't have anything better to do than hassle me.
After what felt like forever, a family gave me a ride until our paths diverged. When they refused to leave before I got another ride, I told them I could take care of myself. To my annoyance, they stayed until I got a ride from someone they approved of. The newest ride mattered so little to me that I don't remember anything about the driver or the vehicle.
Once I was back home, I delighted in reliving the concert but the trucker, cop and family were oddities not worth remembering. Fast forward to 1995 when I received microfiche from my hometown newspaper for the spring and summer of 1974. To help bring the events around my date rape into focus, I wanted to know exactly when key events happened, like what movies were playing at the local drive-in movie theaters. At fifteen, going to the drive-in without my parents was a major milestone.
As the pages of the old paper rolled past, one and two paragraph articles about girls who didn't come back after going out hitchhiking elsewhere in the same state barely registered. Even though I'd never run away (by my definition anyway) I'd met quite a few girls who were runaways so I wondered if the articles were about any of them. The article where some parents speculated that the multiple disappearances were related seemed like parental paranoia.
Then I read a headline about 2 women disappearing on the same day from the same park. My scrolling stopped. I had never heard about this event that happened on the other side of the state from where I lived. Buried in the article was a mention that one of the women might have left with a man named Ted.
Reading gave me chills for the first time in my life. I knew who dunnit. Ted Bundy, serial killer.
His case was so high profile that I and nearly everyone knew what he'd done, but I'd never thought about him as a danger to me because he was locked up when I first heard his name.
Suddenly I remembered my anger at being harrassed during summer of 1974 by that cop enforcing the no-hitchhiking laws. He hadn't been trying to make my life difficult, he'd stopped because girls like me were going out and never coming back. Ditto for the trucker and the family.
I'll never know how close I came to not living to see my sixteenth birthday. But I'll always know there were heroes who wanted to save me when I was at my worst.
There be predators out there girly, but there also be heroes and heroines doing their best to protect you.