Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:
We all stood huddled in a corner of the kindergarten playground, so close I could feel my best friend’s breath on my shoulder and some girl I didn’t know was touching my hand with the back of hers.
It was recess time, but no one was running around or screaming or throwing up in the hallway from winning the unofficial lunch eating contest (two bowls of chili, a glass of chocolate milk and a bag of Cheetos in 12 minutes and 33 seconds, more or less, no one really knew how to read the clock yet).
Our teacher held up a poster showing different clothing items. Sort of like in the fashion catalogs my mom sometimes would look at. But not really. There were no smiles, in fact, no people at all, and the clothes didn’t look pretty and new, like anyone would want to wear them. They were dirty and crumpled and some of them even torn. No one knew what was going on.
Then, Mrs. Archer spoke.
“Do any of you recognize these clothes? Or maybe a shirt or a pair of pants? Anything?”
She was the only person I knew that could cut out the most complicated figures, steadily and neatly along the lines. That day, her hands were shaking.
Most of us shook our heads, still confused. One girl said she’d seen the shirt before, but in a different color. Mrs. Archer smiled and told her she needed to know about clothes that were exactly the same. After that, no one said a word and a couple of minutes later, we were shuffled back into our classrooms.
When me and my best friend were picked up later in the afternoon, we overheard our moms’ conversation (pretending not to pay attention to what they were saying while, in fact, concentrating on each and every little sound that left their mouths – because it seemed important):
“It’s a terrible thing, I don’t know what to say.”
“I know. You never think these things hit so close to home. The poor girl. And what her parents must feel like…”
“I don’t even wanna think about it…wrapped up in all these clothes…and then thrown out the window…who would do something like that?”
They fell silent after that. My best friend’s mom nervously rummaged about in her purse until my mom handed her a tissue. They hugged, then they reached for us. My mom held my hand the entire walk home (so, so tight) – the last time she’d done that was on my first day of kindergarten, about a year ago.
I still wasn’t quite sure what all this was about but I was sure of one thing: something wasn’t quite right. In fact, something had to be awfully wrong. I had this weird feeling in my stomach, all tingly, kind of like when you’re spinning around and around in a carousel. But in a bad way, more like a ghost train that goes around in circles and never stops.
I was scared.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time I was scared. I had been scared before – scared of monsters hiding in the dark (hiding under my bed, of course), scared of the older kindergarten kids (and what they might do to a munchkin lie me), scared of witches in fairy tales (because they sometimes ate little children or turned them into animals), scared of the neighbors’ huge, abandoned shack in their backyard (and of who or more accurately, what might live inside) – but it had never felt like this. It had never felt as bad.
I had nightmares for days: someone wrapped me up in clothes, layer after layer after layer, someone put me in a bag and tied it up and just left it somewhere, someone locked me up in a dirty room full of nothing. Some nights I woke up and was sure I sat in a trash can. Some nights I woke up and struggled to breathe.
Finally, though, the nightmares stopped.
The poster was put up on a wall, near the main entrance, but we still went back to recess and lunch eating contests after a while. Because that’s what people do and because we didn’t know what else to do.
But what we knew (what I knew) ever since that day: something was awfully wrong. And we all felt (I felt) it wasn’t just something in our neighborhood, it felt bigger than that. Something was awfully wrong – we knew it and we felt it but we didn’t want to think about it – with the world. We had, after all, discovered it. We had (I had) discovered evil.
[According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), kids have crime victimization rates over two times higher than adults. For the year 2000, the approximate total number of violent crime victims from birth through 17 is 1,935,000. That is one child among forty. That is one child in every other classroom.1]
1: Stats: University of New Hampshire, Crimes Against Children Research Center