No going back
It was not uncommon most mornings to see men brushing their teeth and rinsing with the front yard garden hose.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of metal that was the size and shape of a roll of quarters. He wrapped his right hand around it and hit me in the face so hard I began to black out.
By Hannah Day
I became disenchanted with my job and purchased a used motor home, withdrew my meager savings, and hit the road for a sabbatical of undetermined length. I brought my dog, clothes, and my motorcycle. My roots, if you can call them that, are in the Conejo Valley. Nostalgia brought me back, as I pondered what the next chapter in my life should be.
In the middle of town, stands a city park called Camelot. The park’s name reflects its history because at one time the land was home to a wild animal park that included camels. The theme park closed in the late 1970s, but the camels remained until the early ‘80s. So I took a walk on this former camel lot and passed by a 30-something Hispanic man who said, “Quieres coka.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“No, no, I don’t want any cocaine,” I replied.
“Tu pinche…” those were the only two words of his ensuing tirade that I understood. I left quickly, not thinking much more about this strange encounter.
A few days later, I drove past a house I had rented during my late teens, one of the first places I lived outside of my parents’ home. Thinking back, those times, although lean, were thrilling, full of adventure and new experiences. I rented a room in a house I shared with two men. Two other men lived in campers in the front yard. I had been the only female in the place and my roommates were always very kind to me. It felt good to be back here. Most of my former roomies had moved on years ago, and one had died. So here sat our home, empty, and I wondered who owned it and why no one was living here. The sun began to set and I thought there was no better place to settle in for the night than to park here across the street from my vacant former home.
I lay down, closed my eyes and remembered the good times. The house had been built long ago when people were smaller. The doorframes were less than six feet high. We had to repair an interior wall once and had marveled at the home’s primitive construction. The wall frames were made from old fence posts and scrap lumber. Outside there were no sidewalks, curbs, gutters, or driveways. We had a fire pit in the front yard where neighborhood folks would gather to drink beer and visit. It was not uncommon most mornings to see men brushing their teeth and rinsing with the front yard garden hose. They’d spit to the dirt and climb back into their campers to finish freshening up. It was a simpler, less sophisticated time.
As I thought of days past, I fell asleep and must have been sleeping for hours when I heard noises at the door of my motor home. Someone was turning the knob back and forth. As I began to move around to see what was happening, I sensed struggling and tugging so hard on the door that the whole vehicle was moving from side to side.
“Let me eeen,” moaned a creepy voice from outside, “Let me eeen.”
Oh my God, who is that and what am I going to do? I didn’t have any weapons to defend myself but remembered I had a BB gun someone had given me that looked like a real revolver. Maybe I could bluff my way out of this. Terrified, I held the smooth, shiny, black revolver up in the window as a show of force, hoping the intruder would think I had a real gun and that I’d shoot him if he tried to enter. Then I heard his voice again in a low, deep moaning drawl, “I don’t keeeer, I don’t keeeer.” The voice terrified me. This can’t be happening, I thought. Why did I park here? What was I thinking? What am I going to do?
Eventually, the man with the creepy voice stopped struggling with the door and all was quiet. Did he leave? Is he coming back? Is he still here? I ran out of ideas for how to defend myself and bolted to the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition, and waited what seemed like an eternity as my nearly dead battery struggled to turn over the large engine. After a few revolutions, the motor started and I drove off in a panic barely able to see. I headed to my friend Ann’s house.
Ann was in her 70s now, a tired old woman who bore eight children by the local drunken appliance repairman. He had long since died, but not before molesting their four young daughters. Some time during the last few years, Ann must have suffered a stroke because she slurred her words and struggled to communicate. I asked her grown kids if they had taken her to a doctor lately but none of them had noticed her failing. Ann had been through so much; she had seen the worst life has to offer. Her hard-fought wisdom had always made me feel safe in her home. We hadn’t seen each other in many years so I stayed for a few days and we reminisced.
Super Bowl Sunday came and it seemed as if the whole town was glued to its television sets, either at home or in local taverns. Football just wasn’t working for me this year so I took a walk, leaving my aging hound dog with Ann for safekeeping. The streets were empty and the town that had once been so familiar, as if it had been my own, seemed more serene, like it used to be.
When I was little, the asphalt ribbon of Ventura Boulevard stretched west through the San Fernando Valley through Calabasas, up over the hill and down into Agoura. It was one of the primary east-west thoroughfares and meandered across rolling hills of chaparral past sheepherders and fruit stands into the little town of Thousand Oaks. And then, one day, Ventura Boulevard became U.S. Highway 101. Our former two-lane highway had grown to more than 10 lanes over the last couple decades. Housing had popped up everywhere, and the once-plentiful open space I had grown up with was hard to find. I walked down to the first apartment I had ever rented. It was still there, occupied now by some other poor fool who was no doubt battling the cockroach infestations I had battled so many years ago. Still, looking back at my time in that apartment I felt a loss—a loss for my younger self, so new and full of ideas and adventure. In hindsight, my earlier life seemed romantic and all I could remember were the good times.
In my dreamy state, I hadn’t noticed the person approaching me from behind. I looked into the distance and couldn’t make out who it was; then he got close enough for me to see. It was the man from the park. My heart began to race; what was he doing here? He was riding a bicycle this time. I kept walking and pretended not to notice him. He approached quickly and threw his jacket over my head. As I struggled to remove it, he pounced, knocking me to the pavement in the middle of the street. We wrestled frantically and he pinned me underneath him. He was much stronger than he looked. I was fighting for my life as a car approached and slowed to take a look at what was happening. I screamed and he covered my mouth with one hand while stroking my hair with the other, as if comforting me from a fall. Looking back. I realize this was not his first attack. The passers-by fell for his ruse, and actually steered their car around my desperately struggling body. My would-be heroes drove away—my rescue foiled. I could not believe this was happening in my town, on my street, in broad daylight with motorists passing by.
He sat on my stomach and straddled my body. He held my shoulders down with one hand as he searched my wallet with the other. I had very little cash. He smelled of alcohol and sweat. I thought he was going to rape me so I kicked him hard between his legs. That just enraged him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of metal that was the size and shape of a roll of quarters. He wrapped his right hand around it and hit me in the face so hard I began to black out. Somehow I remained conscious as he ripped the earrings out of my ears, jumped back on his bicycle, and rode away. He was peddling as fast as his little legs would take him. He looked back at me and in the falling darkness, all I saw were the whites of his eyes. I screamed for help but no one came.
Dejected, head throbbing, I picked myself up and stumbled the few blocks back to Ann’s house. “What happened to you?” she asked.
“A man jumped me,” I replied.
“You know your lip is split wide open?”
I must have been in some kind of shock because I didn’t realize how injured I was. “Should I go to the hospital?” I asked. I figured Ann knew everything.
“You don’t have any medical insurance, do you? And besides, sometimes when they sew up your face, it can end up crooked and you’ll look worse than if you had left it alone,” she said matter-of-factly. She continued, “I’ll bet he was the man who tried to get into your motor home.”
Now I was really scared.
I needed to get away. This was not the town I remembered, where I felt safe and knew all my neighbors. I left Ann’s house feeling almost drunk. That punch in the face really got me good. I drove across town and parked in a vacant lot that was quiet and dotted with oak trees. It was situated across the street from my old friend Tattoo Mike’s house. Mike worked and lived in his aunt’s garage. A few years earlier he had been hired to work for a prominent outlaw motorcycle club in their tattoo shop. His job there ended quickly after he called the president of the local chapter an “asshole.” I crossed the street and knocked on Mike’s door.
“Look what happened to me.” I described the ordeal. “Do you have a mirror?” Mike produced a small mirror that he used to show customers their new tattoos. Back then, I had a reputation as a pretty tough Harley ridin’ gal who could take care of herself. But when I looked in that mirror and saw what that man had done to my face, I began to cry. “What did I do wrong, Mike? Why did he do this to me?” Mike was a man with too much time on his hands. When he didn’t have customers, he would use his tattoo gun to doodle on his own arms. He must have favored green because both his arms were full of ink drawings that had bled together to form long green appendages. I looked to my friend for an answer but he had none. He seemed embarrassed as he quickly wiped the beginning of a tear from each of his own eyes and bid me good night. Back across the street I trekked to the motor home. My mouth hurt, I felt woozy, and I lay down to rest.
Next thing I knew there was someone at the door…again. I jumped up but was forced back down by the radiating pain in my head. The knocking continued steadily.
“Open the door; it’s the police,” the voice barked. I wrapped my arm around my head hoping to keep it all together as I wobbled to the door. I looked through the peephole and saw that the sun was up and a man in blue was there. A chunk of something was coming loose in my mouth. As I reached in to pull it out, I realized it was my tooth. This white cop started in on me just as disrespectfully as my attacker had been the night before. Who am I? What am I doing here? What do I have in my pockets? What’s in the motor home? He continued to interrogate me. His questions were not born of compassion but were intended to trap me or uncover some covert wrongdoing. I explained what had happened to me the night before and why I had decided to park here to convalesce. He seemed unconcerned and poked fun at my bloody appearance.
“Looks like your boyfriend had some fun with you last night,” he snickered. The cop ran my name to see if I had warrants. I could barely remain standing from the pain in my head but I was not going to let him see me cry.
He badgered me on and on with questions about everything from my birthplace to my plans for the day. He harassed me for 45 minutes and could find nothing that I had done wrong. He looked discouraged when he couldn’t find a reason to arrest me and I began to feel sorry for him. He was determined as he pulled out his ticket book and wrote me a citation for sleeping in a vehicle on city property. I accepted his ticket as graciously as I could and watched him walk back to his cruiser. He slid into the driver’s seat, radioed back to the station, and looked my way one last time. As our eyes met, I feared he would not be willing to let me go. His nature required him to haul me in. I held his stare for about a minute and felt peaceful relief as he drove away. Exhausted, I sat down on the step of my motor home and realized that what they say is true; you just can’t go back. §
Hannah Day writes from her home in South SLO County, Calif.