I would have been about 12 years old when I met ‘Mr. Jones’. At the time, I was an active and sought-after babysitter. I took great pride in my work: parents would arrive home to clean, sleeping kids; any dirty dishes had been washed and put away; toys had been placed back in the toy box and any clutter in the living room and bathroom had all been tidied up. I liked taking care of little kids and I sure appreciated the spending money: I earned 50 cents an hour and a dollar an hour after midnight. The most I recall earning in a single night was 6 dollars. I thought I was rich.
It was my first time babysitting for the ‘Jones’ family and I was a bit nervous. All these years later, I have no recollection of how the children acted that evening. I know they were asleep when I called my Mom and Dad later in the evening in a panic. I had been fiddling with a neat little gadget in the kitchen – a small and fascinating scale to weigh food, and I froze in fear and horror as it snapped in two. Dad was a firm believer in ‘fessing up’ and said as much when I called home: “You just tell them what happened; tell them you will pay for the damages; and do not accept any babysitting money – that will help pay for some of it.” I sat back and waited – nervous and worried – for the couple to come home.
The wait was a long one: they arrived at around two in the morning. I needn’t have worried, though. They were both very kind and very gracious, and as I recall, they even paid me for my services, despite my protests. ‘Mr. Jones’ was in a really good mood – very jovial – and even offered me a lift home. I didn’t live that far away – perhaps a kilometre – but because it was so late, and because they lived just on the outskirts of our small town, I gratefully accepted the offer. I didn’t like the thought of walking even that short distance in the dark, so late at night.
I knew I was in trouble from the moment we left the driveway. He was heading the wrong way – out of town – and the road we were on was far darker than the road toward town that I had been afraid of walking alone. “You know where I live, right?”, I asked, as an awful feeling of unease rippled from just above my breastbone to way down in my tummy. “Yes,” he replied, “I’m just going up this way to turn around.”
He did turn – about a kilometre later – down an even darker road in the woods that I knew well from a million daytime bike rides with my friends. By this time, I was mute with fear. “Are you cold?’ he asked, reaching across the seat and pulling me closer to him. I guess I didn’t have my seat belt on – or we did not have to wear them yet – because I still remember as if it were yesterday my body sliding sideways towards him on the seat. At 12, I was fairly tall – at least 5 foot one, but really scrawny. His hand – I still remember that too – reaching across the seat, appeared enormous to me. “No, I’m fine.” I answered, scooting back over to the very edge of the door. I was upset with myself by this time. I had belatedly understood that he was quite drunk, and my lifelong fear of the dark was competing a losing battle with the fear I felt at being alone with him in that car. I kept trying to summon the courage to jump out and run for the woods. But it was really, really dark outside.
We repeated the same “are you cold?” conversation – the same seat slide – perhaps two more times before he got to the most isolated part of the road, stopped the car, put it into park, and started to move toward me. In my mind’s eye, I can still see every gesture. I remember understanding that I was on my own: there would be no help coming; not on this dark old dirt road in the middle of the night. And something in me just snapped. I started to bellow at him, my voice loud, angry and commanding. “You had better get your f___ing hands back on that f___ing steering wheel and drive me home RIGHT NOW. My father knows exactly where I am – he’s waiting up for me – and when he finds out what you’re up to he is going to rip your f___ing head off!” I have no idea if I spoke for 30 seconds or for 10 minutes, but I know that my speech – and my tone – made me sound like a big and angry woman – and not a scrawny 12-year old child.
I can still see him – suddenly looking half the size he had looked to me just a few minutes’ prior, meekly turning back to the steering wheel, head bowed, as he put the car back into gear. I do not recall the rest of the ride home at all, until he was dropping me off at the end of the driveway. “Were the kids okay?” he called out to me, as I exited the car. Even at the time, I knew it was an asinine comment to make, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to respond with anything other than “They were fine!”, as I slammed the car door and bolted up the driveway.
The lights were ablaze at my house – in spite of the late hour, Dad and a visiting uncle were waiting up for me, anxious to know how things had gone when I told the ‘Jones’ about the kitchen gadget I had broken. When I opened the door, Dad was standing in the front entry, an anxious, questioning look on his face. The second I saw him; I threw myself into his arms and burst into tears. He held me tight for several long minutes before I could catch my breath and he would discover that I was not crying about the gadget.
I have never seen my Dad so angry. He called the Jones’ house right away, demanding to a surely-bewildered ‘Mrs. Jones’ if he could speak to her husband – now. ‘Mr. Jones’ had obviously taken the long way home as he had not yet arrived. Dad met with him the next day and although I have no idea what was said, I suspect that Dad reiterated my threat about ripping his head off.
The thing is, that is not the worst part of the story for me. A year or so after this incident, I was at a community pancake breakfast when I rounded a corner and found myself face to face with ‘Mrs. Jones’. I wouldn’t recognize her today, but I did then. We both froze on the spot. And she gave me – now a thirteen-year old with a flat chest, freckled nose, long, skinny legs and bony knees – a look of such utter contempt; such disgust; that I knew instantly that the story she heard from ‘Mr. Jones’ about what happened that night was far different from the story I had sobbed out on my father’s shoulder.
I felt helpless – there was nothing I could say to correct her contemptuous opinion of me. I understood, in just a few seconds facing each other before we both turned away without a word, that she would live the rest of her days recalling the ‘dirty little tramp’ who got her husband in trouble; who lured her husband into the woods to do God-knows-what. It has taken me four decades to accept that I have no control over the look ‘Mrs. Jones’ gave me that day; over her low opinion of me. If she is still living, she would surely recall a very different turn of events than my own memory of that night.
Sadly, I never accepted another ride home from any of the fathers I babysat for (and the Moms almost never offered). They were all very nice people, but I preferred not to take my chances. I am sure that some of them must have been a bit perplexed by my sudden cooling in their presence.
But I did walk away with one great thing: I have known since that night that I might not be able to fend off all the predators I will encounter in my life, but I will go down fighting. And sometimes, like with ‘Mr. Jones’, I will win.
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com