APRIL 6, 1975 – The car rolled to a stop just inches from the curb where I stood. Its exhaust glanced off the glistening pavement and curled into the amber glow of streetlights above. I lowered my head and peered through the passenger window. The driver was young. He didn't look like a freak or a murderer. Maybe I didn’t care.
Dark hair swept his shoulder as he leaned across the bench seat and opened the door. “You look like you need a ride. Hop in.” His invitation barely carried over the idling engine and the cadence of wind-driven sleet.
Without hesitation, I climbed inside and collapsed against the upholstery. The door slammed shut after me. Heat rushed from the dashboard vents, drying my nostrils. The rapid strokes of the windshield wipers framed the city in arcs that somehow diminished its threat.
“I’m Nick,” the driver said, his hand outstretched.
Slowly, I laid my fingers against his palm, his warmth seeping beneath my skin.
Through chattering teeth, I muttered, “Heather.”
Closing my eyes, I winced at the pressure against my back.
“Are you okay, Heather?”
My throat tightened, restricting the wail that begged release from somewhere deep inside me. I opened my eyes and nodded, but the bruises on my face exposed the truth. I wouldn’t tell him what happened. I couldn’t; the words outweighed me by tons.
Shrouding myself in silence, I trembled as we drove, as we entered his apartment, even as he draped a blanket around me.
“There’s a phone in the kitchen. You should call your mom. At least let her know you’re safe.” His words should have given me comfort. Instead, they dredged scenes I wanted to bury deep inside my mind. Swinging fists. Icy fingers at my throat. The stench of whisky so heavy I tasted it. The blur of darkness above me.
You ain’t nothin’ but a dirty little . . .
“Or maybe your dad can come get you,” he said.
My stomach lurched. Tossing the blanket from around me, I rushed to the bathroom, braced myself against the cabinet and waited for the retching to begin. It was a scenario to which I’d grown accustomed. But my reflection in the mirror reminded me; surely, it was too late.
“Look, are you – a, are you sure you’re all right?” the stranger stammered from the open doorway. “The hospital ain’t too far . . .”
Tears stung the scrapes on my cheeks. I fondled the corner of my bulging lip. I didn’t want to be this victim. I didn’t want to look like her. Or act like her. Or cower like her. I didn’t want to be this scared little girl anymore.
Plucking a scissors from the counter, I grabbed a handful of hair and began cutting.
“Whoa!” The stranger bound my arms, eased me down. The shears slipped from my fingers, and wisps floated like feathers to the harvest-gold tile. The sudden security of his embrace reduced me to a sobbing heap on the floor. He folded against me while I cried. Petting what remained of my hair, he whispered: “Shhh . . . you’re safe now, Heather.”
Grasping the sleeve of his sweatshirt, heavy with cigarette smoke, I clung to his peculiar kindness like it was the only thread tethering me to life. “You don’t understand.” My cry sounded distant, hollow, unrecognizable. “I think my baby’s dead.”