I don’t know what I did wrong, or if I did anything wrong. What I do know is, I may never forget his face entirely.
My mother had a couple of siblings much closer to my age than hers. Her youngest sister is only six years older than I am; just a touch more. The next youngest was a few years older than she is, though I don’t recall how many years older.
They used to come visit and when they did, they’d play with me. We’d ride my riding toys together, pretend to have races, and they’d indulge my tantrums when I didn’t win or when I didn’t have things exactly my way. It was hard to put up with, I’m sure, but they made the effort. At the time, at least.
The place we lived was a solid hour’s drive from where they lived. Google maps has it at 49.5 miles, and 57 minutes. Sounds about right, and that includes crossing a toll bridge. Anyway, them coming all that way usually meant my mother went to visit my grandmother and came back with the other two siblings to stay and play and visit. It might’ve been nice, if it were normal. It never was.
My memory may be flawed on that. Maybe my grandmother came to visit us and brought the others, but I seem to recall the overnight visits. At any rate, it doesn’t matter, because this particular summer day, I met a stranger.
He seemed very tall to me, taller than my father, and while I know now that’s not saying much, it seemed tall to me then. I can’t tell you whether I was older or younger than five, but I believe younger, because I don’t think I was in school yet, and due to my birthday’s place on the calendar, I couldn’t start school until about six months after my peers. So I was always the oldest in my class. And because I hadn’t started school yet, I must not have turned five yet, which makes this one of my earliest memories.
Our house was on a corner lot, at the opening of a longish cul-de-sac. The sidewalk ran in front of our house and bent around to run down the length of the lot as it circled into that cul-de-sac. The three of us played along that long side, which went down a graceful slope, and we could get plenty of speed (for kids as young as I was, anyway) on our trikes and Big Wheels, and even our Krazy Kar (which I would swear was called something like “Whacky Wheels” instead) toys.
I don’t know what happened, but I know he walked. He didn’t drive. I don’t know if he lived nearby or whether he was just out for a stroll. I don’t remember much of it all.
But I remember he shoved me to the ground with his knee.
The rest is a flurry of activity. There were probably shouts, and someone must have gone to get my mother. She stormed out of the house and charged down that little sidewalk, heatedly pointing her finger and slathering at the strange man, who couldn’t have been less interested in what she said. He strode forward with something like boredom on his face. Whatever my mother said, it didn’t have much impact. She might have threatened him with my dad, which is a joke in itself. Maybe then it wasn’t, but my dad never did much to jump up and kick someone’s butt on our behalf, so I don’t know.
What I do know is I never saw that man again. I don’t know where he went, or if he lived in the cul-de-sac, but I don’t remember ever seeing him again. I just remember the shock and hurt of being knocked over like that.
It’s something you don’t easily forget. And for a Jackrabbit like me, it can shape a lifetime.
I wonder if it has.
I don’t know what it is about me that drew this kind of violence out of people. Total strangers, who don’t know me. I was a quiet kid, not a smart alecky punk — not at that age, at least. So I’m not sure what incurred the ire of complete strangers, who felt the need to punch me crossing the street, or to shove me down as a small child playing on the sidewalk. I don’t know if I’ll ever know, but sometimes I wonder.
I wonder too if I’ll be a victim again when I’m old and defenseless as well.