by Pat Hart
I was almost murdered when I was 22. I wasn’t beaten up or shot at or attacked; I was followed by a stranger that I knew wanted to do me harm.
I was living in Tempe, Arizona with a friend from college. I was a broke grad student but she was a working chemist, and, though she didn’t have tons of money, she had enough to take a red-eye flight to Pittsburgh to see her sister’s new baby.
I dropped her off for a 1:00 am flight at Sky Harbor Airport, which was dead in the center of Phoenix. When I was driving home I stopped at light and a white van pulled up next to me. I got a creepy feeling and looked over at the van and there he was, staring straight back at me. He had his very thin arms hooked over the steering wheel. He had a black beard and lots of black wavy hair. In those days, skinny guys, --normal-- skinny guys with dark hair and dark eyes avoided the overgrown, un-kept, crazy Manson-look. When the light turned green I sped off, the van leisurely followed me and then pulled up beside me at the next red light. When I glanced over, he was staring at me again, but now he had smile, a sliver of white teeth showed between his lips. When the light turned green, I stayed where I was. The van pulled out and drifted slowly down the highway towards the next light, where it sat, though the light was green.
I sat through the green and when the light turned yellow, I turned left. I sped down the dark residential street about three blocks, then pulled into a driveway with a high hedge on both sides. I turned off my lights and lay down on the front seat. All the houses on the street were dark. I laid there for about a half an hour. I heard a vehicle pass slowly down the street, but it didn’t stop. I might have been him. I didn’t look.
I backed slowly out of the driveway and kept my lights off for several blocks. I took the back streets home.
My apartment building was a large rectangle divided into four ground floor apartments. All four apartments opened onto a strip of parking. There were another four units across the parking lot. We were the very first tenants in this new complex and, until earlier this afternoon, we were the only tenants.
When I pulled into the parking lot there was only one other car in the lot and no lights except for an orangey vapor light overhead. I hadn’t thought to leave a light on in my apartment and the guys that had moved in next store where probably all asleep.
I pulled into the spot right in front of my door. I cut the engine and paused, the white van rolled into the parking lot and pulled tightly up behind me. The van was angled so that the sliding back door was almost touching my left bumper and the passenger door of the van was only a few feet from my car door. The guy stared at me. He was smiling a little more, looking down at me from the van. I glared back at him, and then, with both my hands, I leaned on the horn. The sound startled and panicked me. It was so loud. It was 3 in the morning and the sound bounced off the stucco walls in that empty lot. I wanted to stop blowing that horn. The noise made me want to cry and scream, but the guy was still just staring at me. I stared back and tried to make my eyes as dead as his.
Lights came on in my only neighbor’s apartment. The guy in the van glanced at the lighted windows, put his vehicle in reverse and left. The three young men that had moved in next store all tumbled out of their apartment, one in just a pair of boxers.
I spent the night on the floor of my new neighbors apartment, the next few nights one of the guys slept in my roommate’s room. By the time she got home I’d had the landlord seal the windows and soon a lot more people moved into that lonely complex. I never felt at ease the two years I lived there and when the time came to buy a mini van, 15 years and two kids later, I seriously thought about passing on the now beloved Moby, a great white whale of a van, but I didn’t, and that I consider to be a small victory over fear and superstition.