When I was fifteen, my family went to Europe for a year. I was to spend 11th grade in a foreign high school, then come back, do a little summer school to catch up, and then go on to 12th grade and graduate with everyone else in my class.
This was the trip of a lifetime and had been planned for many years. My mother used to say that she and her father had wanted to go, but he died before they could do it. Then she and my father had wanted to go, but he died. So the time had come—before anyone else died. Immersion in an ancestral culture for the experience of it! Side trips to other countries during school holidays! Learning a new language! My mother had it all worked out. Some Europeans were going to rent our stateside house and take care of our dog and we were going to rent a house in Europe. Not a swap, but close to it.
We were very excited. We had taken road trips across country all through my early years, and had even gone to Tijuana, Mexico once. We were pretty good travelers. Make that okay travelers. My sister and I had a tendency towards car sickness and we were well versed in the uses of dramamine. We were readers, and only one could be in the front seat where we would be less likely to get nauseous. Whoever was stuck on the backseat reading would invariably get sick. We knew how dramamine would knock you out during a car trip and leave you awake that night in a strange motel. We appreciated the swimming pools at these motels and how they could take the edge off excited kids and—hopefully—help them get to sleep at night.
We had gone to Sears to get each of us a trunk and some luggage—sturdy denim zipper luggage, some of which survives to this day, some 45 years later. My mother had bought herself a new wardrobe of red, white and blue White Stag polyester clothing that could be mix-and-matched and wouldn’t wrinkle. (It was the 70’s!) She was definitely “representing” the USA.
Our trip to Europe was going to start with a nine day journey by boat. We had to go to New York City to get on this ship, so we were going to take a train to New York. Some friends were going to pick us up at 5:30 am to drive us to the train station.
My 10th grade year was, well, it was high school—in the 70’s—so in many ways it sucked. I was pretty innocent and oblivious.
I had a group of friends I hung out with and at lunch we would be “on the steps”. This is where the rich white kids hung out. (You see, we rich white kids were bussed to a black high school for integration. This was the south. And that’s a whole other story.)
Some of the kids were starting to pair off. By that I mean, starting to date someone. As in get a boyfriend. I didn’t really pair off with anyone, but I did go on a few dates with a couple of guys and I kissed a guy for the first time. (I caught a really bad cold and convinced myself I had caught mono.)
So I didn’t really pair off with anyone. But that didn’t stop an older boy from noticing me. I wasn’t interested in him. He was nothing to me. But I became the focus of his attention. I realize this now, but back then I could not have recognized him for what he was: he was a predator. And I think I was his first prey.
It’s possible I was his only prey—I have no idea. But at the time he was obsessed with me and I didn’t know it. He was nothing to me.