...The Story of NINE Women, read to the end!
Originally published June 14, 2012
by Melissa Johnson
I couldn’t tell you what that particular fight was about, it was always about nothing, but, this time it was enough to send me off walking to my mother’s house eleven miles away. I was seventeen, pregnant and due to give birth in about three week’s time; and I was massive! The neighborhood I lived in wasn’t the safest place to be walking, but the sun hadn’t set yet, and staying wasn’t an option. I walked down my street and turned left onto the main road. Passing the convenience store wishing I had enough money to get a cold drink, but my purse contained a measly thirty-seven cents, mostly in pennies, so I just walked on with one more thing to fuel my crying.
I arrived at the square, block-like, condos which surrounded the only remaining evidence of the farm that used to be here. The old farmhouse standing as an oddity among them. Each condo had a slightly different look to it, like the color, or shape of the trim; but they were all the same. A little stack of housing with a road leading to a small covered parking area, four buildings to a block. I saw the car as it pulled into a driveway ahead of me, and then left just after I passed. I saw the car as it did this a second time and again a third. I didn’t think twice about it when the car appeared two driveways ahead of me, breaking its routine. I thought nothing of it when a kid about my age walked out from the center of the condos angling toward the sidewalk I was walking on. I was still sniffling from the fight that had happened just 20 minutes ago.
I can’t remember, but I probably smiled or threw him a “what’s up” as he approached. Abruptly the kid changed his direction and headed right toward me.
“Give me your purse, bitch, I don’t want to shoot you.” He said as he pressed a huge, polished metal gun to my blue flowered, maternity top. I’ll never forget those words. I can still hear them as clear as the day they were uttered. They still scare me. I froze and lost my bladder immediately, complying with his demand. I handed over what I knew was really just an empty purse; terrified that once he found out it was empty he would shoot me anyway. He didn’t stick around to find out and we both ran in opposite directions. He ran to the car waiting to pull out of the driveway and speed away; I ran, or tried to run, into the condos looking for help. I was still scared that I was going to be shot in the back while running from him, and that feeling of fear lasted for a year after.
I knocked on three doors where people refused to help me or call the police. They wouldn’t even call the fucking police! I really didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t go back to the street, I was trapped. At the fourth condo, I heard people on the fenced patio talking. I walked up, banging on the gate, crying for help. A woman peered over the gate not wanting to let me in because of my frantic state, but did once she saw that I was pregnant and obviously terrified. I was no threat.
Three generations of women sat on the porch while what sounded like hundreds of birds chirped and squawked from inside the condo. The television loudly piped news from the kitchen and one of the women told me to sit down. I shamefully sobbed and said I shouldn’t because I had wet my pants. In the situation, she didn’t care and insisted that I sit. I was surrounded by plants, birds, noise and good people. For a moment I had found my garden. The police arrived before too long and the officer was kind. He took a personal anger and hurt in what had happened, because his daughter shared my child’s expected due date; which incidentally did not become my child’s birth day. She was born the next day, surely as a result of fear, stress and running. He recorded my account of the events for the police report which included a vague description of the kid and the smashed up car. We called “him”, the initial source of my tears, to pick me up and it was over. It wasn’t even close to over, but for that day, it was.
The criminals were never found or charged with my robbery and I hate that. These boys, especially the fucker with the gun, ruined my life for years; all for thirty seven cents, a clear blue pager, my wallet, the only existing pictures of a guy who turned out not to be my father, and a pair of my dirty panties tucked into the secret zipper pocket of that piece of shit purse.
The same week of my robbery a 16 year old girl was raped behind the garbage bins of a movie theater only two miles away. The description she gave of the car and suspects matched my attackers. They were also never apprehended because neither of us got a plate number and the only identifying details we remembered was the heavy collision damage to the car. Humans are not equipped to overcome the hypnotism of fear, especially not a teenage girl, alone. I suppose she is the sixth woman.
In addition to the PTSD I experienced after the robbery, the ripple effect lasted for years. I was investigated by the FBI a year or two after the theft of my purse. I was summoned to the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building in Phoenix for reasons I was unaware of. Once I arrived, they reviewed still photos from several bank surveillance cameras to see if they were of me. I wasn’t in any of the pictures, instead, a woman who had my identification and was using the hell out of it. The checks she had washed were written for tens of thousands of dollars.
I took my daughter back on her one year birthday to thank the three women who had helped me that night. It was a brief and awkward meeting, which I was completely unprepared for. There was only one woman, she was cold and not at all the woman who insisted I sit my pissy ass on her porch cushion. I never went back again, but I did leave a photo of us with a note of gratitude scribbled on the back. I learned later that the matriarch of the family had died and that the women were never again the same without her.
One day the youngest of these women left the condo with her boyfriend going to the store and leaving her mother at home. What happened during that time only the birds will truly know. When the daughter returned with her boyfriend, they were met with gunfire. Both were shot and killed, and then the mother turned the gun on herself, taking her own life. Their story ends there.
The fragile human mind is evident everywhere we look, and very good people do sometimes snap. Someone who nurtures you in your most vulnerable moment, may one day murder another. It has happened twice in my lifetime, so how rare can it be? These tragic events have carried with me for years and always will. We need to take care of ourselves, including our minds, but, we also need to take care of each other.
My daughter just turned sixteen and I can’t believe what a different world she faces today. Dangers I couldn’t have imagined at her age. I didn’t even know what the garden was back then, but I still longed to be there.
Now I know for sure, we’ve got to get back to the garden.
Rest peacefully, whoever you all were.
“And I dreamed I saw the bombers Riding shotgun in the sky And they were turning into butterflies Above our nation We are stardust Billion year old carbon We are golden Caught in the devil's bargain And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden” -Joni Mitchell
[Edit from 2020 Melissa: This story needs to acknowledge that there is a ninth woman involved, she wasn't there, but my youngest daughter is also impacted by these events.]