August Night

By Mary Schafer

Picnic Table

I have only had two encounters with the police in my life. One was after a car accident, and the other was during early August of 2016. I wasn’t having a good day. I was anxious and depressed. My shoulders were tense, and my heart was beating too quickly for comfort. Every single word my family said to me put me on edge. I knew they were just trying to make me feel better, but each reassuring sentence they uttered only increased my anger and frustration.

“It’ll all be okay!” my mom repeatedly said to me.

I just wanted to be left alone with my thoughts. I was well aware it wasn’t healthy to simply sit in my room and feel sorry for myself; however, it was the only thing I was good at that summer. I could lie down for hours at a time thinking about my misfortunes. That hot August day, that’s what I did.

My family sat down together for dinner as usual. I moped down the stairs and begrudgingly sat down at my place at the table. My mind was racing with negative thoughts about my past, present, and future. Why had my summer been filled with heartache and loss? Why did my aunt have to die at such a young age? Why did my boyfriend have to breakup with me immediately after her death? Why couldn’t I get over it? These questions all blurred together in my mind creating a vortex of anxiety and confusion.

The next part of the night is foggy in my memory. I can’t specifically remember what happened or what was said, but somehow my parents and I started to argue. Tensions rose between us, and my heated temper was as warm as the humid summer air outside. I felt betrayed by my parents. It seemed to me that they didn’t understand a single emotion I was feeling. My constant state of worry and sadness seemed lost on them. They consistently reassured me that they knew how I felt and that things would get better for me.

“This is just a bump in the road. Everything will get better soon. Just try and be positive.”

“It’s not that easy,” I mumbled. “I can’t just fix the way I am.”

These words were empty and lost on my depressed body. Without warning, I exploded. My raging anger, sadness, and agitation rose up within me and boiled over the top. A panic attack blindsided me with such an intensity that I did not know what to do with myself. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t breathe. I could only run out of my house into the night.

The sticky summer air enveloped my panicked body and guided me down my dimly lit street. The hum of cicadas was deafening and mimicked my inner thoughts. I walked at a quick pace, eager to escape my home. I figured that the farther away I got from my house, the farther away I could get from my negative emotions. I wasn’t even past my house when I heard my mother calling my name from the garage. She begged and pleaded for me to come back inside. It was too late for me to be walking around outside alone, but I didn’t care. I needed to get as far away as possible from her, my dad, and that house. I quickened my pace and rounded the street corner onto the next block.

My mind finally calmed down, but it was still full of negativity and anxious worries. I felt empty, hollow. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. Why was this my life now? I racked my brain for a reason as to why I deserved to live a life full of anxiety and depression. I didn’t think I had done anything wrong or worthy of this punishment, but maybe I was mistaken. I made my way through the streets of my neighborhood. The houses were all dark with nobody moving inside of them. It seemed like I was the only one awake. Without realizing where I was going, I arrived at my old middle school. I slowly trudged towards an old picnic bench and sat down. It seemed ironic to me that I ended up at a place where I had spent years trying to discover who I was. Now I was here, and I was still trying to figure myself out; however, this time I was cynical. I was bitter at the world for cursing me with anxiety and depression and for making me suffer without cause every single day. My past experiences shaped me into a cynical person with no hope for a bright and happy future.

Hot tears welled up in my eyes. What would my younger self think of me now? She would be disappointed in the way I treated myself and in the way I treated my parents. I sat on that picnic bench, my thin legs tight against my chest, and cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks with no intent of ever stopping. I knew my parents were calling me to ask where I was, but I couldn’t answer them. I was too ashamed of myself. I was too big of a disappointment to myself and them.

The longer I sat on that bench, the clearer my mind became. I felt calmer and more at ease than before. My panic attack had worn itself out, and I didn’t feel the same rage that had been so present in me earlier. I decided I should start walking back home. I knew my parents were furious with me for leaving the house; however, my impending punishment didn’t bother me. I had left the house because I couldn’t handle the anger and anxiety I felt while I was inside. I believed that I had done what I had to do to help myself at that moment.

I slowly began the trek through my neighborhood. I knew this area well, but it felt very different at night. The bright moon sent long and menacing shadows across the suburban yards. A gentle wind rustled through the pine trees and the bushes. Unidentified noises coming from the darkness intimidated me. I quickened my pace to a brisk walk, hoping to arrive at my house shortly. I only had two blocks left until I was back inside. At this point, I felt slightly guilty for leaving my house unannounced and for worrying my parents so much. I realized I should have stayed in my room and listened to what they were saying to me.

I was crossing the street behind my block when blinding headlights illuminated the houses in front of me. I spun around to see a small, black car at the stop sign behind me. I waited to see which direction the car would turn, but it didn’t move an inch. I just assumed the driver was letting me cross the street in peace, so I did exactly that. I made my way across to the other side of the road and turned left. When I was about halfway down the street, I realized the car still hadn’t moved from the stop sign. This situation seemed a little odd to me considering I had crossed the street a few minutes ago and the driver had no reason to be stopped. My stomach dropped. Was this person following me? Was I being stalked? My heart began to race, and I could feel my adrenaline kick in when the black automobile slowly turned down the street in my direction.

I told myself to keep calm and relax. The driver was probably trying to get home just like I was. My gut instinct said this wasn’t the case. The car was slowly creeping down the street; I didn’t know what to do. I could call my dad and have him pick me up, but he wouldn’t get here fast enough to save me. Every possible scenario of what could go wrong ran through my troubled mind. If someone tried to hurt me, I could try and fight back, but this seemed hopeless. I was barely 105 pounds at the time, and I was already fatigued from my panic attack a few hours earlier. Running also seemed useless considering I couldn’t outrun a car. My only option appeared to be screaming my lungs out until someone heard my cries for help.

Without warning, another car appeared up next to me. I quickly realized it was my dad. A feeling of immense gratitude washed over me. If my dad was with me, I knew I was safe. He rolled down the windows, and the yelling began.

“Get your ass in this car right now! What do you think you’re doing?! Do you think it was a good idea to walk around by yourself at almost midnight? That guy behind us is following you! What would you have done if I wasn’t here to help you?”

Even from where I was standing I could tell he was incredibly tense. His furrowed his brow and his frowned at me.

I felt horrible. I knew I was in the wrong and I owed my dad and mom an apology. They didn’t deserve to be so worried about me.

“I’m sorry, Dad. I just needed to get out of the house for a little bit,” I apologized.

The rest of our conversation is a blur to me; as we drove down the street back towards our house, we noticed the black vehicle was following us. He was slowly inching down the road and stopped and started whenever we did. Great. Some creep was following us in the middle of the night. My dad drove us around the block again with the car still behind us. My heartbeat was racing, and my palms were sweating profusely. As we pulled into our driveway, the car stopped a few houses away from us. My dad took out his cell phone and dialed 911.

“Hello,” he said calmly. “There’s a suspicious man in a black car on our street. He has been following my daughter and me for a few minutes, and we’re concerned. Can you send somebody over here to check it out?”

I sat shaking beside my Dad as he spoke to the operator. My skin was cold and clammy, and my head was pounding. All I wanted to do was go inside and fall asleep. The two of us sat in the driveway and waited for the police to arrive. The air was thick with tension. Within two minutes we saw a police car drive up next to our stalker. A huge, luminescent light shone on the mysterious black car and illuminated our whole street.

“Let’s go inside,” my dad whispered.

We quickly ran into the house and locked the door behind us. Without hesitation, I ran up the stairs into my bedroom. I shut the door behind myself and dove into my bed. My heart finally slowed itself down, and I was able to take a breath at last. The previous hour played back in my head like a movie. I envisioned every scene, and it sent a shiver down my spine. Just as I was dozing off, my dad came into my room.

“Mary, the police are here. They need to talk to you.”

The rush of adrenaline rushed through my body once again. I didn’t want to speak to the police. How was I supposed to justify the fact that I had left my house late at night by myself? I had put myself into a risky situation, and they would surely recognize that.

“Alright, give me two minutes,” I mumbled.

I slowly lumbered down the stairs to the front door. As I opened the screen door, a long creak echoed throughout the house. Two young police officers were standing on the concrete outside the door. They had a look of concern and confusion on their faces.

“Good evening, young lady. Since you are under the age of eighteen, we need your consent and the consent of your parents to question you alone. Can we ask you some questions?” the younger officer asked me.

I nodded reluctantly. I didn’t want to talk to the police without my dad with me, but I agreed anyway. I had to be strong. I had gotten myself into this situation, and I had to help fix it. The younger officer looked at me with dark brown eyes and a furrowed brow. It appeared that he was in training.

“Why were you out so late by yourself?” he asked. “What were you doing tonight?”

I quickly decided to lie about what had happened. “I was walking home from a friend’s house.”

“At almost midnight?” he interrogated.

I could feel my heartbeat racing. I tried to focus on the fireflies in my yard and the hum of the lamp above me. Anything to distract me from what was happening at the moment. What if they figured out I was lying? Would I be in trouble? I just couldn’t tell them I had fought with my parents and decided to leave the house.

After I had explained how the suspicious man had stalked my dad and me, the officers called my dad to join us outside. My dad reassured the officers that this would never happen again, his hand on my shoulder the entire time. The officers wrote notes on our story in their small, black notepad.

“Well, we talked to the man, and he seems suspicious,” the older officer said. “We’re going to take him to the station. Call us if you have any more questions.”

I sighed a breath of relief and bolted inside. I collapsed onto the stairs and began to cry. I was exhausted. My dad came inside and sat down next to me. I couldn’t bring myself to look at him. Without saying anything, he wrapped his arms around me and held me closely.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered through tears.

“So am I, Honey. So am I.”