The Vicky Boelter Incident
What panic looks like as a child.
Okay, there was this kid I knew that sometimes did weird, unexplainable things. I don’t want to pass judgment on him because as it turns out, he grew up to be a very wise person. Anyway, here’s one of the things this kid did.
I guess he was about eight or nine this particular spring when he was out playing in the backyard by himself. I don’t recall what he was doing — probably playing with matches; the kid was a real pyro right up until age sixteen or so. Anyway, he heard somebody walking across the wet yard next door; slish-slosh, slish-slosh. It was Vicky Boelter from next door. She was a few years older than this kid, but always nice to him, even protective of him sometimes.
Everything outside was wet from the recently melted snow and Vicky was wearing red rubber boots. The shortcut she was taking led her right across the Morse’s garden, which seemed to grab onto her red boots and pull her deeper and deeper with each step she took until she could walk no further. She was sunk almost up to her knees and when she tried to pull out one leg, the other one would sink even deeper. The kid started laughing at her predicament until Vicky called for him to come and grab her hand. He ran right over to the edge of the garden and pulled her arm as hard as he could but only succeeded in dragging her down into the mud. She was now covered with mud. She pushed herself back up and stood there, both hands caked in mud, red idiot-mittens dangling from her sleeves.
By now the sun was setting so Vicky told the kid to go get help. She didn’t specify what kind of help, but the implication was that he should go get Vicky’s mom. So off he went to get help.
Here’s where the thought process of an eight-year-old can sometimes blur the lines between fear, concern, and selfishness. Risk assessment skills are rudimentary, so trying to understand the motive in kids at this age can sometimes be futile. While Vicky is still desperately trying to free herself from the bottomless garden of doom, the kid rushes towards Vicky’s house to get help, only he doesn’t actually go to Vicky’s house, but veers off back towards his own house. He goes inside, takes off his jacket and boots, and walks into the living room where his mom and sister are watching TV. When his mom asks him what he’s been up to, he decides to come clean and do the right thing. “Nothing.” He replies.
At some point, while they are watching TV, the kid gets up and casually strolls over to the window where he glances in the direction of the Morse’s backyard. It was now almost completely dark but he could definitely see the red idiot-mittens thrashing around in the garden area. He turned away and quickly ran back to his spot on the couch where he continued watching the Wonderful World of Disney. When the show was over, his mom sent him and his sister off to bed where he slept, although fitfully, until his mom woke him for school the next morning.
While leaving for school, he looked towards the garden in the morning sun and saw one red boot lying on top of the mud. No other visible signs of Vicky could be seen. No broken tree limbs from the rescue helicopter, no aluminum ladder left by the fire department, no empty IVs of Ringers Lactate left by paramedics, nothing. She must have been swallowed up. As he walked by Vicky’s house, he listened carefully for the weeping and wailing sounds of a mother in mourning but heard nothing. The day at school was the longest day of his short life as he thought of nothing but the incident. His mind kept shifting between sorrow from his failure to save someone’s life and fear from the repercussions that would come from this selfish act. Surely he was going to jail.
Halfway home from school as he was about to start crying, someone grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. “What happened to you last night!” Vicky yelled at him. He was dumbfounded. There she was, bigger than life and no worse for the wear. In between all the yelling, he was able to decipher that her big brother who came looking for her after sundown pulled her out of the mud. Despite the beatdown, he was thrilled to realize he had not actually killed another kid.
This very strange incident didn’t cause him to get religion or anything, but it did give him a better understanding of love, compassion, kindness, responsibility, and even forgiveness. Maybe. It’s also possible that he didn’t learn a damn thing.