Red Light, Green Light
I used to play red light, green light with all my friends in high school. I would be in my sleek black Mustang convertible with cool leather interior - the kind that made your girlfriend snuggle up to you on a late evening drive with the top down.
We would pull up to the lights, each had a meaning. Red light meant the driver got out of the car, ran around it and got back in before green light. Green light meant gun your car the hardest to get to the next light fastest. Best two out of three one. If it was a yellow light...that meant you had to stop, run to the closest car and knock on their window.
I laugh now, as I drive my SUV family dream car - two Winnie The Pooh car seats in the back for my twin boys. It's a dreary evening and I've left the office late, which is becoming more of a habit lately. The sun is going down, but it was hardly ever there on this cloudy day. Then the rain started drizzling - slowly but surely - like a lullaby from God.
I didn't have the radio on, I wanted to listen to God's music play against my windows while warm coffee soothed my upcoming sore throat.
THUD! THUD! "SHIT!" I yelled as I spilled coffee over myself, at the sound of someone hitting my window. I couldn't see who it was, the rain was coming down harder, but I suddenly thought it might be some old friend. I hit the auto roll down on my key pad for the windows.
She was saddest woman I had ever seen. There stood an elderly lady, dressed in clothes I wouldn't use for rags, with a toothless smile and jaundice skin. Her eyes had jaundice, too, where they were not the prettiest emerland green. Her grey hair was balled on top of her head and she had several bags hanging off her thin, thin wrist.
"Let me in," she said bluntly but not rudely.
"Um, I'm sorry...that doesn't seem safe. How about some money for a cab?" I offered as I pulled out my wallet, something propelling me to help her.
"No, let me in, now," she said more aggresively.
I began to roll up my window and take the SUV out park as the glass shattered around me, some of it causing little cuts all over partly exposed arm. I looked to see what she had hit my window with and saw a little sledge hammer that she was putting back into one of her many bags.
"Now press the unlock button and I'll slide into the back," and with that she smiled her toothless smile.
I did as I was told, unlocking the doors, wondering what was the purpose of this?
"I'm sorry, I'll take you anywhere you want and give you all my money. I even have hot coffee here, if you want some," I pled with her.
"Just take a left here, head towards Gerry's Groceries."
I drove, Gerry's was about ten minutes away. My arms and hands were shaking against the steering wheel, making obnoxious noise as we drove in the otherwise silent SUV.
"Why are you shaking?" she asked as I glanced quickly at her in the rearview mirror.
"Honestly, I'm very scared and I will do anything to avoid getting hurt," I answered confidently.
"There's nothing more to be scared of you. Your worst nightmare is already here, Stephen," she said as she held up her large knife for me to see in the mirror.
"How do you know my name?" I asked, very curious about this lady now.
She laughed hysterically, "all in good time...Stephen."
I kept looking around, hoping to see a police officer or just anyone else for that matter. Then I saw Gerry's Groceries ahead, relief filling me as I notice two cars in the parking lot.
"Now, drive around to the back and if you try any funny business, I'll put the knife away and get out my glock with the silencer. This is already a rough neighborhood, I'll start crying about how who could have shot my dear friend Stephen," she said with a blunt voice again.
I've always been a person who does as they are told - I hope that won't be my misfortunate tonight. We pulled around to the back of Gerry's, nex to a dumpster. I wondered if that was where my body was going to end up? How would my wife and two kids have a life without me? Would my coworkers miss me and hate whoeever else they picked for partner? My parents were dead already - would I be reunited in Heaven with them? That was the only positive thought in those long minutes but even that scared me - I wasn't ready to die. Then it occured to me - who was ever really prepared for death?
"Tell me what you are thinking, besides the fact that you believe you'll die here," she asked like a teacher.
I told her the whole truth. Who cared at this point? Maybe it would make me seem more human to this devil of a woman who somehow thought she knew me.
"Now, Stephen, go back to Novemeber, 1997 - your junior year in high school. Tell me all about that month," she was crawling into the front seat, knife still in place.
I wondered why the hell she was asking me this as I looked on her person to see where the gun might be. It was extremely hard to tell because of the darkness.
"Can I see you while I tell the story? Can I turn on the lights?" I asked innocently.
"I don't know, can you, Mr. Harvard?" she laughed.
I slowly turned on the interior lights and casually looked over here. I still couldn't see it, so I began talking.
"November 1997...lets see, I was getting water for the football team, since I wasn't good enough to play. I was dating my now wife, Penelope and busting my ass almost every night to get into Harvard, which you seem to know that I achieved," I paused, trying to think of anything else eventful that happened that month that she might want to know.
"Oh, and it was the first and last time I ever got drunk," I remembered disguisted.
"That's the part we are focusing on. What happened the night you got drunk, Stephen?" she asked,holding the knife closer. I pondered grabbing for a moment but I still couldn't see the guns location.
"Penelope and I had a fight because she thought me going to Harvard would be the end of our relationship and felt I was being selfish. She wasn't going to get into Harvard nor had any desire to. She wanted to a dance degree and I figured she should go to Julliard, since it was the best. Penelope wasn't ever and still isn't like that, though. She felt we both could do just fine with a state degree. Anyways, I was really hurt, Penelope was the only girl that had ever been in my life. I thought at the time it was impossible to marry your first girlfriend, though. I heard one of my football friends talking about a big party, with no parents.
I decided to show Penelope that I was just fine without her and go to the party. One of the guys on the football team gave me a few shots and I started feeling good - then all the guys decided to give me shots. I woke up really, really sick and next to a pool. There was a girl swimming in the pool, her name was Heather. She was really really gorgeous that morning. I sat up and watched, too sick to care if she thought I was staring. She swam up to me and said the most surprising thing.
'You should go see Penelope, whoever she is. You were so fun last night, until you got drunk. Then you spent 3hours telling me how much you love Penelope and maybe you should tell Harvard to shove it. '
And with that she swam off. In my 17 year old simplicity, I decided if I thought I loved Penelope while completely not my self - then it must be really true when I was sober. I remember taking all my money earned from tutoring and buying her a promise ring. I still went to Harvard but I was never with anyone else and I came back, just like I promised her," I smiled, fondly and sadly remembering Penelope.
"Heather. Was Heather very popular?" she asked, looking me straight in the eye.
I laughed, "actually, not at all. She was a bigger loser than myself. I just remember how beautiful she looked in that pool that morning but other than that morning, I'd never seen Heather in anything that showed she was a girl at all. I always had a crowd - the geeks, the honors club and student council - a place I belonged. Heather was kind of a loner. I was shocked by her being so upfront with me but I'm always glad she was," I explained.
"Did you ever talk to Heather again, since you were so 'glad'," she asked, almost with anger.
"Well...actually, I guess not..." I felt somewhat ashamed because I had written off Heather, as so many people had written me off.
"Heather was my daughter, Stephen. She came home, told me about the whole night with you...how she really loved you, how you were finally single and she thought you might give her a chance because you were so different," she had the knife on my wrist now, just tracing it ever so gently.
I began to panic, was this some kind of revenge on me?
She continued, "I told her that her time to shine would come oneday and you were just a jerk for not realizing how amazing she was. She shrugged her shoulders, told me she loved me and went back to her room. I later found her, wrist cut, and this very same knife - laying right beside her. The only difference is, Stephen, since I lost the only person who I ever loved or cared for - I sharpened this knife. Just for you, Stephen," and with that, she started to press the knife to my wirst.
Out of instinct, I pushed her back and into the window. I finally saw the gun - it was hoisted against her thigh with some kind of strap. She was already reaching for it by the time I found it but I was quite a bit stronger and not so scared anymore.
I took her knife right out of her hand and stabbed her hand. I then grabbed her other hand and twisted the wrist, so hard that you heard the crack of the bone.
"Oh Stephen, I was prepared for this moment," and she took her stabbed hand, grabbing the gun. There was a loud blast and a sharp, piericing pain in my leg. She wasn't as prepared as she thought, the bullet had only scraped me, not went in. I still had the knife and I stabbed her stomach, over and over again, fast. Then I stabbed her arm that was holding the gun, which I had been pressing back and was facing the roof of the SUV. The heat off the gun was burning my skin but I was fighting for my life.
"I really didn't want to kill you or hurt you. I didn't really hurt, Heather, either. I was in love with someone else. Granted, I should have thanked her more but she took that opportunity from herself. She never resurfaced again because she choose to be dead, instead of dealing with life. That was her own mistake and this is your mistake," and I shot her a few times, just to be sure. I wasn't much of a shot but the distance wasn't far in my cramped car.
After that night, I stopped staying late at work. I spent more time with Penelope and my kids. I didn't really care for Cindy's lesson, that was Heather's mom name, I found out later during the police questioning. It did however, make me realize, that people are crazy and any day could be my last. Therefore I spend more time investing in my family than my work and I take self defense classes any time I can. You can't prepare for crazy but you can stop a bad situation from happening if you take the right steps. I'll never think of a red light with the same humor that I used to after Cindy.
And as I sit at the stop light, thinking about all this, watching all the homeless people knocking for change on people's windows. Do they ever suspect anything when they roll down their windows?