Are you scared?" he asked, taunting me with the shiny silver gun in his hand. "No," I said calmly as I looked away, my mind screaming Show no fear! Under no circumstances let him see how scared you are!
We sped along in his SUV, a hint of pink peeking through the clouds and smog. I kept thinking about the three guns he had within his reach. He made sure I saw each one as he retrieved them from the waist of his pants, from the strap around his ankle, from underneath his seat. He lifted up the dashboard to reveal a secret compartment and placed them inside. My voice played on loop in my head: Show. No. Fear.
I am sure he knew I was terrified. He was depending on it, brazenly hoping that fear would paralyze me. Why had this man suddenly morphed from a cute flirt into a cunning manipulator?
We had met at a house party a few hours earlier. I was chatting with friends on the balcony when he came over to say hi. He was laid back and funny with a boyish charm about him. We sat outside, enjoying the beautiful night, talking until almost 4 a.m.
I am sure he knew I was terrified. He was depending on it, brazenly hoping that fear would paralyze me.
When I started to say my goodbyes, he politely offered to drive me home. I wasn't drunk, but I had been drinking and didn't quite feel up to getting behind the wheel. I hesitated, thinking maybe I should just call a cab, but I only lived a few blocks away, and we had been getting along all night. He seemed sweet and mild-mannered. I said okay.
"Turn right at the light," I directed as we approached my block. He sped past it without even pausing. For a second I thought maybe he didn't hear me. But when I explained that he needed to turn around, he just kept driving.
Panic welled up immediately. "What are you doing? I live back there. Stop the car now," I demanded, raising my voice, but he just stared straight ahead. I yelled louder and louder, but he acted as though I was invisible, racing down Sunset Boulevard, speeding past the restaurants and lounges I had visited with my friends earlier that night. He didn't flinch.
At one point his phone rang and as he answered, I strained to hear each word he whispered—a cryptic exchange with another man.
"Yeah, got her."
"Are you all there yet?"
"Yeah, we are coming."
"She's not getting out."
That's when he pulled out the first gun.
In college I saw an episode of Oprah where her guest, who had been assaulted, said that sometimes there's a moment right before a heinous crime occurs when the victim knows what's about to happen, and the body becomes paralyzed by fear as the brain processes the horror of it. A fear so intense it can only be understood by those who have experienced it personally.
Now I knew that fear. I imagined the police finding my body—beaten and attacked—and calling my mother to tell her. I imagined a nightly news crime segment with a reporter saying, "A woman's body has been found; she was gang raped and beaten." I was overcome with a sense of terror so debilitating that I felt myself gasping for air.
I pushed my panic down, shouting "STOP THE CAR NOW" over and over again. But it was like that nightmare where you scream but no sound comes out. He wasn't listening.
I had to try something else. I needed to let someone know what was happening.
I debated calling 911. But then he would probably know I was reporting him, I reasoned, and that might incite him more. Would he actually try to shoot me right here?
He could snatch my phone and toss it out the window and by the time the police found me, I might already be dead. He knew where I lived—he had seen my building when I told him to turn onto my block. Would he come back for me another time?
Instead, I called a friend who was staying at my apartment that night. I knew calling her was also a risk, that he might still escalate, but we were close enough to my apartment that maybe she could find me. If I don't take the chance and make this call, I thought, my fate is definitely sealed. I crouched down low in the passenger seat, as far away from him as possible and dialed her number.
When she answered I tried to send a signal that something was wrong by responding in very vague terms when she asked me where I was. She immediately became suspicious, especially since she had been waiting for me at my apartment. My eyes darted from him to the gun compartment. How quickly could he reach that handle?
With my heart racing I told her that I was trapped. He didn't visibly react, so I went on: I told her what block we were on, what businesses and restaurants we were passing, what his car looked like, and that she had to come find me.
I knew he heard me talking, but he didn't do anything—I anxiously wondered what his next move would be. Although I was scared he would hurt me, calling her was my only leverage. I needed him to know that someone was looking for me; kidnapping me was not going to be as easy as he thought.
When I hung up, an eery silence took over the car. He just kept driving, manically focused on getting me to this unknown destination.
My eyes darted from him to the gun compartment. How quickly could he reach that handle?
Had he done this before? Did he get away with it? Had he planned this from the moment he said hello? For the first time in my life, I was face-to-face with the horror so many women have to face but never should: that a split-second decision to go with the nice-seeming guy can lead to you fearing for your life. And to add insult to injury, women who are victimized like this end up unfairly shouldering some of the blame—well, you did get in the car. As I sat next to this man, panicked that I might be raped, tortured, or murdered, that's what I had to wonder: Would I be scrutinized for accepting this ride more than my kidnapper would be for his crime?
My friend called me back and I carefully picked up the phone. "I am getting close," she said, and asked what block I was on now. I knew I had to try to rattle him with this information.
I shouted at him: "You won't get away with this! My friend is nearby and no matter what, she will find me." I didn't know if my attempt to spook him would work, but I had to keep trying.
I realized that he was heading for the highway. If he made it, I wouldn't be able to break free. I began calculating how much farther it was until the freeway and crafting a getaway plan. I decided to jump out of the car at the next red light.
I knew there were just five more lights until we would reach the on-ramp for the freeway. I quietly slid my purse over my shoulder. I kept one hand on the seat belt release and my other wrapped tightly around the door handle, staring at each approaching traffic light, praying for a red one.
Four more lights.
I could see the endless stretch of the highway ahead. If I jump out while the car is moving, will I crack my head open? Break my legs? Anything would be better than what this man might do to me.
Green. Three more lights.
I kept screaming, my throat now sore and raw: "My friend can see me in your car, she's behind us!"—not knowing if this was really true. He began to glance in the rearview mirror and look around.
I had found his weakness; he was getting nervous.
I shouted again and again, "She sees me, she knows your license plate, she knows what you look like! It's over, let me out!"
Green. Two more lights.
This is it, I thought as we approached the second-to-last light before the freeway. I need to jump out of this car right this minute. I took a deep breath and braced myself for what could come. And that's when he jerked the steering wheel and swerved into a parking lot. "Get out!" he barked. "Get out!"
I could see the endless stretch of the highway ahead. If I jump out while the car is moving, will I crack my head open? Break my legs?
I ran, my heart pounding, putting as much physical distance as I could between my body and that car. I ran in my four-inch heels, tears stinging my eyes, adrenaline shooting through me, in the early morning air.
I ran until I saw the sunrise creeping up with its beautiful orange and pink, and I thought of the women who were not able to get away from their assailants like I was. The women who never made it out of the car.
I ran until I saw my friend and I knew there was no more counting green lights. Until I could finally stop to catch my breath. Until I knew I was completely out of his reach.
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