This is coming out as a writing group exercise.
Write about the most harrowing experience of your childhood.
Hmm. I’m not sure if it’s the most harrowing experience, but it could be chalked up as maybe one of the more harrowing experiences.
My cousins and I grew up together. New Mexico summers are hot, a dry kind of hot, so playing outside (the running, frolicking, jumping, and the like) was the way to go to sort of cool off. So, this particular ‘harrowing’ experience happened upon us one day when we were out playing.
We played games of all sorts; the two I remember most lucidly were called Superheroes and Super Powers. I don’t want to get into the rules, because it would take a bit of time to explain, and, quite frankly, you’re not among the initiated (*sorry). My grandmother’s estate had a large white picket fence outlining the perimeter, and, for some reason, one of our fond activities (while we were taking a respite from out Super Abilities) was to sit atop the two posts of the property’s entrance and watch cars go by; we were around nine and seven, respectively. I guess that’s just one activity within which we seemed to find our place.
And so, we watched cars. Back and forth, big ones small ones, slow fast, and everything in between, it was just something that helped pass the time, and provided entertainment as we looked out from atop the hills of our fiefdom. We would sit and watch, and resume whatever we were doing during our childhood lives.
One day, while we watched them pass from the tops of fading white posts of our house, our home, our playground, an old yellow truck, crossed dividing line in the road and slowed as it came toward the fence. Dust clouds formed as the worn tread left the rocky asphalt and invaded the easy dirt and weeds of our small edge of the Southwest. The rusty frame of the car came to an awkward stilling in front of our curious innocent frames. The man behind the driver’s seat looked dirty and when he smiled at us, it was a dirty smile, and I remember it making me feel unclean and unsafe.
“Hey kids,” he said. Long black hair hung around his head.
Through the car, we saw the passenger door open from the other side; someone was walking around the car toward us. I didn’t wait.
My cousins and I sprang from our seats and rushed back up the long dirt path toward the house, the bastion of my grandmother. “As fast as you can!” I shouted. My younger cousin was the slowest, and I had to look back to make sure no one was coming.
I saw them behind us, two dirty men with dark skin and long hair – unclean in more ways than I could think of.
“Keep running!” I shouted.
And when we made it halfway up the driveway, we heard the truck screech off and the dust cloud was the only uncleanly part of them left. Our hearts were pounding, but we were at least where we were supposed to be. We were at least safe.
We kept playing after that, for months and years, though I’m not sure we went that close to the posts again.