Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Neither Sugar Nor Snap Nor Pea

Bad things happen slowly. Like quick sand that really isn't very quick, the La Brea Tar Pits, car accidents even. You feel yourself sucked down into it, thick, stuck in a moment, and time lurches forward as you slowly realize that something is wrong.
I bit into a sugar snap pea once that was filled with maggots. Crunch and movement and then this horrid recognition, a clogged hourglass of realization that what was in my mouth was neither sugar nor snap nor pea.
Last night Zoey and I went to pick up Bryan from the ferry. Usually we wait in the car for him, but last night we got there 20 minutes early so we waited at the dock. Zoey loves to watch the boats on the water, the lights of the city across the bay. She was wearing a new winter hat, so warm and toasty. She stood on the concrete bench and laughed at the waves lapping at the rocks beneath the dock. HA HA! I LAUGHING AT THE SPLISH! It was a fake laugh, full of bravado and two. We were outside alone in the dark crisp night; I did not have to tell her to use her inside voice. HA HA HA! I could see her breath carrying across the water.
What's your name? A voice behind us. It was dark and I turned around and there was a man. I have always heard that the trouble with women is that they don't want to be rude. Zoey, I said. Her name is Zoey. And he came closer. There was no one else around. Zoey, he said. He reeked of cigarettes and beer and had a very round face, that's all I know even though he was inches away. Zoey, and he reached out his hand and cupped my daughter's face, stroking her cheek with his thumb. He smelled. Zoey was silent. The minute was made of molasses. I wrapped my arms around Zoey's legs on the bench and picked her up, but he moved closer and did not take his hand away. Zoey. I did not want to be rude. Hey, I said much too quietly. Zoey had stopped laughing. Splish, a soft splash, the water ceaselessly lapping in the dark. We were alone. I might have said no as I carried Zoey away a few feet in the dark. He stood there a minute or an hour and then floated away himself, buoyed by some unseen current, and smoked a cigarette beneath a tree, watching us in the dark.
Hey. Maybe a no. I hate myself for what I did not do. Nothing happened but everything happened. I stood there and watched Zoey's big eyes grow even larger with the unknown, a dirty fat thumb stroking the pad of cheek just beneath. I am Zoey's mother, her protector, and in that long moment when my mind was playing catch up with the world I did not want to be rude. Don't touch my child, is what I should have said. Step the fuck away. I should have screamed, but for what? Maybe he was harmless, maybe he missed his own kids somewhere, I will never know. But I am not the mother of maybe and drunk men and what was in the air last night was neither sugar nor snap nor pea. It was so cold that I could see her breath and I didn't do enough to stop what thankfully did not happen.


barbjensen said...


zakary said...

OMG, OMG, OMG. Freaking scary. I'm glad you and Zoey are okay.

Jen said...

OMG I can feel your fear just by reading that! Oh Susannah, thank G-d you and Zoey are safe! How scary!

Petunia said...

This made me cry. Gratefully you are both okay. You will next time if, God forbid, there is a next time, know what to do. Always carry pepper spray on your key chain and make sure you know how to use it. Practice so that if you need to pull the triggert, you know what to expect. No one has permission to touch your child unless you say so EVER. But, you already know that. You were shown something last night. Something you were meant to learn. A no harm, no foul, painful but meaningful gift. Others will learn from this. Thank you being brave enough to share it.

monkey said...

i like what petunia said. a lesson you were meant to learn...
i have a stack of memories like this...times i did not do that which i would have done if i were playing myself in a movie.
the girl playing me is always so much smarter, wittier, stronger, besides the fact that she is in great shape.
i'm trying to act more and more like her everyday.
thank you for sharing this...
it frightens me and shakes me up.

Ali said...

wow. just wow.
here's hoping you have no more not sugar nor snap nor pea moments.

Black Hockey Jesus said...

That was solid.

scarletvirago said...

If no one has already suggested you obtain a copy of this book: Gavin DeBecker's Protecting the Gift "http://www.amazon.com/Protecting-Gift-Keeping-Children-Teenagers/dp/0440509009/ref=pd_bbs_sr_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1230079910&sr=8-3 , please do so.

Not only will it give you valuable tools for recognizing and dealing with situations like those, it will help you to realize that you CAN. Seriously, it was the best thing I ever did for myself and my daughter.

Petunia Face said...

Thanks everyone. I think you're right--this was a warning for me to take charge of my daughter's safety. I am totally getting that book from the library!

Shonda Little said...

Wow, this gave me chills. I am sure part of the reason you didn't tell him to fuck off is because somewhere inside you thought might provoke him, a man who smelled of a tavern. To me, the boogey man is scarier after you have kids than when you actually are one. After all, when you are kid, you just know that danger is out there. When you are an adult, you know just how real it is and what forms it comes in. Glad you are safe.

Jules said...

Ugh. I know that feeling all too well, unfortunately. Remember when this happened to me? When those weird people were running their fingers through Mikey's hair and telling me how beautiful he was? And then the man in the group started picking Nico up and out of the stroller (barely a year old) while he asked me if he could hold him.

I snapped out of it and said no firmly, but quietly. It's like you're in some sort of haze, where your reality is so clouded you almost believe this is all happening to someone else.

I was shook up for a solid 48 hours and did nothing but replay the scene over and over in my mind. Even now, as I tell the story, it feels like I'm retelling a story that belongs to someone else.

Big hugs.

Patois said...

I'm so sorry this happened. Thank goodness you're okay and much more prepared for the next time. May there never be a next time.

Oh Brother! said...

In the holiday craze, I've only just read this... and I have a surge of emotions. I have just come from your house, hugging Zoey, playing Sled with her, feeling her sweet little hugs made just for "Uncle Andy," and drinking in every high-pitched giggle of my little Zoey.

And I would kill that man in a heart beat.

But here's the thing. I get it.

Just last week we had an open house, but an hour before anyone was meant to show, a homeless man walked into our house.

I was polite. He didn't have a nickel to his name, yet here he stood "inquiring" about our million dollar home.IN our "home." I was firm, but not pro-active. I shook his hand and heard him out. His BS rant.

The thing is, I had full control of the situation, but what I didn't factor in was the feelings of my wife. She was scarred.

I knew we were fine, but that wasn't the point. I was going to let him speak his peace and gracefully show him the door.

My wife needed more.

And I feel shame for that. (In hindsight)

She asked him to leave. I could see her fear.

Without judgement or intention of an excuse, here's the thing: You and I acted with a genetic empathetic compassion. Perhaps they were both harmless. Perhaps we didn't want to make them feel like low-life or less than.

But we both missed the point. Sadly.

Had I to do it over again- I would have shown that guy the full force of my protection. For my wife.

The same feeling that surges through me as I read your story. I would give my life for Zoey. In a heartbeat.

But it is hard. Trying to still give humanity the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, a luxury we can't afford. In hindsight. Again. I know this. Yet I did what you did.

Don't beat yourself up. Just learn (as people here already said... you have truly wonderful readers).

I will never make the same mistake.

Because, our actions aren't for us. It's the demonstration for the ones we protect.

And here's the important part; what we did and what we WOULD do are two VERY different things. I have NO doubt you would have taken that guy to the ground if ANYTHING got an ounce worse.

I would have. You would have. NO doubt.

I know this seems academic now. But it is true.

Just thinking of your story makes me want to protect Zoey with the fierce force of an angry bear... EXACTLY as I would for my wife. My love.

So, humanity versus reality. A bitch in this day and age.

Don't sweat it.

I firmly believe both you and I know what we will do if there is ever a next time.

So move on and know this: On this Christmas eve, we all laughed and loved, I gave Zoey endless sleigh rides in a Nordstrom's box and then she fed us all cookies with chocolate covered little fingers.

It was wonderful. That is what is (not the "other" imagined possibilities).

So, Zoey sleeps with dreams of Santa and tomorrow morning we'll all exchange gifts as Zoey laugh with her full "outside" laugh at all that Christmas brings.

That is real. That is what will happen.

That IS the sugar in life. Sweet and wonderful.

Meeeeeerry Christmas and to all a goodnight.


Your loving brother :)

Bree said...

Holy crap. As a mother, as soon as I read it my heart stopped and I didn't want to continue. :(
But I do know this, I have no idea whatI would have done.
I mean sure I can say right now I would have yanked his grubby thumb and bent that shit back , or snatched up my daughter and ran, or yelled out "bloody murder" like my daughter has been trained to do since she was 5, yes I taught her that exact phrase. :P
But that's what I would have done now. here at home. reading about someone else's experience,with all the time in the world to "hypothetically" do stuff.
In the moment?
Crap I don't know but you gave me something to be thankful for and an opportunity o prepare myself as well. So you did learn a lesson and all is as it should be now because you two are safe at home. I'm sorry you went though that! how scary....

Trenches of Mommyhood said...

So well written. And I? Am not sure what I would have done either, although I like to think I would have screamed, "Step off, m-f'er".
Doubtful, though.