It’s common sense, they say. Or at least you think it would be so.
But things are always so much more complicated than it ought to be. The people who you see everyday en route to your destination, no matter how minute and limited the interactions – a small wave, a shyly muttered “hello” or mere eye contact – ignite an unspoken connection, one could say. To some degree, you are bonded to their presence through the simplicity of routine.
Perhaps it is then that naïveté takes hold. No one’s story is unfolded; only a skimmed surface is on display, yet, you come to believe that because you see them so often that all of the overheard conversations and niceties are what make the person to be who they are.
Crossing guards are trustful figures in the neighbourhood, or so I thought. After all, are they not the ones who protect our children, steer them clear of trouble, and guide them to their place of learning? It was such a contradiction in terms of what I believed and what I encountered almost four years ago.
In hindsight, it was all the things that you had spent your formative years in grade school being told not to do, “don’t trust strangers – no matter how nice they may seem. Don’t get into cars with people you don’t know all that well. Don’t be afraid to speak up.” I thought I knew better. I thought that I could be a good judge of character. I didn’t know I’d be wrong.
The first time that I took a ride in the boxy aged Cadillac, I remember listening to stories that now escape me. Only a glimmer of a story comes to mind before being dropped off at the nearby RT station; the Crossing Guard tapped towards the window visor where some police identification found itself clipped, but the explanation is now long forgotten between my shutting out of memories and indecipherable words. There was nothing impressionable or remarkable – I had merely chalked it up to a nicety of “grown ups” who knew that it was a frigid day.
It was a week (or two) before my 18th birthday. The air had quite the chill to it, in spite of there not being a flake of snow resting on the ground. My backpack rested on my lap. I don’t remember if my clarinet case sat atop my iced sneakers or if I had simply left it home that day. The car was driving along Ellesmere, having turned on Brimley, when I felt a hand slightly above my knee. It was a firm grasp on my thigh. I was uncomfortable. I edged my backpack closer to my knee so as to move his hand away, and he did.
His icy hand reached over rested on my neck. He asked if I could feel how cold his hands were and that he’d rest them on the back of my neck since I was so warm. Whether or not the heater was on, I somehow didn’t think it mattered; I simply felt shocks of chill run down my spine. The fifteen minutes that timed to drive felt to have dragged. I’d look at the odometer; it was still clocking in at the speed limit of 50 km/h. Nothing unusual except for his cold palm resting on my nape. When the car finally pulled into the school lot, I tried to conceal my anxiety (and I’d like to think that I did so pretty well), all the more wishing that I could unbuckle the seatbelt and leave the car as fast as possible. He grabbed my head before I could leave, and attempted to kiss the side of my face, but instead smooched my thick mane as I quickly shifted upon realization of what he was trying to do.
I don’t remember quite a lot after the incident (well, concerning it, per se). I know that after I got out of the car, I calmly and then quickly sped through the halls, racing to hide myself from view and to question what had just happened. I asked ZZ Teacher D if it was anything but the norm. She affirmed – it was anything but. I decidedly chalked it up to just nothing but an incident of the unordinary.
Trauma, though, isn’t a choice, and it doesn’t weigh in immediately. The fallout’s particles float in the air for a while, creating a misleading buffer, before they slowly pile on proverbial cement, amassing in actuality.
Maybe a month after, or maybe two, I found myself on the phone and curling my body on the floor pleading my best friend not to tell anyone. Then there were the nights that I remember in desperation where I’d try to make marks with a dull exacto on my “tainted” thigh. I never quite got the hang of cutting, though. That’s where all of this, in terms of timeline, perhaps, found itself so neatly slotted in my unraveling.
My belief that authority figures were there to protect me was completely devoid of itself – stripped and taken away from me. Someone that was meant to guard the wellbeing of minors had violated my privacy and space. It was supposed to be a good deed, nothing more; there was not meant to be an ulterior motive. The faith I had that people were inherently “good” was rattled; there were no acts of kindness. It wasn’t the inappropriate crossing of boundaries as much as it was the wreaking havoc on what it meant to be a protector and abusing authority. After all, this coalesced set of identities – authority and protector – seemed to find itself subverted and spun on its head years later with the Cat Lady, whose prescriptions and “advice” I followed out of good faith. But the above is most definitely a story for another time.
The hours by which I could leave and arrive home are still ingrained in my mind: leave before 8:25 AM or after 8:55 AM, leave before 11:40 AM or after 12:30 PM, and be home before 3:15 PM or after 4:10 PM (to be safe). There were the days when the timing was unavoidable; I learned to walk quickly and to switch sides of the road when need be so that I’d always stand at a diagonal. And then there were the times in which I’d look as far I could down the street to “assess” the situation. When I could, which became “everyday,” I’d timed myself to ride a different route – one that took about ten minutes longer – as it put a good hundred metres between him and I. It was a pretty firm set of rules and regiment that I had created, and most definitely one that I’d find myself abiding to even after moving away for school.
Those weren’t the moments when I was the most scared, though. I’d feel my heart come to a stand still, in disconcerting fear, whenever an aged navy Cadillac would drive on by or be parked in a lot. I don’t know if I felt anxious, per se, but there was always this need to construct an exit strategy whenever I thought I saw the car. It didn’t help that it was sometimes a red Pontiac that he drove. Perhaps this is why I spent much of my senior year residing in a coffee shop, sipping on Americanos; cars can’t drive into buildings, or at least they don’t do so often.
And burrowed in the back of my mind was perhaps one of the reasons why I couldn’t ever find myself comfortably settling down, with fervent frustration permeating through more often than not. Neither Paris nor New York offered the escape for which I longed; instead, it was quite the opposite.
It was during one of those car rides that made the distance irrelevant. I asked about his daughter and the reply, while mostly a blur, sticks out like a thorn to this day. “She teaches at New York University,” he said. He might’ve mentioned it one or two more times thereafter, but it stood out clearly enough as I’d tell people the “kicker” to the story years after. Never did I mention anything about post-secondary; heck, the Crossing Guard queried as to what community college I was attending every now and then. I’d just bite my lip and not reply.
On the nights that I couldn’t sleep, I would look through the listings of professors, scouring through schools and departments, for any hint to identifying who she was. Perhaps I had misheard, though I was certain in what I was told, especially since attending my now alma mater was far from what I had envisioned for myself. It was a crumpled note in passing that would hurriedly unfurl itself into out of curiosity in between moments of calm. In the end, though, there was never an answer, or at least not one that I could ever convince myself to be satisfactory.
So here I am sitting in the school library, hemming and hawing over this entry, and wondering at the many reasons that has made penning this post such a difficult task over the years. Perhaps it was because I was in a constant search for something that may never have existed – this professor who never materialized. But perhaps a more convincing force: I was ashamed. I was disappointed in myself for having been trusting when I shouldn’t have; I was disappointed in having my youthful idealism taken away; and I was disappointed in letting it instill fear in me.
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