While walking the half mile home from the bus stop, you sped by and pointed a gun at me.

I’m not sure who you were – not that I’ve forgotten. You were several years older, I recognized you from the halls but never learned your name. I’m sure I could dig out an old year book and find you – but I’d rather live without you.

A few friends were with you, though I never saw their faces. The only clear image I got was you in the passenger seat, window rolled down as your arm rested on the door, gun in your hand. I’m not even sure if the gun was real or not.

Why were you following me of all people?

You turned around at the end of the street and came back. I wasn’t sure what to do; I had just moved to my step-dad’s place, didn’t know the neighbors. Did I sneak into backyards and explain what was happening if someone caught me lurking?

You drove by a fourth time and I noticed a chunk of the road that had broken off through wear. I stopped and looked ahead.

You must have turned off of a side road and left. This was some stupid game for bored high school boys in a small town; intimidate some kid you didn’t know just because there was nothing better to do.

Am I wrong for wishing you turned back one last time, just so I could throw that slab of street through your windshield? Even my weak throw would have done some real damage with the speed you were going. Maybe I could have even lobbed it through the passenger window, bust open your ugly face.

I don’t like to have violent thoughts, but I had never felt more willing to hurt someone in that moment. I never told anyone what happened – I had reported lighter encounters to the principal’s office and been asked for proof, and why would they believe something like this? Maybe that’s why I wanted to hurt you – that would be proof something happened. I wanted to be believed.

Maybe I would have tossed that chunk and you would have retaliated with an actual shot. We could have both lost so much that day, and we were nothing to each other.

Looking back, I probably should have reported this. Even if you did nothing that day, who knows what you were capable of – I can’t imagine you got better with age. Who have you actually hurt by this point?

I think that’s the worst thing you’ve left me with – this feeling that I couldn’t do anything to bring punishment upon you. You gave me all the warning signs of a psychopath in a world where I felt powerless to speak up. No one was around to help, either as you drove by or in the places that were supposed to be safe.

How did anyone convince me to go outside?


My school district had a series of bomb threats back in the early 2000s. I was out sick when the one at my elementary school took place, and it turned out to be from a girl who thought she could get a few days off – third graders can be kind of stupid.

They were all essentially pranks, but they stemmed from a real fear – in that post-Columbine world, were we wrong to panic at the idea that one of these kids might be serious?

This was the same year as the attacks on September 11. I didn’t know what the World Trade Centers were – I didn’t even know what Muslims were. That whole section of the world was a vague concept, introduced to me through one violent day.

Mine was a childhood defined by paranoia – I’ve been anxious since those early days, but I’m certain this experience went beyond me. The early 2000s were a culture of fear.

I remember my mother picking me up, telling me how they got let out of work because her company could be a potential target. The following weeks, I was glued to the television set – which was a normal experience, except Spongebob was replaced by those two burning towers collapsing into dust.

In those following months, I learned of anthrax, snipers, the proper way to seal doors in case of gas attacks. There were weapons of mass destruction, terrorist cells, liquid bombs. None of this had happened in my town – yet. But the media wanted to make it clear that it could.

The news of the outside world can really creep into your private life – as a child, I had no clear idea of how to delineate why and where these things happened. But that box in my own living room kept saying the same thing over and over: be afraid, be afraid, be afraid…

Home was mostly safe. The only thing that could reach me there was one of those big bombs, but it’s not like anywhere outside would be safe from that either. There were tornadoes, sure – but it was somehow easier to accept that. Being in a town of 5,000 people located in the Midwest, they were certainly a bigger threat in my day-to-day life than anything man-made. Luckily, I had the news to keep me focused on the real danger.

So, there might be places to visit, people to see, but I’d much rather stay inside. You can’t make me leave. Everything I need is on the television set.

Life’s safer with the news turned on.