Walk Faster, Keep Your Head Down
Walk Faster, Keep Your Head Down
A Braided Essay/Poem by Morgan Hunter
I walk past a group of boys
With my sister, Maggie and my best friend, Jess.
We just arrived at Waffle House, it’s late.
Now that you’re older, I want to tell you my point of view from some of your childhood memories. I want you to understand how I feel every time something happens- or doesn’t happen- to you. You’ll understand how I feel when you’re a mom.
I put on a sweatshirt
Before getting out of my car,
Because I didn’t want to give them any reason to notice me.
“Well, congratulations! You’re having a baby girl!” the OBGYN said.
My first thoughts were-
Girl. Shit, a girl? I can’t have a girl. Boys are so much easier. Now I have to worry about all of these things I’d never even considered if it were a boy, oh hell. I can’t do it. I don’t know if I can do it.
“Aw. A girl? Really are you sure?”
“Yep, it’s definitely a girl.”
Shit. “Okay, wow! This is great, it’ll all be great.”
Chatting in the Waffle House parking lot,
Why are they still here?
It’s been an hour.
I sent you and your sister in the gas station to pee. After about 5 minutes, I started to worry. That’s plenty of time for them to pee and come straight back. I saw you walk out of the bathroom through the glass window and was instantly relieved. I looked back at the gas pump and when I looked up you were out of sight. Where the hell could you have gone? I looked around frantically for about 30 seconds before I saw you. 30 seconds of complete terror. But then I saw you, at some man’s car. You were taking something from his hand. Is that drugs? Candy? I dropped the gas hose and took off sprinting towards you two.
“What the hell are you two doing over here?”
“Mom! This nice man gave us candy because I opened the door for him!”
“Girls, come here and go back to the car. Now.”
It’s midnight. We’re inside eating.
Why did two of them come in to use the bathroom?
To walk past us? The other 4 are still outside.
“Mom, can I pretty pleaseeee stay at Porsche’s tonight? I promise I won’t leave the house at all.”
“Baby, it’s not about you leaving the house.”
“Well why! I hate you if you don’t let me go.”
I couldn’t tell you why. You were 11. You wouldn’t have understood why I couldn’t let you stay at your friend’s house. Her 26 year old uncle was in town and living on the couch. I didn’t know him at all. I hardly even knew her parents! I finally caved and I spent the next 11 hours in agony. I didn’t sleep for over 20 minutes at a time. I sat up all night thinking about what might be happening and how’s she’s too little to know any better. At 6:30 AM I decided I had enough, I just had to come get you. I waited outside the house until a light came on at 7 and then knocked on the door.
We’re about to leave.
They’re still there. I don’t even want to walk outside.
What do I do if they come toward me?
I wish you knew how I felt when I got your phone call. I can’t even describe how I felt when you called. You were at a softball tournament and I let you ride up with a friend.
“Mom,” you whispered through your tears, “Mom, there’s a man here. We’re in the car hiding but he has a gun and I don’t know what to do. He’s yelling at one of the girl’s on the team’s mom and I’m so scared.”
You were crying harder than I’d ever heard and I felt pure agony rise up in my whole body. I almost threw up after you said that but I was trying to sound calm for you.
“Baby, it’s okay. Breathe. Dad’s calling the police now and they’re on the way. Stay on the phone, breathe.” My hands were shaking so hard I almost dropped the phone, but somehow I found a way to keep talking. We talked for a few more minutes and I don’t remember any more of the conversation. I can only remember how I felt. Like he took you and you were never coming back.
Oh shit, I made eye contact. I look away almost instantly.
I hope he doesn’t think I was trying to get his attention.
Okay walk faster. 20 feet away.
Right after you got your license, you asked me if you could go downtown in Savannah to River Street with your friends. I knew some boys were meeting you there and I didn’t like you going out there anyway. I told you no but you convinced me to let you go into this tourist area full of drunks and drug addicts. I got in the car to go to town for something, I’m not sure what. The radio went to a commercial about the news, there was a shooting in downtown Savannah. At least one teenage girl was shot and severely injured. I immediately thought it might be you. I called and you didn’t answer. No no, it couldn’t be you. You would be safe, you promised. I called again and it went straight to voicemail. I pulled over and looked up the number of the hospitals to start calling and see if it was you when I got a call from a number I didn’t have saved.
“Hey mom, it’s me. I’m just letting you know we’re headed back and my phone died.”
Put the keys in between your fingers,
At least if you need something that’ll hurt them.
Just make it to the car and you’ll be fine.
I told you that everyone had to go to their OBGYN when they were 17 and you believed me. I told you that you needed to get on birth control before college to try and regulate your periods. The truth? I hated Dante. He was older and sneaky and I just knew he was taking advantage of you. I also knew you didn’t want to start having sex yet, but I was so scared that he was taking advantage of you that I scheduled an appointment just to make sure. You told me over and over you weren’t having sex but how could I believe you? You were dating this boy and all you wanted to do was be around him and I couldn’t take it. You stopped talking to me more and more until we hardly spoke anymore about anything serious so I made the appointment. Out of my fear that you were being taken advantage of.
Unlock quick so the girls can get in the car.
10 feet away.
The pepper spray is in the center console.
When you were looking for apartments to live in, I let you look but I knew where you’d end up. Whether you wanted to or not. Your cousin, Michael Paul was moving to Augusta soon, so when he decided I made you move into the same building as him. It was such a relief. Your freshman year, I didn’t sleep for months. Your dad was worried sick about me. You were my baby girl. Moving 3 hours away. Into a dorm full of boys. How could I make sure you weren’t being hurt? That you were being safe? That no one was taking advantage of you? For all I knew, you weren’t even staying there anymore. You could’ve been doing anything so I made you move in beside Michael Paul the next year. At least if something happened, he would be there.
Dad left a pocket knife in the glove compartment.
Maggie, pull your shirt down,
The holes in your jeans are showing too much.
Over the summer, you and your roommate, Courtney, drove to Colorado. I only let you go because she was going to be driving all 28 hours by herself and I couldn’t let that happen. I called you every three hours and you don’t know how hard it was to sit still for those three hours and not call you. I wanted you to keep me on speaker phone for the entire ride. How was I supposed to know if you were stopping at safe looking gas stations? Or if you were only going through the drive thru like I told you to? I made myself cook so I wouldn’t be thinking about it. I made steaks, mashed potatoes, green beans, chicken caesar casserole, and white rice before I realized it was pointless. I wasn’t thinking about it any less and I kept running over to my phone every five minutes regardless of what I was doing. I kept replaying a scene in my head of you stopping at a sketchy gas station and a man coming up to you and taking you. He put his hand over your mouth and a gun to your back. He tells you that if you scream or say a word he’ll shoot. He takes you and shoves you in his car and sells you into sex slavery. I don’t know why this is always the image I see, I guess this is my biggest fear.
5 feet away.
We’re almost there.
Shit, I think that boy is looking at Maggie.
You called me a few weeks ago.
“Hey mom, just letting you know Courtney’s brother and his friends are having to evacuate because of the hurricane so they're probably coming to stay at the apartment tonight,”
“What the hell, Morgan? You’re seriously letting some random guys we don’t know stay in your apartment?”
Why are you so dumb sometimes? After all I’ve taught you. You would think you would be smarter.
I couldn’t think of anything else to do so I called your boyfriend, Hunter. At least if he stayed there I knew none of those guys would mess with you. He told me of course he would come stay but I still couldn’t shake the feeling. I kept feeling like something was going to happen. Like they were going to hurt you somehow.
“Hey girl, I like those jeans.”
Please walk faster, Maggie.