The man didn’t try to put me at ease, by acting as if we were on a date as some of them did, inquiring as to which radio station I preferred, offering me a toke. His breath was foul and his double knit brown suit was a joke, no reason to be afraid. I told myself he’d be quick, and I summoned an image of a cute guy to coax me through it, Tiger Beat stuff. Tall, skinny, a little older than I was. Blonde but his roots would be dark because I liked those bad boys. A shock of his hair would fall into his eyes and he’d brush it away, see me, smile.
Lee was the one I was afraid of. When I’d hand him what I’d made he’d hold the bills in his hand for a minute, look at them, at me, then stuff the money in his back pocket. “You’re not trying.”
I was wearing a halter top, I remember, a piece of cloth with strips to tie behind your neck and where you’d snap your bra, but you don’t wear a bra with a halter top.
“Easy access,” Lee said.
The man’s incurious glance when I got in the car beside him should have told me something was wrong but I never thought of his killing me.
He drove deliberately, without haste. I looked out the cracked windshield of his light blue 1973 Pinto, and saw unfamiliar streets.
Another girl might have tried to sound fun, flirtatious. Where we going, honey? You taking us someplace nice? But I couldn’t myself break the silence between us. If they don’t talk, you don’t talk, Lee told me. You talk too much, anyway.
If I didn’t jump we might drive forever.
I knew I’d never have one of those fine boys, but I imagined a Tiger Beat guy at the end of the jump, pulling me to my feet, taking me in his arms.
When the car slowed down I jumped. Fell hard against the asphalt, couldn’t pull myself up. I broke my right ankle, both knee caps, shattered my left wrist, twisted my spine.
They didn’t believe me in the ER when I said I was eighteen. A bored policewoman spoke offhandedly of “social services sorting this out,” became more cordial when I told her about the car and the man.
Other police and a detective came then. I liked being part of their excitement.
After a while a nurse told them they needed to finish up so she could take me to my room. “The patient needs her rest.”
They said goodnight, each of them in turn expressing the hope I’d sleep well.
I loved the hospital. The attention and the praise and them caring what kind of ice cream I liked.
They arrested him the next morning in the parking lot of his apartment building. There was a towel stained with the blood of one of the dead girls on the floor of the back seat. He’d used it as a gag.
They gave me a new dress with a big bow and took me in an ambulance to the jail for the lineup. They thought I’d be scared, seeing him again. “He doesn’t know you’re there, hon,” the detective told me. “This is one-way glass.” As if I’d never watched a cop show on TV.
It was a party afterwards, all of them making a fuss over me, telling me I was smart and brave. Who knew how many lives I’d saved. The chief of police came out holding a teddy bear the size of a three- year old child and they stood and clapped when he gave it to me. Lee, I thought, would have slit its plush belly open with his razor and hid drugs inside.
Sometimes, when a serial killer is in the news, I’ll get a call and they’ll want to know why I jumped. He was creepy, I’ll say, a creep.
His eyes were the color of rainwater, I’ve thought to say since.
When they write the story about how I looked a serial killer in the face and lived they use a photo my mother gave to a reporter. I hadn’t seen her in two years but she showed up when I was in the news. “Thank God my baby is found.” Lee didn’t stick around to tell anybody different.
Picture day in fourth grade. I’m smiling because the photographer told me to. “Excuse me, Miss. Are you a movie star?” The smocking on my dress had unraveled and there were billowy puffs of fabric over my chest from where the folds had come loose. I was embarrassed about that and because I smelled bad, my panties smeared with cheesy junk. My mother bought a cream that helped with the itching but not the stink. Lee gave me penicillin tablets that dried up the discharge and the smell but in the hospital they pursed their lips and put me on IV antibiotics. They still let my mother take me.
When I was seventeen the California Youth Authority sent me to CNA school and I did that for a long time, twenty-six years. I liked it but it isn’t a good job for someone with bad knees and, after I had babies, I couldn’t keep the weight off. I’m on disability now. $960.00 a month, a food card, subsidized housing.
I give plasma too. Forty dollars twice a week; so I can do things for the kids. After they take out the blood, they leave the needle in your arm while they spin the plasma out, freeze it, give you back the leftover red blood cells through the same needle. The blood cells are cold, coming back in. The nurse, when she checks the IV, will offer a blanket, spread it over me.
That’s what I jumped for.