O’Hare Airport, age 16
I was on my way home from school, landing at O’Hare Airport, where my brother was supposed to meet me. Dressed in a striped mini-dress, I was overloaded with an expensive camera hanging on a strap over my shoulder and luggage surrounding me. My sister’s family lives near the airport, and usually family members prefer to pick someone up at O’Hare outside the baggage terminal exit, making for easy pick-up and not having to park the car. But I didn’t see how I could lug all the stuff outside and besides, I noticed a creepy man standing at the door.
I sat down for a minute to think and then realized the creepy man was staring at me with an intense and ominous expression. He looked Hispanic, was somewhat stocky in build and wore dark glasses. At first I thought he was interested in my camera or the money in my purse, and whatever expensive things I might have in my possession, so I pulled my camera, purse and luggage more tightly around me. It soon became clear, however, that he was interested in … me. If I went out that door, I had no doubt he would grab me and then…well, I didn’t want to think about what he’d do with me once he’d kidnapped me.
No, going outside to meet my brother was not an option. I looked around me. There were some people around, people picking up their luggage, having their luggage tickets checked as they exited the roped off area. I looked toward the public phone, but it was isolated and dark. I dared not go there. Nervously I looked at my watch – where’s my brother? Most likely circling around the airport, expecting me to emerge. I had to call my family, but how?
I moved around to see what he would do – his eyes followed me. I went over to the airport official checking the luggage and told him about the man at the exit. He said he would keep his eye on him, but I could tell he didn’t really think there was any danger.
However, because I had talked to the airport employee, the man called over a companion to keep watch on me for awhile. This was a tall black man. I told the official that now a different man was watching me and by that time, I’m sure he thought I was a totally wacko teenager. Probably thought I was “asking for it” due to my mini-dress. However, he did agree to watch my luggage, which I moved inside the roped off area. The only safe place I could go at this point would be upstairs. I had in mind to go up there and couldn’t leave my luggage unattended.
Within a couple of minutes, the stocky man with the dark glasses returned. When he turned to talk to his companion for a minute, I got up and ran to the escalator. People closed around me. I thought of looking for a pay phone but didn’t see anything around there. I sat down in a seat in a corner and felt safe in the throng of people.
Suddenly my flesh crawled: the stocky man had come upstairs looking for me! He didn’t see me sitting in the corner, and I saw him looking around in the crowd. Searching for me! I was terrified, but since he didn’t see me, I slipped back to the escalator and went back downstairs. If he’s gone long enough, I thought, I would be able to call my brother from the pay phone there.
Suddenly there he was, coming down the escalator, his penetrating stare fixed on me. He returned to his spot at the door, never taking his eyes off me, and it was clear that I couldn’t leave. Fear overwhelmed me – I was trapped!
It had been a long time, or seemed that way. I checked my watch again. 45 minutes had passed since I’d called my brother from the pay phone near the arrival area! Where was he? When was he going to realize I wasn’t going to come outside? I closed my eyes and willed him with all my might to come inside, to find me, rescue me.
Then I recognized a booming voice yelling, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” I had never in my life been so relieved to see my brother.
And just as quickly, the creepy man vanished. I ran over to my brother, shaking, and told him what had happened. Of course, since the man had gone, I wasn’t able to really show him the danger I was in. We went over to my luggage, which was still there, but there was no sign of the airport official who had supposedly been guarding it.
Safety and relief washed over me. I had imagined all the horrible scenarios that could have happened if the man had kidnapped me. Gagged, blindfolded, thrown into the back seat of a car or maybe even the trunk. Drugged, forced into prostitution. There was no end to my fears. But finally I was ensconced safely in the comfortable passenger seat of my brother’s car, jazz music playing on the radio.
In spite of my explanation, I don’t think my brother truly believed me – I’m sure he thought I was exaggerating, that my imagination was running wild. However, to this day, that experience was the scariest I’ve ever had in my life. I can still see that man’s face – I will never forget it. I thought I’d never come back from that one!