Nineteen seventy five. Saddle oxford shoes, double swagger handbags, bell bottom jeans, pet rocks and disco music.
I’m thirteen years old, growing up in small rural town in Indiana. There were two main roads which intersected at the center of town, that were lined with a buildings made of limestone and built in the eighteen hundreds. Farther to the east side of the town there was a newer shopping center with a grocery store, a bank, a discount shoe store and a bakery that released sweet smells of fresh bread and pastries as you walked by. There was also an establishment that sat in the middle of this row of businesses that was a “Five and Dime” store. In modern terms, it was close to what we call “Dollar” stores today. Remember, it was 1975, so a nickle and dime actually had value. It was summer break from school and I was playing in a girls softball league that year with a girlfriend who lived just across a small cornfield behind my parents house. Her family had moved from another country to this small town of farmers and blue collar workers. I’m going to call her Joni in this story for the obvious reason of her privacy. We became friends fast while attending the same grade in school, and now playing on the same team during girls softball season, which consumed almost all of our summer vacation. I had just turned thirteen on Friday the thirteenth. I was actually interviewed by the local newspaper with another girl I attended school with, who shared my birthday. They featured our story of turning the age of thirteen on such a superstitious day for many people. I really didn’t give any thought to it at the time, but looking back, maybe I should have.
It was a Saturday and we played our normal softball game, with Joni playing the catcher position and I was in rotation between first base and pitching. Mind you, it was slow pitch. We had won the game, so everyone including the parents were in a good mood as we left the ball field and gathered at the local Dairy Barn for ice cream and celebration. Joni and I approached our parents, one at time, standing side by side, begging to get their permission for me to spend the night at Joni’s house. We usually performed this same routine quite a lot, with me being the one usually at her house. Joni had a single mom, and was usually not home till late at night, and her older sister was left in charge to tend to the younger kids.
We then exited the Dairy Barn, and began piling into our designated vehicle’s, with the plan of meeting at her place after I had collected some clothes from my house. I then went out our back door and began crossing the cornfield to get to her residence. The sun was beginning to set to the west. As I walked I stared at the sky. The beautiful colors of twilight made me smile, as I slowly approached the back door of her residence with an overnight bag in tow. After some serious girl talk we began to grow bored and restless. I don’t remember who brought it up, but one of us had the bright idea to walk down to Five and Dime Store to look through their music section, and maybe even put our money together to buy a vinyl album. So out we went into the pitch black dark and began walking east towards the shopping center to find some new music to listen to and enjoy our evening. It had to be close to nine thirty pm when we walked in the double doors to our favorite place to spend what little money we had. We had a hard time agreeing on which album we would purchase after combining the coins and one dollar bills in our pockets. We were totally into Donna Summer(the Queen of disco),The Bee Gees, Gloria Gaynor, and anything disco. After all, disco music is said to be last mass popular music movement, led by Baby Boomers, which we are, we just didn’t know it. Secretly, I really wanted to buy the Captain and Tennille single, “Love will keep us together”, but I knew I would be ridiculed to no end by Joni. She never forgave her mom for the pageboy haircut she made her get in the fifth grade, and she took it out on my Captain and Tennille record. So we flipped through the rows and rows of albums and forty five records, trying to come to an agreement. “Kung Fu Fighting”, “Shining Star”, “Get Down Tonight”? We went back and forth till we heard the announcement over the intercom that the store would be closing in fifteen minutes. It came down making a purchase separately, which meant purchasing a 45 inch single record for each of us instead of an album. So Joni grabbed the Donna Summer single, “Love to Love You Baby”, and I decided to boogie down and buy “Lady Marmalade”, by Labelle. As we were standing in line to pay for our records, I listened to the song playing on the store speakers hanging from the ceiling. It was the band Creedence Clearwater Revival, ” Bad Moon Rising”. If you can, put your headphones on and listen to this song while I tell the rest of the story.
Joni went to the first open register that was open and without a line. I took my place behind her, digging in the back pocket of my bell bottom jeans, for one of the dollar bills I had saved for a rainy day. Did I mention my mom had sewn patches on the jeans to cover the holes. The problem was the patches were bacon and eggs, yes I had a bacon patch on my thigh and a eggs patch sewn on the knee. Tacky. So, as we are waiting for the cashier, and I am listening and singing along in my head to “Bad Moon Rising”, Joni turns around and whispers in my ear, “Karen, don’t turn around, but the guy behind us has been following us since we came in the store”. Of course, my first reaction, even though she told me not to, was to turn around and see who it was. Mind you, I was still singing that song in my head, and it started to creep me out. The cashier then started ringing up Joni’s record on the cash register, took her money, put the record in the sack with the receipt, and told her to please come again. She then repeated the process with my record purchase. Now while I am conversing and facing the cashier during my turn, I see Joni , facing back towards me, but her eyes are looking past me to the guy waiting in line behind us. The look in her eyes reminded me of a girl in a movie my Grandpa had just taken me to see, “Jaws”! She looked so scared it started to frighten me, so I turned around, and my eyes slowly looked up.
He had black hair, dark eyes and was wearing a school track team sweatshirt with a hood. I didn’t recognize him, but Joni was on the girls track team at that time, so I figured that must be the connection. As our eyes met, he did not smile or flinch. In fact, he looked mad. Goose bumps started popping up on my arms and legs as if I were standing in the cold, and not a warm summer evening. The cashier startled me by asking for my money, and as I handed it to her, Joni began pulling on my flower print shirt my mom had made from a Simplicity pattern.
As I moved with her, she pulled me and whispered in my ear, as we hesitated at the exit.
Joni: That’s the guy I was telling you about the other day.
Karen: What guy, I don’t remember.
Joni: Remember, I told you about this guy that always stares at me at track practice?
Karen: Kind of, so why is he giving us dirty looks, have you talked to him?
Joni: No way, don’t you remember the boy that got beat up last year and never came back to school?
Karen: Yes, I remember, but what are you talking about?
Joni: They say, he’s the one that beat him, so bad, he almost died, so the family moved away to keep their son safe.
Karen: Oh crap.
Joni: I saw him come in right behind us, and he has been staring at us the whole time. He’s following us.
Joni: We gotta get home quick, I have a bad feeling. Stay with me, and when I say run, go as fast as you can.
At this point I am getting nervous. We were just little girls in our converse tennis shoes with our hair in pony tails, and really very naive. Why would he want to hurt us? Why was he still following us out the door and into the parking lot? We walked close together, arm in arm across the lot and up to the road we needed to cross to get to the cornfield that stood between us and home. As we stopped and looked both ways before crossing, I could see Joni checking the traffic, so I turned back for another glance of this guy in the grey sweatshirt. As soon as our eyes met he stopped dead in his tracks and acted like he wasn’t following us. But it was obvious. I turned back around as Joni raised her hand and signaled for me to come on and cross while the traffic was clear. Still side by side, we finished crossing. She then hesitated and turned to me and said, ” We are almost to the cornfield, when I say run, run as fast as you can”. Thank God for the moon that lit our way in the darkness that night. I started to feel the blood running from my head and became lightheaded while I remembered how fast Joni could run. I had seen her at many track meets. I didn’t know if I could keep up. Two seconds after that thought as we are still walking,I heard the order, “RUN”, and off she went, and I took off too. The further we went, the farther ahead of me she became. I just kept telling myself, “Don’t look back, run , run , run!” Still carrying the small sack with the record in it, I ran like never before. I was losing my breath but I kept going. I then see Joni turn back towards me, while she is leaving me in the dust, and she yells back to me, “He’s right behind you Karen, run, run”. That was all it took.
Somehow, by the grace of God, my pace picked up and I felt a power in my legs like never before. Every step I felt my legs burning to the point of shooting pain from my calves up to my thighs. We were almost there. I think I must have started slowing down because Joni turned her head again, while still running, yelling at me, “He’s reaching for you, run faster, run faster”!
Then, after what felt like forever, we reached the property line of Joni’s yard. We kept running till we reached the back door to find her mom looking out at us in wonder. As we climbed the steps of the porch, I turned back to look at him. He stopped at the property line, yelled curse words I had never heard before, and then disappeared into the dark cornfield. Joni’s mother was frantic as she watched us collapse on the floor trying to catch our breath. She shot out question after question asking us what was wrong and why were we out of breath. “Why are you as white as ghosts”? Neither one of us could talk for about five minutes. Once we told her the story, she darted out the back door, trying to find him. She never did. Joni gave her his name and she told us everything would be alright. She would take care of it. She gave us some water and told us to go on upstairs and get ready for bed.
Then it became strange. I started once again to hear the song “Bad Moon Rising” in my head, and I did not sleep.
Joni’s mom sat us down a few days later and informed us of some details.
“Girls, it couldn’t have been who you thought it was. That boy had taken his parents car that morning, without their permission, and was killed in an accident when the car was hit by a train a few hours before you said you were chased across the cornfield”. She opened a yearbook, handed it Joni, and asked her to point out the boy. She then took the book back and handed it to me asking the same. We both must have pointed to the same picture because now she had turned as white as a ghost. She closed the book, and we never talked about the incident again. Years later the five and dime store caught fire and burned to the ground.