It was a normal afternoon, really. The plan was to meet a friend downtown to do some photographer type things. Nothing too extraordinary was on the agenda, beyond meeting at the local coffee-house on the corner. It was so beautiful out, really uncharacteristic for Michigan’s majority days, so we took advantage of it and snagged an iron table outside.
Instantly I was second guessing my decision to wear a denim jacket. It had seemed cooler out, but the bit of humidity, though mild, was combatting my outfit. My friend agreed to watch my gear while I went in and ordered a drink. (She’d been there waiting, so she already had something to quench the thirst.) Immediately my eyes were drawn to the baked goods, being brought in daily, from my favorite bakery. Fortunately, they never have my favorite things, so it isn’t much of a sacrifice to skip the treat.
I need to pause the story for a second and explain something, to anyone reading this who wouldn’t know… I hail from the magical land known as the Pacific Northwest. While there are mountains and beautiful, life restoring things to look at, touch and smell, there are also lots (and lots) of coffee houses. They are very unique to one another and you typically have your places that you love, and the ones you do not. If you don’t have time for a coffee-house, there are also lots (and lots) of coffee huts which you simply drive up to. (these follow the same pattern, some you’ll love and some you won’t.) Though there are many things that set them apart, besides coffee, the one commonality is usually help. You can say, for instance, “Hi! It’s pretty warm out. I usually have the ______________, but I want something different. Could you recommend something not too sweet or rich, that’s iced?” To which, the barista will smile at you, likely make a small-talk comment, and then either suggest a few things (with vivid description) or ask you a few more questions, so as better to help. It’s nice. It’s personal. It is part of what helps you love the places you love…
So there I am, in a coffee-house (the only one, really) following the pattern that is engrained into me. “Hi! I’m looking for something cold. Not too rich, not too sweet. I usually have the #3 hot, when I’m here, but not today. What would you suggest?” There were a lot of “You could have the #3 iced,” accompanied by “You can ice anything,” type remarks, not unenthusiastic but not super helpful either. Through an odd array of miscommunications I settled on a Honey lavender Iced Latte. (I was assured that I would NOT be sorry. While I wasn’t exactly sorry, I can tell you they REALLY oversold this drink which was about as special as a Keurig pod. It certainly wasn’t the high point of the typical afternoon)
Strange drink in hand, I head back out to our table. We chat a little, change tables (mostly insignificant detail) and spend about ten minutes doing our own thing and not paying much attention to the people around us…
And- sidenote- there were A LOT of people in our small little downtown at 1:15 p.m. on a week day…
“Hey, Hey You! Hey, yeah you. Why don’t you come on over here?”
I hear the older male prompting, coming from behind me and I turn to see if he was shouting at me. He’s clean. His clothes are clean. If he wasn’t so clean, I would automatically deduce he was homeless, but because he’s clean- I don’t. (and I get it, twenty different groups of people can pull out a dozen things “wrong” with that statement, but I don’t care. I’m being honest. right or wrong- it’s the truth.) I also conclude that he isn’t talking to me, as I follow his eyes down the curb to two teen girls whispering to one another. They’d apparently been walking by the corner he was waiting on, and this caught his attention. They seemed confused, and though they had stopped walking, they did not respond.
“Hey girls, why don’t you come on over here? Hey you, come hang out with me, it’ll be fun! Hey, Hey you!” He appeared to be in his 60’s, but it wouldn’t have been any less appropriate if he were in his 30’s, the age bit is just to aid with the visual… The girls ended their whisper conference and began moving again, down the street and away from him. “Hey!” He shouted, louder, “Where you girls going? Don’t you want some fun?”
Knock it off, buddy. I said the words loud enough that he easily heard me, but not loud enough to be a stupid decision. I wanted to encourage him to move on, not have a confrontation. Though it was (again) speculation, I figured the guy likely had some impairments. This wouldn’t make him any less of a threat, I get that.
Within a few minutes, we grabbed our stuff and headed inside where the cool air seemed more inviting.
More than ten minutes later (but less than 15) the two girls from before, come walking down the block again. Same sidewalk, but different direction. I couldn’t tell you anyone else who’d been on that block, but when they passed, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, prompting me to look in their direction. It was chilling really, and just as I went to look away, guess who appeared about 10 feet behind them…
When my youngest was 6, we got a neighborhood notice that a registered sex offender had moved in, down the street. My husband travelled often, for work, and having been sexually abused as a girl, I knew that I needed to pro-actively address any potential risk. When Gen got home from school, we changed out of her uniform and walked, hand in hand, down to the man’s door. When the bell rang, his mom answered. (I knew this, because I straight-up asked.) When she called him, and he came to the door, I smiled at him and told him we lived down the street. I welcomed him to the neighborhood, told him that I understood everyone deserved a fresh start. I then looked him straight in the eye and said “this is my daughter.” I looked at Gen and said “Look at his face. Would you recognize him if you saw him again?” She looked at him a bit and then replied yes, she would. My gaze returned to him, and through that screen door I emphasized two, very clear things:
1.) If I EVER saw him within 15 feet of a child, I would call the police immediately. I don’t care if he was just walking down the street.
2.) If I EVER saw him anywhere near my house, or within the same line of sight as my child, I would call the police and handle things legally but that he should be VERY aware of the fact that I was not afraid to kill him, with any means necessary, should I feel like he is posing a threat to my child.
I asked him if he understood. He did. I smiled, told his mom to have a nice day and then looked to him again and said “I really do wish you the best of luck.”
I tell you that story because I really want to make it clear- I do not have a tolerance for even the possibility of something. All the times you hear those stories of the people who suspected, or thought something was off, but never did anything… That WAS my childhood, and when my childhood changed it was because I was the one who stood up and did something about it. ME. I would rather stir things up, and be wrong, than ignore them and wrong be done.
The second I saw the man following these girls, I called 911.
The well-meaning operator was very fixated on violence, weapons and assault, but I held my ground that there had been none of those things. At one point she seemed confused as to my need to call and I reminded her that I had begun the call with I know this isn’t actually an emergency, but I honestly didn’t know who else to call considering it’s a street corner and the man in question is moving. Finally she said she’d send the police. She took my name and asked if I’d be willing to talk to them. Of course I would, and so I waited.
This is where I have to reiterate- this is a small town. The length of time waiting was pretty unimpressive…
Thankfully the girls met up with a (guy) friend, across the street. It all played out in such a way that I had to wonder if they called/texted him. There were more whispered conferences and glances in the man’s direction. The man chose this moment in time to sit at the little iron table, (the one we’d been at earlier) and smoke, while watching the girls, now across the street.
An officer eventually came. Into the coffee shop. He came IN TO THE SHOP, while the guy sat smoking his second cigarette outside. He sat looking around the coffee shop for several minutes, until the man in question stood and proceeded to walk around the corner. (The man, who wore a brightly colored orange, oversized t-shirt. Can’t miss him.) The cop saw him, and high tailed it out there, to speak with him. The coffee shop has big windows, so we watched for a bit. Then the chat was done, the cop returned inside and the man left. The officer went to talk to the staff. Had they called 911? Did they know who did? Finally my friend went over and told him I had. As he walked over, his partner (senior??) entered the shop and joined him…
This has already been a long story. Bottom line: I have absolutely nothing against law enforcement. Nothing. I know several officers and then several more wives of (different) LEOs. I am grateful and in awe of their jobs. That being said- this situation made me think that if there were something suspicious happening, I would not call the police. While the younger officer seemed to be concerned with the fact that school was almost out and kids always hung out in this area, the older officer was one level away from condescending when he very firmly pointed out that this man has been around, walking all over town, for decades. Everyone knows him. He is harmless. He has a mental illnesses. SEVERAL different ones. And Tourrettes syndrome. Sometimes he shouts at people, they think, but it’s just his Tourrettes. And be all that as it may, the reality is that it is not harmless for a man of ANY age (or mental capacity) to follow teen girls around, trying to get them to join him. (And just so everyone is clear, an individual shouting to teen girls and asking them to join him for some fun is NOT what Tourrettes looks like.)
When something doesn’t look right, or if your gut sends you a signal- DO SOMETHING. Always. Every single time.
This situation was the most disheartening part of the day, and it stayed with me through most of the weekend… The biggest surprise of all, oddly, was that the stupid Honey Lavender Latte DID turn out to be the best part of my day after all.