by Julia Buckley
A man wearing clown make-up and holding balloons attempts to lure children into his van with missing windows. No, this isn't Steven King's latest brainchild--it's an item from my local news, as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times and all of the local television news stations. For those of us who aren't fond of clowns (and for Chicagoans who saw the two faces of John Gacy), this is much too horrifying an image.
It just so happened, though, that this morning was the first time this school year that neither my husband nor I could walk the boys to school. And when I got to work, I realized that I had forgotten to warn the boys not to get into a van with a clown. As if my boys needed to be told that--it's an image from a nightmare. This guy must not be psychologically savvy if he thinks clowns are appealing to kids these days.
Still, when I got home I learned from my husband that the boys had not called him as promised, so I called the school to make sure they had arrived. They had. Relieved, I went about my business until it was time to pick them up.
Once we were home and safely tucked indoors, our new pumpkin lights blazing in the windows, I got a call from my neighbor, Laura. Her daughter Jenny, a sixth grader, had been given permission to walk home and had not arrived when expected. Laura wanted to know if one of my boys would watch her four-year-old while she searched the streets for her daughter.
Images of the clown loomed. "Sure," I said. "He'll be right over." My oldest son went to watch the little guy while his panicked mother drove away.
"My sister is lost," said little Jonah. He stayed by his phone, dialing random and plentiful numbers, my son reported, and then told the buzzing at the other end that his sister hadn't come home. My son let him keep doing it, since it seemed to give him the illusion of control.
Meanwhile, back at my house, a feeling of dread began to creep over me; I thought Laura would be gone for a few minutes, but half an hour went by and she hadn't returned. My son sat at their house, reading his homework. Little Jonah made his emergency phone calls to no one.
Finally, finally, they came home. Jenny had decided to join a new club after school; then she forgot that she said she'd walk home, and was sitting in the school waiting to be picked up.
Meanwhile Laura died a little inside. She said she almost crashed her car on several occasions while she scanned the sidewalk for a sign of Jenny. She experienced that special fear that is always present in a corner of mothers' hearts--and it's kept alive by people who dress as clowns and try to lure children with balloons. Or people who ask if children would like to see a puppy. Or those who say that they have candy, if a child will just follow them.
Children today, thank goodness, understand that they cannot trust any random person, especially not strangers offering presents. And it's not that likely that anything will happen. And yet . . .
Last year the people who sold us our house (and who still live in town) had a terrible experience. Their six-year-old daughter was playing in their fenced back yard. Her mother was in the house and occasionally looked out the window (don't we all do that?)
The little girl, in her sandbox, was approached by a man who looked over the fence. He asked if she'd like to see a puppy. She said yes. He said, "Don't worry, your mom said it was okay." He lifted her over the fence and put her into his car, where he had installed a child seat. He strapped her in and drove away. It all took about one minute.
How often can a story like this have a happy ending? But this one is almost happy. The man drove the little girl from our suburb into Chicago. There, for some reason, he told her to get out of the car. He instructed her to go to a nearby mail carrier and tell him that she was lost. And he drove away.
By the time the girl's parents were contacted, they had been frantically searching for her for two hours. She was returned to them, frightened but unharmed.
I can only imagine the nightmares that mother must have when she thinks about the fact that someone had her child--someone with evil intentions. What had made him let her go? Had someone seen him? Someone who could have identified him later? Had he suffered a twinge of conscience? (I find that option unlikely). Had she made noise and persuaded him that his abduction would not go smoothly?
In any case the girl was returned to her family.
But it reminded me, once again, that there are many people who wear masks--and the one in the clown make-up is the easiest to spot. More frightening are the masks of friendliness that convince innocent children that nothing bad would ever happen.
(art link here)