As I child my elementary school taught “Stranger danger”. For those not aware of the program, here’s a summary from the Wiki site about it:
“Stranger danger describes the danger to children presented by strangers. The phrase is intended to sum up the danger associated with adults whom children do not know. The phrase has found widespread usage and many children will hear it (or similar advice) during their childhood lives. Many books, films and public service announcements have been devoted to helping children remember this advice. The concept has been criticized for ignoring the fact that most child abductions and harm are not due to strangers, but rather someone the child is familiar with or related to.”
What boggles my mind is that this idea, which was meant to instill confidence in the child, also brought a sense of terror. Every potential person was out to get you.
One day in 1987 I wasn’t able to open the lock on my condo door (mind you I had walked home by myself at the age of 6 which was about 1.6 km away, and would take me about 20 minutes to walk because my older sisters didn’t seem to give a shit where I was) and my lovely neighbour directly across from our unit heard me crying. She was such a sweet Indian lady and she invited me in for tea and cookies. She had older daughters and was kind enough to entertain me with stories. I realized it was 4:30pm, my parents would be home and I should leave, thanked her for her hospitality and then knocked on my own door. My mother was just about to call the police. She let go of the phone when she saw me and hugged me tight to her chest and I felt her tears on my hair as she sobbed.
You would think this would cause my sisters to never ever let me out of their sight again? Yes, a normal person would think this. Needless to say that was not the case.
I was lucky that I was entertained and instead of well, something worse. It just didn’t occur to shout Stranger Danger because how could this lovely lady be a threat? I was six years old after all and my judgement was clouded due to being upset at my lack of dexterity to open the door.
This event stayed with me and has been a point of trauma that I’ve tried to deal with through story, and a promise I made to my young self. I swore, when I was eight, that I would NEVER, ever, forget the pain of being small and helpless. I swore that I would never forget the pain of being lonely. I swore that I would never forget the awful feeling of being looked through because of my age. I will never forget what it was like to look through the eyes of my child self.
I take moments like this, because sadly, there are many more in my childhood that were close calls and use them to fuel my writing. Sometimes I find I am banging on the keys so fast I cannot get the words out. The anger, the resentment, the frustration of these moments fuel me like none other. I want to scream, but know I cannot change time and these moment have made me who I am.
I know pain, I use it so it doesn’t use me. I have decided to take the reins and I am the master in control. Though it may move me, it will only move through me and control no more. My adult self ruthlessly protects my child self and nurture it to play in the light, in safety and with love. With words I can build my shield, my island, my safe place.