By WENDY HODGE
Let me see … Where did I leave off? … Oh, yes — I stood huddled with my sister’s best friend, a terrified girl whose sister had been kidnapped, a good Samaritan with a CB radio and a policeman, waiting to see any sign of my sister or the man she was chasing. We heard a yell from deep in the woods followed by crashing sounds, like animals fleeing from a hunter in the forest and then there she was. Carrying the girl in her arms, Carol broke out of the trees and ran straight toward us. She was hollering. I don’t remember the words she was saying, but I do remember that she did not sound scared. She sounded fierce, almost primal.
It was the sound of her voice that broke the spell over us all. The policeman ran towards her, arms outstretched. Donna and I and the girl’s sister ran together, holding hands, like an off-kilter game of Red Rover. The man with the CB radio stayed at his truck and began sending messages to others who were on their way to help.
We met in the middle, all of us speaking at once and surrounded Carol and the trembling girl in her arms. The girl was small — smaller than her sister. She did not make a sound. Terror can be an effective silencer. She clung to my sister’s neck as if she were in the middle of the ocean hanging on to the only life jacket in the world. My sister held on to her just as tightly.
The policeman broke into a run toward the woods in the direction Carol was pointing. He had his gun drawn and his eyes focused like lasers.
Carol stood there comforting the girl and promising not to let her go until she was ready. After what seemed like forever, the girl reached toward her sister. They fell into each other’s arms and cried — long and loud and from deep within, both of them. It felt like an intrusion, being in the presence of so much emotion.
Carol sank onto one of the concrete climbing animals that were scattered in the park. I remember that it was a yellow elephant. She reached out and took my hand, and that was all I needed to be able to breathe again. She was okay. It was all going to be okay.
I don’t remember the details of what followed. I suppose terror affects memory as much as it does your voice. I remember that it was a long time before I was finally home, and longer still before my sister walked in the front door. My parents were both terrified and proud.
“You could have been killed!” my mother must surely have exclaimed.
“Thank goodness you’re okay,” would have been my dad’s response.
“We’re so proud of you,” was the one phrase I know everyone said. “So proud.”
If you had taken the three of us, my brother and sister and I, and listed our qualities one by one, it would have been my sister who would have been described as quiet, humble and slightly introverted. In spite of that, she was the one of us who was brave. She was the one of us who was most generous with her life and with herself. She was the one who acted most selflessly, without regard for what she wanted. She was the helper.
“Weren’t you scared?” I asked her that night, dragging my feet, not wanting to go to bed and face whatever nightmares may come from such a day as the one we’d just lived through.
“Only for a second,” she answered. “Mostly I just needed to help that girl.”
It was as much a part of her nature as her brown hair and love of travel.
I don’t know who the police officer was, nor do I know the name of the man with the CB radio. They were helpers too. And I wish I could thank them now for helping both sets of sisters on that day.
The man who stole one sister from another that day was caught and sent to jail. Carol testified at his trial. I was not present because I was still so young, but I can imagine her being calm and clear on the witness stand. I am told she spoke with clarity and looked straight at the man who tried to wreak havoc on innocent people. She was not afraid of him. She’d already faced that fear somewhere in the woods.
As for the two girls walking through the park, I have no idea where they are now. I don’t even know their names. But I do know they were more than lucky to have my sister walk into their lives at just the right moment. They were given the gift of a helper. And, like them, I am so grateful I had my sister for the short time I did.