July 24, 1965
Granger Lake, New Jersey
A stench of alcohol and sweat hit me as he staggered into the room.
He stepped toward me and the hate in his bloodshot eyes sent me into panic mode. His big sausage fingers reached for me. I knew if they got close enough they would squeeze the life out of my skinny body. I hated myself as I spun and dove through the open window. I hit the porch roof, scraped the skin off my hands and knees, but I didn’t feel pain. Fear and disgust eclipsed everything; fear of what those powerful hands would do to me, disgust that my fear had pushed me to abandon my friend.
I ran across the porch roof to the rose trellis. The heavy clump of his work boots behind me vibrated the wood structure. I turned in time to see him lunge for me. No time for climbing down the trellis. I jumped into the darkness. I couldn’t see the ground, couldn’t gauge the distance. My feet hit the driveway and felt like they’d been smashed with sledgehammers. As my body flipped sideways my ribs got the same treatment. My diaphragm locked up the way it always did when someone punched me in the guts. I curled up on the gravel, stunned. Yeah, paratrooping was not likely as a career path.
I tried to stand. Nothing wanted to work. Pain seared through my ribs and my feet. I heard a screen door slam and I knew he was coming for me.
I had a lifespan now measured in seconds. I couldn’t wait for my lungs to click back on again.
Focus. One thing at a time. Push off the ground with your hands. Get your legs under you. Take a step. Ignore the pain.
“Hey, you little bastard sonofabitch!”
Ignore the stars at the edge of your vision. Move the other leg. Try to breathe.
“I’m gonna twist yer head off like a chicken.”
What I did next couldn’t be called running, but at least I was moving. I hobbled toward the hedge, toward the gap I knew to be there. I forced a small breath into my throat. With each step, my body responded slightly better. A fast walk, then a slow run. Through the hedge into the inky darkness under the neighbor’s trees. Now a trot as my lungs finally switched back on.
When I heard the clomping of his boots behind me, I kicked into high gear. I ignored the screaming in my feet and the fire in my ribs and I ran faster and faster until I was streaking blindly through the woods, branches whipping against my legs and face.
My pursuer’s footfalls hammered more faintly. Pulling away from him felt better than all the Christmas presents I ever received. My blood sang with the joy of escape. All those years of mischief, being chased, all that practice. Now it paid off. One more step and one more second and maybe I could hope to survive this night.
Then I tripped.