Growing up, my babysitter had a strange infatuation with kidnap and murder cases. She followed stories like JonBenet Ramsey’s with pure fascination, rattling off facts she’d gathered from Dateline. A few years letter when the Elizabeth Smart case developed, her infatuation rubbed off on me. While my parents were out, we’d eat chicken McNuggets while watching reenactments of the kidnapping. At night, I’d sleep under my blanket, certain that my kidnapper was lurking under my bed. Although I was 11, I still thought my blanket made me invisible. (I was a late bloomer in terms of getting in touch with reality.)
When I was younger, my mom had me act out self-defense skits. My mom would pretend to be a creepy man walking her dog in the park, or driving a rundown van with “Candy” written along the side. I’d pretend to fall for her “charm,” but quickly realize she was a kidnapper. Then I’d do what I was taught, – scream at the top of my lungs and kick her in the balls.
Thanks to my mom and Elizabeth Smart, whenever something churns my gut I automatically think, “this is the part where I get snatched.”
While studying abroad in Cortona, Italy, I bought a train ticket to go visit my then boyfriend in Florence. To get there, I had to take a bus into Camucia where I’d catch my train. I was running late, so I broke into a light jog as I made my way down Cortona’s famous hill to the busses. Before I knew it, my jog had turned into a mad dash with the hill’s slope. My arms full of bags flailed in the wind as I lost control, tripping over a cobblestone and somersaulting down the hill. The first of my embarrassing moments to come that day…
When I finally reached to the bus circle, I couldn’t find a single bus.
I hobbled into the near by hotel, a little sore from my gymnastics routine, and asked when the next bus would arrive. “Two hours” the large Italian said with a smile. With only 30 minutes until my train left, I weighed my options – either walk/run the rest of the way down the hill into Camuchia and catch whatever train I could, or simply give up. I toyed with the idea of surrender until the soundtrack to my romantic comedy started playing. Just like a tic I can’t control, my life often becomes a movie inside my head. Similar to the train scene in Casablanca, I imagined my boyfriend waiting for me in the rain only to find that I’d never come. I opted for a happier ending, one that involved me falling off the train into his arms - so I decided to hitch hike.
It wasn’t long before a man in his early 50’s pulled up beside me in his rundown Fiat. He didn’t speak a lick of English so we communicated via hand motions and yelling. I squeezed into the front seat of his car that smelled like sausage and said Camuchia? He smiled a crooked teeth smile and gave me a thumbs up. Since we didn’t have anything to say, he turned up his Euro-techno, rocking his body back and forth while smiling awkwardly. “Like?” he said. I returned the thumbs up. Before I knew it, he had taken a detour off the main road and had pulled up to a ramshackle house on the edge of town. I thought to myself, “this is the part where I get snatched!” I felt a prick in my armpits as they begin to waterfall. He got out of the car and held one finger up as if to say, one second please. I thought back to what my mom had taught me and reassured myself with the fact that Elizabeth Smart had indeed survived. Just as I was about to make a run for it, he returned carrying a small cup of wine and handed it to me. “I make,” he said pointing at it with pride and then motioned for me to drink. I was so relieved that I hadn’t been snatched that I drank it all in one gulp. His eyes lit up and a wide grin spread across his face. It wasn’t until we were back on the road that the possibility of drugs dawned on me. My mom and Elizabeth Smart hadn’t prepared me for this type of ending. I waited for the onset of my wooziness as I envisioned by body being thrown in an Italian ditch. I was so consumed by visions of my bodiless funeral that I hadn’t even realized we had made it to the train station.
The sausage smelling, crooked smiled, woman-snatching Italian opened my door as I climbed out of the thoughts in my head. He kissed me on the cheek and before I knew it, I was standing there with my bags at my feet watching him drive off as the credit song began to play.
And that’s how I learned that not everybody is out to snatch me.