Not Exactly Repressed, Just Occasionally Forgotten

Every once in a while I remember that I was almost molested by a total stranger. It pops in and out and when, completely at random, it pops in, I’m like, “Oh yeah, I remember that.”

Growing up during winter vacations, I would go to Miami Beach, WAY pre-trendiness, to visit my grandparents (the trendiest thing at the time was the advent of the 7-Eleven Slurpee which I just learned on Wikipedia are kosher!) My favorite part about going was knowing that my grandparents had Poppycock in the cabinet that I would sneak chunks of when they weren’t looking. I learned from my grandmother how to section grapefruit perfectly before serving it and from my grandfather, if you palmed a tip into the hands of a maitre’d at a Chinese restaurant, you’d get seated more quickly.

Every morning I’d get up and go to the pool where other kids, some of who I grew to know from the years before, would throw their towels down and spend the day (One of these girls lived in Chicago, and when Bubble Yum first came out only in selected markets, I sent her a carton of it, much to her delight.) It was a fairly dull routine but we had no choice. We didn’t drive and there wasn’t much in walking distance. My sister who is 8-years older than I am, had a friend who lived in another complex and would get picked-up to spend the day with her while I watched my grandmother shuffle around picking out dirt from her white carpet and lean into the tv to hear it.

When I was about 8 or 9, there was a building maintenance man who used to hang around the pool and talk to the lifeguards and the guy who handed out the towels. I would see him every day in his blue jumpsuit with his name, (let’s call him “Paco” even though I of course remember his real name), embroidered on his pocket. Paco carried around some sort of transistor radio that he said he could use to communicate with the airline pilots flying above us. This intrigued me so I took great interest in it. At the time, there were two floors being added to my grandparent’s building and he told me that the reception was better from the top floors. So, you get where this is going.

We took an elevator to one of the top floors that was still under construction. I remember EXACTLY what I was wearing–a light chambray dress with some sort of red bandanna-like panel on the neckline. There were doors in the hallways that went outside to small balconies and somehow we ended up on one, with my back leaning against the iron banister. We were something like 36 floors up so no one could see us. I remember him asking me to lift up my dress, which I did slowly, before realizing that something wasn’t quite right. I said that I thought my grandparents would be looking for me, opened the door behind him (which thankfully wasn’t locked) and ran down the hall to the elevator. I pushed the down button over and over and over, he followed me, and somehow, by some miracle, a man must have gone up instead of down, so we weren’t alone in the elevator. I pushed the numbered button of my grandparent’s floor and rang the bell with great urgency.

I remember having a nervous smile on my face but my grandparents still knew right away that something wasn’t right. I remember sitting on the closed lid of the toilet with my grandparents urging me to tell them what had happened. I remember sensing that my sister was pissed off that somehow this was all cutting into her plans.

In my memory, the rest unfolded very quickly. I see it in quick, spliced-together scenes. Someone alerted the police who talked to me very sweetly in the Bingo room. I remember feeling VERY grown up. There was a lot of activity and curiosity from other residents and I remember it being mobbed in the lobby. While I was being questioned, Paco was apparently found hiding in the laundry room.

If this were a thriller, Paco would just be getting out of jail and would somehow find me. He’d start staring in my windows at night, trailing me while I walked the dog, kill my cat and leave a message in blood. When I have remembered this incident I have wondered if this could happen, if he ever knew my full name, but, I know that that’s not a reality.

I don’t mean to sound in any way flip about this experience because I know that this is a VERY serious subject. However, in some ways, it doesn’t even seem like it happened to ME. I wasn’t traumatized by it and I’m obviously extremely grateful that I had the instincts that I somehow had at such a young age. Now, because of so many horrors in our society that go many steps further than this one did, our children know never to do anything as stupid as I did. Ironically, there are more subtle things (and some not nearly so) that have traumatized me much more than this did, not involving sexual abuse, thank God, but also not involving strangers.


  1. Oh my! I'm very impressed by your instincts. I'm not sure I would have been as clever as a little girl. Any idea what happened to Paco?

  2. Dan

    Such a scary thing to think about. I know we teach our children about "stranger danger," but I still worry — particularly about one of my two sons, who is extremely kind and sensitive. My fear is that he is the type who is targeted by those shadowy figures lurking in the periphery. My wife and I must do everything to empower our children to stand up and speak out, and (as you did) to follow their instincts.As a parent, I thank you for sharing this. You're right — it's not as horrible as many other stories I've hear, but still, it was useful for me to hear it…

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