“Gimme your money!” I turn my head and two inches from my face is the nozzle of a 9mm pistol.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of that night. The night my friend and I were held at gunpoint and then taken for over an hour on a ride through the streets of Nashville. It’s been seven years yet feels like yesterday.
The night started like any other fun night out. We started with a bite to eat and drinks on Demonbreun followed by singing our hearts out at a small karaoke joint. I volunteered to leave early to take Charlee, my co-worker & friend, home. Only one block away from her house I pulled over because she was about to get sick and wouldn’t make it. After helping her out of the car and holding her hair back, I started making my way around the car when I saw him. . He was on the other side of the street walking in the opposite direction. I remember thinking it was pretty late for a casual stroll. I didn’t even have both feet in the car before I heard his demand.
“Gimme your money.”
I softly whispered okay and slowly reached for my purse. I knew I had no cash. I never carried it on me. I opened my wallet to show him it was empty. He shook his gun demanding I search through my friend’s purse. Charlee was out cold with her head between her knees. Thrashing through her things my lungs tightened as I realized that she too had no cash.
“We only have debit cards. I’ll give you my pin number. Better yet I’ll give you the keys to my car” I pleaded.
He paused for a few seconds that felt like an eternity to me. Was he deciding to just shoot me? Will he just take the car? My mind was racing.
Him: “You said debit card right?”
Me: “Yes. Bank of America. I just got paid and I have money in the account.”
Him: “Okay, but we’re going to go now. Get in the passenger seat.”
He followed me around the car telling me to open the back seat. He reached in over Charlee’s back and started to pull her out of the car. My heart started pounding. As he started to push her into the backseat she finally came to and freaked out at the strange man handling her. She yelped and pushed him away. In seconds he removed the gun from his waistline and held it to her head directing her to shut up and get inside. I thought I was about to witness my friend being murdered. Then out of nowhere I said calmly “Char, honey just get in. We are going to drive to a bank really quickly and get him some cash…cool?” By some miracle she agreed and got in the back seat. He held tight to the gun for the rest of the time.
He had an oversized white shirt that he used as a glove. He pulled the shirt tightly over his hand to turn the key, move the gear shift and hold the wheel. He was concealing his fingerprints. He had done this before. Oh and the stench. He reeked as if he was coming off a week long drug bender. I can still smell it.
For the next hour he took us on the longest car ride of my life. The entire time I some how managed to stay cool and calm on the outside while shear panic and fear ripped me open inside. I don’t know where it came from, but I decided to treat him as a friend. To buffer the current nightmare I started a conversation about our boyfriends and jerky moves they had both pulled lately. I just wanted to keep Charlee talking…talking about something other than this nightmare we were living. Keeping the chitchat going I reached my hand slowly behind me and asked Charlee to give me her hand. I gave it a tight squeeze and she gripped me back just as hard. We held hands like that for most of the car ride. I’m still surprised he allowed us to do that.
He told me he was just going to take me to a gas station so I could use the ATM. We slowly started to pull into a corner station when we all noticed a police cruiser parked against the curb. He started to speed up and I casually mentioned that he should take it easy because of the cops. I said it like I was looking out for him. But even with my friendly demeanor he still shoved the gun into my ribs warning me.
Fear struck when I realized that my doors weren’t locked and Charlee could jump out of the car to safety. If she did that, surely my life would be over. She stayed and I continued gripping her hand while continuing the phony boyfriend gossip.
A second time we pulled into a gas station and again a police cruiser was at a gas pump. I gripped Charlee’s hand in hopes that she would stay again. She did and we continued on the search. He knew the streets well and took many side roads. I had only lived in Nashville for a short time and was completely lost. He took us down a tiny side street and slowed down. My mind started racing at what he was thinking. Was this it? I broke the friendly chatter and started to plead with him to just let us get out. I told him that he could pawn the car and get more than what was in my bank account. He just kept repeating, “drop off where you pick up.” This phrase gave me the tiniest bit of hope. Did he really have plans to abandon us after he gets what he wants? He slowly stepped on the gas and we exited the alley and found ourselves perched on top of a small hill looking down on a bank.
He told me not to do anything stupid and to hurry. I sprinted down the hill to the ATM. My eyes started to swell with tears when I realized I was free but I had to go back because he still had Charlee. She later told me that when I left my car he told her he would blow her head off if I tried anything. My hands were shaking as I fumbled through the ATM prompts. I pulled out $200 and panicked. During my friendly conversations he had asked how much money was in my account and for some reason I told him $500. Not wanting to find out what he would do I raced through the prompts a second time to pull out the remaining money.
The entire time we were with him I only looked at him once when I gave him my money. In my head I thought that if he was a drug addict that looking at him would make him nervous. I kept my eyes on the road the whole time. He started to slow down and finally stopped on the side of the road. My heart pounded. Then he said he had to go to the bathroom. He used his shirt to open the car door and got out. As soon as he got out I swung my left leg over the gearshift pressing down on the break as I threw the car in drive. I pressed down on the gas so hard I thought I would break the pedal. When I turned the corner and realized we were truly free I screamed. I slowed a bit to get fully behind the wheel and grabbed both of our bags. I tossed Charlee my cell phone and told her to call my mom as I dialed 911 on hers. I was screaming so hard. As soon as we got far enough away I pulled into a brightly lit bank. I just kept screaming to the man on the other line. I tried to calm down but I had suppressed all my feelings and emotions while I pretended to make friends with him in the car. With in minutes there were squad cars and a white crime scene van. They dusted for fingerprints and wrote down our statements. News vans appeared across the street and I hid behind the crime scene van. I just wanted to crawl in a ball and disappear. My brother drove my car home while Charlee and I got went with my mom. As soon as I got into her car I started to feel sick. A car was the last place I wanted to be.
The next few days I spent time in bed and curled up on the couch. I couldn’t watch tv because every hour the news would flash with video of Charlee and me crying. I went back to work trying to create some kind of normalcy. Charlee and I both went to the police station and separately searched photos. We later found out through the hundreds of faces we both picked the same guy. Unfortunately, he was currently serving time and couldn’t be him. He was never found and no fingerprints were found because he used his shirt as a glove.
For the longest time I blamed God. I couldn’t understand why this happened. Why did he get away? Why would he get the chance to do this to someone else? I struggled with this for the longest time until I finally started to thank God….because I lived. My life didn’t end that night. I was given the chance to live. To get married and have a child. I sought treatment for a bit but eventually I moved to Florida a few months after to get a fresh start.
Not one day goes by without a flash from that night. I know this event played part to driving me further into my post partum depression. After giving birth I was plagued with thoughts of my daughter being put in horrible situations and living in a world filled with crazy people. If only she could forever live in her happy little toddler bubble.
It has taken me months to gather my words for this post and as I was attempting to finish CNN started reporting the Connecticut shooting where 20 children lay victims. My stomach has been in knots and my heart aches for those parents, families and children who fell witness to this crime. I couldn’t continue typing when I saw the breaking news. Lily woke up and I rushed in and held her tight. I just started crying and asked Mike (who was working from home) to take her so I could go to our room and compose myself.
By sharing my story I just hope you squeeze your loved ones a little tighter because tonight families in Connecticut won’t get that opportunity. Problems over money, a flat tire, fights with a friend or spilled milk don’t matter. Each day is a gift. No matter what faces me each day I thank God I have a second chance and I try to choose happiness. It’s not easy…and after today’s tragedy I go back to that night and again ask God why. But with such senseless acts you will never get the answers you want. The world isn’t perfect. But with each waking day I push that night back and look forward to the future. A future that I almost never got to have.
I’ll be back to post some time soon. I’m going to take some time and love on my family…God bless you and those in Newtown.