In junior high, my best friend and I are in the throes of falling in love for the first time. We decide the most responsible way to deal with our hormonal impulses is to find a way to get birth control.
We both set up appointments on the same day at our local Planned Parenthood. We tell our parents we're headed to the Dollar Tree for candy, so there won't be any questions when they pick us up from the opposite side of town. We take the bus and head across town to the worn-down strip mall where Planned Parenthood made its home.
As we get on the bus, I notice two girls sitting at the front, making direct eye contact with me. One has an eyebrow piercing, the other has a tongue ring. They are twice our size. The bus gets to our destination, and we exit. Both girls follow us.
Thinking nothing of it, we go into the Dollar Tree to buy jolly ranchers and gummy bears. The girls pop up in each aisle we walk to, laughing as they catch our confused reaction. We lose sight of them, leave the store and head to our appointments. Because of the events that followed, I can't remember any details of the appointment — other than the fact that I pulled off my elaborate scheme to get the pill.
As we head toward our pickup destination — the parking lot of what used to be Sears — we are met by the twosome. In broad daylight, they confront us with powerful stances. They get closer and say, "We heard you've been talking shit on us." We laugh nervously. We don't know who they are.
"Come on, let's go inside,” I say. I feel a tingle of nerves set into my stomach as the girls block us from moving when I motion toward the door of the department store. They get a fierce look of rage in their eyes. My attacker yells at me: "Give me your backpack!"
I say no, and refuse to let go. She begins hitting us. Each of them punches us repeatedly in the back of the head, yanking on our hair.
We are saved by an old couple who witnesses the attack while entering the store. The attackers plead with them, trying to convince the couple that we stole from them. The odds are against them: the sheer terror on our faces and our rolling tears scream that we are innocent. More people start to appear, and the girls take off running.
We are shaking in panic by the time we get into the store, and an associate approaches us. She takes us to the backroom and calls our parents, while police gather statements and start searching for the girls who fled the scene. When my friend’s mother arrives, we go to the police station to give a full statement.
A few weeks later, I receive two letters in the mail from both girls, apologizing for their actions. I'm angry, and unsure if the apologies are sincere — and whether or not I want to forgive. One note stands out beyond the other. It's full of grammatical and spelling errors. We're asked to testify in court, and at 15 years old, I'm nervous to do so, and upset that I have to face the girls who attacked us.
Do I want to press charges? I'm not sure. My mother advises me against it, explaining that both these girls had lacked the supportive upbringing afforded to me. They appeared to have issues at home, which was inevitably why they skipped class that day and found the two of us.
Back then, the only sense I could make of it was that maybe we looked like money to them. Maybe they saw things in us that they wanted for themselves. I realized in that moment that the retaliation of pressing charges wasn't worth sacrificing empathy. To this day, I remind myself that I have no idea what someone else is experiencing in their personal lives. I try to light the way for compassion.