Toys R Us

It’s nearing my Little’s birthday, and in our quest for the total birthday experience we took her to Toys R Us this afternoon. She absolutely LOVES going to the toy store, I just wish we had one closer. lol. It’s a forty minute drive to the closest one, plus Hubs isn’t really a fan of the whole toy store experience.

I love toy stores. I always have, but until recently I mostly avoided them. Especially Toys R Us. Oh the tales I could tell of exactly WHY a toy store of all places has odd emotional associations. The short version is that a guy I was dating (seriously, until I met Hubs it’s a miracle I survived any of my other relationships lol) had been involved in some shady dealings when he was younger. I’ve debated on sharing the specifics here or not. I love his story, and find great inspiration in the way he survived, but he doesn’t see it that way (or at least he never did.) so… I think I’m going to keep the specifics to myself. At least for now. He made some mistakes and people were not happy with him. They had made threats against his life, and he was always looking over his shoulder as a result.

Honestly, aside from these few incidents I’m sharing today, I never actually verified anything he told me by way of explanation for the whole thing. For all I know the story I have is completely made up because he was too ashamed/traumatized to deal with the truth. Something happened to him, people did follow us and try to break into his apartment. I know that for certain because I was there and experienced it first hand. I choose to give him the benefit of the doubt, even realizing that what I was told could be untrue. Even if it is untrue, it doesn’t change the events themselves. It’s pretty irrelevant to all except those of us who have to live with it filtering around in memory.

While they aren’t particularly triggering events, my mind does wander toward them anytime I set foot near a toy store… It’s getting better, especially since I haven’t visited the actual location of the incident in years. The smile on my Little’s face, and the excitement in her step makes my discomfort completely worth it. I’m hoping finally getting these out on “paper” will put them completely to rest.

My boyfriend and I were spending the afternoon out and about. Not doing anything specific, but just spending time together. He was looking for a specific collectible of some kind and in our quest to find it we had stopped at a Toys R Us. I hadn’t been into a Toys R Us in years. It was kind of special for me as the store we were currently wandering through was the same store I remembered shopping at for Christmas toys as I was growing up with my grandparents.

We were wandering up and down the aisles hand in hand until he stopped to look at something more closely. I continued down the aisle, turned the corner and paused at the end cap. I was only apart from him for maybe two minutes, and when I returned to where I had left him he was gone. It wasn’t unusual as we did have a tendency to separate during our shopping trips, especially when we were looking for something. Two sets of eyes are better than one after all. It was unusual that as I walked down the next few aisles I still couldn’t find him. Normally I was always able to find him quickly, but I had no idea where he had gone. I did see another man quickly searching the aisles, but to me he was just another random customer in the store. At least that’s what I thought until some one caught my arm with a whispered: “Kelli, we need to go.”

“Oh there you are. Where did you go?” I asked turning to see a panicked expression on my boyfriend’s face as he lead me quickly toward the exit, before darting down a random aisle, pausing and looking over his shoulder.

“I know that guy. I don’t think he saw me, but we should probably leave.” He said, leaving why he was running from the guy he knew up to my imagination.

“What? The guy in the blue shirt? Is he one of the people after you?” I asked trying to get some clarification.

“Yeah.” He answered, fidgeting back and forth as we stood there.

“He was looking up and down the aisles after I lost you. We should probably go.” I answered honestly immediately on high alert checking up and down the aisle.

“Are you serious?” He asked his body visibly tensing up.

I only nodded in reply.

“Here. Go out and start the car. I don’t want him to know we’re together.” He said handing me the keys to his car. “If I’m not out in ten minutes, get the hell out of here and call the police.”

I dutifully took the keys and as calmly as possible left his side and headed toward the exit. Looking over my shoulder, and keeping an eye out for the man who was a potential threat. I saw him, but he didn’t give me a second glance as I brushed past him on my way to the exit. As soon as I was outside I pulled out my phone and sent my boyfriend a quick text alerting him to the fact that the man he was hiding from was standing toward the front of the store. I made my way to the car safely, started it up, and pulled out of the parking spot where we had been and pulled around behind the corner of the store. I could see my boyfriend if he came out, but I was out of the way enough that anyone looking for our car wouldn’t immediately spot me. Time seemed to race by. My eyes darted from the exit of the store to the dash board clock and back again. Eventually, nine minutes after I made it to the car as I had my phone in hand poised to dial 911, my boyfriend appeared quickly walking out of the store. I threw the car into gear and raced to the front of the store. He jumped into the car and I sped off out of the parking lot, not entirely sure where I was going, but merely trying to get out of harms way.

“Did he see you?” I asked checking the rear view mirror for any suspicious cars as we left the parking lot and merged safely into the busy flow of heavy afternoon traffic.

“No. No, I don’t think so.” He answered, turning around in his seat to look behind us. “We should be okay.”

After hearing that I pulled off of the main road into a small business parking lot a few blocks away from the toy store.“What are you doing?” He asked, still very upset about our encounter at the store.

“I need to pull off and adjust the seat and mirrors. I wasn’t exactly worried about that when I got into the car.” I answered honestly. “Unless you want to drive?”

“Oh. Yeah, I can drive.” He said as I put the car into park and we both hopped out and switched seats.

That was one of the least dangerous encounters we had with people my boyfriend was avoiding, or at least one that resolved itself quickly with out too much dangerous driving or maneuvering. Usually, when ever we encountered them we were on the road, or they saw us before we saw them and began to follow us, only giving themselves away by keeping up with my boyfriend and his erratic driving.

The first time this happened he wouldn’t even explain what he was doing. We had left my apartment to pick up a few things at the store. He was driving, and without any previous explanation he did a ninety degree turn without a turn signal and started speeding. I was in the passenger seat yelling at him. He didn’t reply with anything except a very frantic and frustrated: “TRUST ME.” as he flew into a neighborhood that I’d never seen before. (Which ironically enough, my great aunt and second cousins moved into just a few years ago. That was a fun trip, going up to see their new house. Triggers McGee here almost didn’t make it through the visit without bawling) I was scared, confused, and angry that he was endangering people by driving recklessly, but I was stuck. Eventually he whipped into a driveway, turned off the ignition, reached over me, hit the recline button on my seat and told me: “Get down and stay down below the windows.”

He also flipped his own seat back and ducked below the windows. I looked at him and asked him one more time: “What’s going on? Do I need to call the police? You’re scaring me!”

He replied: “Back at Target. I saw one of the people from my past. I didn’t know if they saw us, but they followed us out and have been following us in a grey Chrysler. I was trying to lose them.” He said as he took my hand, into his own shaking sweaty palm and urged me to be quiet. “Be quiet, please be quiet. I can’t think.”

I started to protest, but seeing the look of pure panic on his face, changed my mind and I returned his firm grip. We sat there like that for what seemed like an eternity until eventually he raised his head just enough to see if the coast was clear. “I can’t see.” He complained frustrated.

“Well, I’ll look.” I said shifting in my seat getting ready to sit up and take a peak.

“No! Don’t! Stay down. We’ll just wait.” He yelped, panic stricken across his face.

“Why? They don’t know me. What are they going to do? If I get out of the car maybe they’ll think it was a mistake.” I said, trying to think rationally and not panic.

“No, no. They could have guns Kelli, and they’re not the type of people who are going to ask questions before they start shooting.” He pleaded with me.

I ducked back down below the windows and waited before asking. “So what happens if these people who live at this house come home and see us hiding in their drive way? Why don’t we just call the police and explain the situation?” I asked.

“Because if you call the police I’m going to jail for driving on an expired registration.” He said as a matter of fact, laying back in his seat with tears beginning to fill his eyes.

“Well, I’m going to take a look. We’ve been sitting here for almost fifteen minutes. What did you say they were driving?” I asked peaking my head up just enough to see out the side mirror with out exposing myself to the windows.

“A grey Chrysler 300.” He answered.

Up until I saw a grey Chrysler roll up and stop behind us in the street I thought he was over reacting, but when I said: “Uh, they’re parked behind us in the street.”

“Shit!” He practically screamed as he started the car. “Stay down and hold on.” He warned me as he threw the car into reverse, not really paying attention to where he was going, trying to stay below the window line as much as he possibly could while still navigating the car, before slamming the car into first gear and tearing off across the lawn of the house which had so graciously sheltered us. Without missing a beat, he flew through several stop signs, tearing through the neighborhood back in the direction we had came from until he began to slow, and eventually stopped at a red light. 

“We lost them.” He said as we pulled up to the intersection. “You can sit up now.”

“So, how often does this happen?” I asked raising my seat. Not really angry, but more concerned. We had been dating for several months at this point, and while we had already discussed his past, I hadn’t realized how close to the situation he was and how dangerous things actually were. The way he had talked about it seemed like it had been lifetimes away, but being there in the middle of a car chase made it seem so much more real.

“That’s the first time it’s happened in a really long time. I’m so sorry, Kelli. I never wanted to involve you in this. God damn, I never wanted this.” He answered smacking the steering wheel, still breathing heavily, and clearly emotional. “I changed my name, I moved, I don’t know how they keep finding me.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. I asked the only logical thing I could think of: “How serious is this? Do I need to move? Change my name? Am I in danger?”

He let out a heavy sigh, and replied staring straight ahead: “I… don’t know. I mean, you shouldn’t be. They don’t know we live here, or who you are. I’ll probably be staying at my place for a while though. Just, y’know until things blow over. Maybe you should stay with me? Just a night or something. I don’t think my roommate will mind.”

“Well, okay. If that’s what you think is best.” I answered.

After listening to his explanation I wasn’t angry anymore, but I was scared for his safety and not exactly sure how to help him. I asked him what we needed to do, or what could be done and he just tried to shrug it off. I could tell it was still bothering him but there was no point in pressing the issue if he had already shut down about it. I didn’t want to stir up anything more than had already been stirred up and cause him to have a night terror, so we went on our way. We swung by the apartment so I could quickly gather a few changes of clothes, and then we headed to his place.

There is one other event that really stands out in my mind in regards to being chased by these people, although looking back at it now emotionally removed from the situation, I don’t know if we were running from actual danger, or he was running from some perceived danger that didn’t truly exist at that specific moment.

We had spent the afternoon at a local theme park, and stopped at a local Walmart to pick up some drinks to complete our date night.  As we were waiting in line to pay, I began to get the familiar allergic reaction feeling that overcomes me after eating peanuts. I asked for the keys and made my way out to the car while my boyfriend remained inside to pay for our things. I originally thought I could make it back to his place as we were only a few blocks away, but as he made his way to the car I soon realized that wasn’t feasible. We were sitting at the traffic light leaving the parking lot when it hit me, if I didn’t get to a bathroom immediately I was going to vomit everywhere.

“Babe, I’m not going to make it.” I said. “We need to stop somewhere.”

“Kelli, the light is going to turn green any second. Hang on we can make it.” He protested.

“No, NOW.” I yelled sitting bolt upright in my seat.

“Okay! Okay, hold on. Will Burger King be okay?” He asked, throwing the car into reverse and turning around.

“Yes, that’s fine.” I said getting lightheaded, and putting my head between my knees.

“Are you sure we don’t need to get you to a hospital?” He asked placing his hand on the small of my back as we pulled into the Burger King parking lot.

“I should be okay. It usually goes away pretty quickly after I throw up.” I answered, waiting for the lightheaded feeling to pass so I could stand up and head inside.

“Do you want me to go in with you?” He asked genuinely concerned.

“I’ll be okay. Thank you. I might take a minute, but I’ll be out as fast as I can.” I said, slowly exiting the car and heading in.

“Do you have your phone?” He called after me.

“Yes, I have it.” I said quickly before shutting the door and heading inside.

I found my way to the bathroom, purged my stomach of the offending peanuts, and collapsed next to the toilet, allowing the cold bathroom tiles to bring my body temperature back to normal. I was still in very intense pain, but it was slowly subsiding. About ten minutes after I made it into the bathroom my phone began to ring. It was my boyfriend, but I had set it on the sink and couldn’t reach it. He called twice before I heard a knock on the bathroom door.

“Kelli? Kelli are you okay?” He yelled through the door. “Kelli, answer me!”

“Yes. I’m okay.” I squeaked finally pulling myself off of the floor, washing my hands and heading out the door.

As I opened the door he was standing there worry stricken across his face with the Burger King manager.

“Holy shit, you scared me. We were about to come in there.”  He said opening his arms and giving me a gentle squeeze.

“I’m sorry. I feel a little better, but I want to go lay down.” I said, still feeling a little woozy as we made our way back out to the car. 

When we got to the car I noticed two empty beer bottles from the six pack we had just purchased sitting by the drivers side door. We got in, and he started the car. Before he put it in gear, he reached behind the seat and grabbed another beer, popped the cap off took a swig and sat the open bottle in the cup holder.

“What are you doing?! You’re going to arrested!” I asked, a little shocked but mostly more offended by his carelessness. 

“I was worried about you, and it’s just so delicious. Here, try some.” He said casually as we pulled around into the drive thru line.

“You couldn’t wait for fifteen minutes until I got back to the car and we drove to the house?” I asked, upset but really too sick to argue with him. “And why are you going through the drive thru? They’re going to see.”

“So? What are they going to do? They don’t care.”  He insisted as he placed his order and we made our way around to the window.

If I had been feeling better I would have put up more of a fight, but the fact of the matter was that I did not feel well enough to drive, and I really wanted to get home. I turned my back towards him and lay my head against the window and closed my eyes.

After we got our food and pulled around to check our order, I sat up and turned back towards him noticing that his seatbelt wasn’t latched as we pulled back into the flow of traffic.

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked as he took another long drink from his beer as we made our way home. “What if a cop drives by and sees you? Literally drinking and driving without a seatbelt? If you really want to go to jail tonight I can just drop you off and say you beat me or you can pick a fight with anyone of these thugs on the corner.”

“Relax Kelli. I’ve only had three, and besides that. It takes a while to work through your system. It’s not like: Oh my God, beer has touched my lips I’m drunk!” He said before he chuckled to himself.

“Why are you laughing? This isn’t funny.” I insisted.

“Well hello Ociffer. I’ve got too much blood in my alcohol system.” He rattled off before laughing to himself again.

“What?” I asked extremely confused.

“Oh, nothing. It’s just a line from a movie. Don’t call police “ociffers” by the way. They don’t like that.” He replied still highly amused by whatever he was thinking about.

“I can’t imagine so. Hey, the light’s red. Are you going to stop?” I pointed out as we raced towards an intersection.

He hit the brakes, but we didn’t have enough time to stop so we dodged a few cars and made our way through the intersection.

“Oops. Probably shouldn’t have done that.” He said looking in his rear view mirror. 

“You probably shouldn’t have done a lot of things you’re doing right now.” I answered sternly, relieved that we had made it through the intersection unharmed, and were just a few blocks from the house.

“Yeah, but I really shouldn’t have done that. There was a sheriff at the intersection and he turned around. I think we can make it back to the house though.” He said taking his eyes off of the mirror and picking up speed. 

We darted in and out of traffic, ran through two more red lights and turned sharply down a side street before he slowed down. We didn’t stop but instead made our way through the maze of residential streets until we pulled safely into his driveway. 

“Come on, into the house. Let’s go.” He said the moment the car was in park.

“Okay, okay. What’s the rush?” I asked, attempting to gather my purse and take in some trash I had accumulated over the course of our day.

“Don’t worry about that. You can get it tomorrow. Come on.” He insisted, bouncing around impatiently.

I dropped my arm load of things taking just my purse, and wandered up to the door he behind me with his hand lightly on my back propelling me up the sidewalk and into the house. 

“Quick, help me turn off the lights.” He said as he darted around the house turning off the lights in the living room and the kitchen.

“Why are we turning off the lights?” I asked flipping a few switches and heading into his bedroom.

A few moments later he joined me in the room and stood by the window peering out through the curtains.

“What are you doing?” I asked kicking my shoes off and flopping down onto the bed.

“Shhhh.” He replied standing vigilant by the window.

“So, what? We’re going to just sit here in the dark waiting for…?” I asked, lowering my voice although I wasn’t sure why.

“No, we can go play pool downstairs in a second. I just want to see if they were following us.” He answered distracted.

“Who? The police?” I asked, sitting up slightly more alert. I still didn’t feel well, but he was behaving so strangely it put me on edge.

“No, I lost the sheriff after we went through that second red light. Another car was following us.” He answered. “I don’t see them. We’ll just go downstairs.” 

“Wait, what do you mean? Where did they find us?” I asked, practically jumping out of the bed, immediately understanding the severity of the situation.

“I don’t know. I was sitting in the Burger King parking lot for a while. I’m pretty sure I lost them when we were driving through the neighborhood.” He answered, finally stepping away from the window and wandering over to his computer desk grabbing a knife he had stashed for just such an occasion. “Come on. Let’s go downstairs.”

He gently ushered me through the living room, kitchen, and eventually down the stairs as we made our way through the dark house. He paused for a moment in the kitchen, rummaging through drawers until he found me a suitable weapon, a steak knife.

“Here. Take this. I doubt you’ll need it, but it’s better to be prepared.” He said handing me the knife.

“Prepared for what?” I asked carefully taking the knife and making my way down the stairs. 

“Whatever. We’re in the Ghetto, it’s dark and scary out there.” He answered, kind of skirting the issue.

I paused by the bottom of the stairs and put one hand on my hip as he stumbled over to the computer to start some music and rack the pool table.

“I’m buying a gun. If we’re going to live like this, I’m buying a gun. I’m not going to take on an army of gangsters with a steak knife from Walmart.” I said, laying the knife on the edge of the pool table and wandering around to find my the opposite side of the basement to find my cue. 

That got his complete attention as he turned around with the most sad and desperate look in his eyes.

“Don’t do that, Kelli. I’ll be more careful. Don’t buy a gun.” He pleaded, almost begging. 

“What do you want me to do? I’m going to have a means to defend myself if people are trying to kill me.” I said as a matter of fact.

He didn’t get a chance to reply before a loud knock rang out upstairs. We paused and both looked at each other, before he quickly jogged over to the computer and silenced the music. Once again, a loud knocking rang out upstairs, followed by the sound of breaking glass.

“Stay here. If anything happens go out the garage to the neighbor’s house.” He instructed visibly tensing, as he grabbed not only his knife but a baseball bat that had been stashed in the corner and headed up the stairs.

I waited, clutching the small steak knife, tense, and pumped full of adrenaline waiting and listening with anticipation. There was a loud thud of something falling across the living room floor, and then complete silence. I sat there for what seemed like an eternity. I didn’t have my phone or a clock, so I have no idea how long I was actually waiting there, but I didn’t move until the basement door began to creak open. I was standing out of the way where I could see who was coming down the stairs but they couldn’t see me, ready to fight for my life until I saw it was merely my boyfriend. 

“What happened?” I asked, instantly aware that my muscles had been so tense they were beginning to ache.

“Oh, the kitchen window was open. The wind blew a glass off of the counter.” He answered casually.

“What about the knocking, and the thud in the living room?” I asked, relaxing only slightly.

“I tripped over the couch in the dark, and the knocking was the police. I got a ticket.” He sighed returning the baseball bat to it’s home in the corner before starting the music again.

“I thought you said they couldn’t do anything once you were on private property?” I asked, not entirely sure that he was being completely honest with me.

“Yeah, but my car was parked on the sidewalk. It’s city property, and I got a ticket. Dad’s not going to be happy about that.” He answered sheepishly.

“No, probably not. What about your training? Is that going to mess anything up?” I answered walking over to the pool table lining up my first shot while he finished racking the table and turned the music back on. 

“Uh… I hope not. Dad will take care of it. I’ll have to call him in the morning.” He answered still staggering around his three and a half beers clearly catching up with him.

There were certainly people after him, but the above scenario doesn’t really make sense. Although, it could be because I was in the middle of an allergic reaction (and it’s been so many years)  that I’m just not remembering the details clearly. It was also the last time I experienced an encounter with these phantoms following him before we split up. He was always a bit skittish, but there were several times like that when he became reckless. I’m not entirely sure what set him off, because in the moment I was mostly concerned with survival, but either way… There were a few more times we ended up darting through traffic or speeding away from cars, but it became such a normal part of our life together only the incidents I mentioned have really stuck with me.