When I was 12 years old, I went to the 13th birthday party of one of my school friends, who for the sake of privacy I’ll refer to as Anna. It was a sleepover and quite a few of us from school stayed in the attic of her family home. We went swimming that afternoon in the nearby river and did normal birthday party stuff like any pre-teens. It was a fun time. However, when Anna’s parents sent us to bed, the party didn’t stop.
Being late August, it was Anna’s idea for us to go out to the duckpond in her yard and watch the Perseids while sitting on on a picnic blanket on the lawn. Most of us agreed and went outside, only two girls being too afraid of repercussions and the dark to go with us and ended up staying in the attic to try and get a good night’s sleep.
About eight of us sat out on the lawn and watched the stars while we chatted and played truth or dare, which is when Anna’s boyfriend—who I’ll call Nathan—came up with the dare that we should sneak back down to the river and swim.
In hindsight, this was a terrible idea, but to a bunch of middle schoolers the idea of hanging out in the woods in the middle of the night without adults was just too enticing.
We all agreed and quietly crept to the porch to grab our drying swimsuits and towels off the banister. We waited for Anna, who came out holding her mother’s car keys.
One thing about Anna is that Anna was one of those people who always looked and acted older than she usually was, so at 13 years of age she could have easily passed for a 16 or 17 year old in case the county sheriff pulled her over. All of us also lived out in the middle of rural New England where we were surrounded by farm country and forests, so many of the kids who lived on farms (like Anna) were taught to drive at a young age in case of emergencies.
“It’s too dangerous to walk to the river at night.” Anna told us. “There will be bears. We should take my mom’s car.” We all agreed, and soon we started to pile into Anna’s mother’s ancient station wagon. Anna was in the driver’s seat and Nathan in the passenger’s, while the other 5 kids piled into the back seat. Three people sat on regular seats while two people sat on laps. However, I was (and still am) a very awkward person who doesn’t like to take up too much space or resources out of fear of rejection, and the only lap available belonged to my friend Oscar, which my baby lesbian self wasn’t comfortable with. So, Anna came up with the idea that I should sit in the bed of the car.
Being an ancient station wagon, the bed locked from the outside and there was no handle to open the back door on the inside. There also happened to be bars across the opening above the back seats so Anna’s dogs couldn’t get onto the seats of the car. This, in hindsight, was a recipe for disaster. But, being a socially awkward 12 year old who desperately wanted to fit in and was glad to be included, I got in the bed of the station wagon.
The eight of us went down to the river and swam and had a good time just swimming under the stars and listening to the sounds of the woods at night. Little did I know that disaster would strike.
We returned to Anna’s house around midnight, and people started getting out of the car. I sat in the bed patiently waiting for Anna to come let me out. But then, somebody—to this day I have no idea who it was—hit the car in a way that set off the car alarm. Everyone SCATTERED. They ran at top speed as quietly as they could into the house and up to the attic to pretend to be asleep before Anna’s parents came out to investigate. Only one problem…. I was still in the car.
It isn’t to say I didn’t try to escape. But the door of the bed wouldn’t open and there were those damned bars across the back of the seats. Nobody was out there, and I was completely locked in, alone. Honestly it would have been better if the car alarm hadn’t automatically turned off two minutes into its screeching, because when the alarm stopped I was left completely alone in the dead of night.
Being outside at night with a large group of friends is one thing, but when you’re on your own everything feels so big and vast and you feel so small and helpless. Anyone who lives in rural areas of New England can tell you these woods have a haunted vibe to them, as if ancient beings of legend still walk alongside us in the deep forests. I firmly believe that they still do, and that our kinds only live in peace because we ignore each other until the harmony is disrupted. In that moment, to the creatures of the night—both fantastical and otherwise—I was a fish in a bowl in a house full of cats. To keep from being seen by them or by Anna’s parents, I ducked and laid flat on my belly just under the window of the hatch.
The bed was filled with stinky, dirty shoes that left a stagnant smell that only worsened as the dampness from the river bled from my swimsuit, towel, and hair onto them. I laid there, perfectly quiet, and mentally prayed to any God that would listen to take mercy on me.
Minutes ticked by and I began to wonder if they’d abandoned me for good. Would I be left here all night and be rediscovered in the morning? Would Anna’s parents find me and demand an explanation? Would I end up taking the entire blame for my friends again? Would the night creatures get me? My mind raced but I just laid there as the time ticked on. What would I say to Anna’s parents? To my parents? I already had a hard time socializing as it was and didn’t want to get my friends in trouble. I already had a bit of a bad record with Anna’s mother due to the fact that I was visibly Neurodivergent and living with a single parent who wasn’t into the hippie scene like every other mother in the area. I certainly didn’t want to get in trouble with her, and especially not my own mother.
Time kept going on as it does, and my anxiety only worsened. Then, I heard footsteps and flashlights shone through the window.
“She’s in here!” Anna’s voice shouted and the door of the bed unlocked. The door was lifted open and all eight of my cohorts stood there with flashlights as I was freed from my smelly, dark prison.
As we made our way back to the attic I was bombarded with apologies along the lines of “oh my god Elsa we’re so sorry we panicked and forgot you!” “We didn’t even realize you were gone until we did a head count!”. Apparently Anna’s parents either hadn’t been woken up by the car alarms, or they just didn’t care. Either way, I was relieved to change back into my pajamas and slip into my sleeping bag instead of falling asleep on a bed of smelly shoes in my bathing suit.
It was a whole ordeal at the time, but now I look back on the event with a smile and joke about it with friends. I’m not in close contact with many of the people from that party anymore, but when we do talk, that night is one that always gets brought up with laughs and smiles all around.