I was 14 years old and scared to death.
I grew up in a bad neighborhood, but I was lucky. My best friend lived one block away from the house I shared with my parents and my older brother. So I was rarely alone.
Because it was a bad neighborhood, there were often police cars crawling up and down the block. Drunk men hung outside bars on nearly every corner, and drug dealers waited beside payphones with their pagers on their hips.
When I was a child, I had to rely on my parents or my brother to walk me to my friend’s house. By the time I became a teenager, they would sometimes allow me to walk the distance alone or with my friend.
One summer day when I was fourteen, my best friend and I were making the block-long trek from her house to my house when we saw a police car moving slowly down the street. The car was driving no faster than we were walking. It was keeping pace with us and staying just a few feet behind.
It was clear that the driver was following us on purpose. I was terrified.
We looked at each other and started walking faster. With an unspoken agreement, we marched toward the front gate that led to my yard while trying not to look back at the police car.
Both of us knew we had done nothing wrong. That was part of the reason why being followed by the slow-moving police car felt so sinister.
Just when I reached out my hand to unlatch the front gate, the police car stopped in the street outside the driveway. The window rolled over, and a handsome police officer poked his head out.
“Hey,” he said.
I swung open the gate. The safety of home was just steps away.
“Hey,” he said again.
My friend and I turned around to look at the handsome police officer and his equally handsome partner sitting in the passenger seat. Our bodies swiveled, but our feet were glued to the sidewalk.
“You’re not in any trouble,” the police officer said. “We just want to take you out for a cup of coffee.”
My friend found her voice first. “I’m only thirteen,” she said. She was one year younger than I was. It didn’t seem important for me to chime in with my own age. Thirteen. Fourteen. It was close enough. These were clearly grown men.
“That’s okay,” the police officer replied. “It’s just a coffee date.”
That’s when I pushed open the gate, which squealed on its hinges as it swung into the driveway. My friend and I rushed into the yard and up the porch stairs into the house. Neither of us looked back.
Once we got inside the house and locked the door behind us, we looked out the window just in time to see the police car disappear around the corner. It did not come back.
My friend and I were careful to look for police cars whenever we walked down the street. We were afraid the two men in uniform would come back to look for us, but they never did. At least, we never saw them again, and that was good enough for us.
Was it inappropriate?
Clearly, the answer to that question is yes.
These police officers were in their patrol car. They were obviously on duty. It was a bad neighborhood to boot.
I'm sure they had better things to do than follow two teenage girls down the street.
Yes, my friend and I both looked older than our thirteen and fourteen years of age, respectively. However, the police officers persisted even when advised of my friend's age. We were both so young that we weren't even interested in boys yet.
We certainly weren't interested in adult men.
I have no idea how old they were, but they were over the age of eighteen as I'm sure the police department didn't allow minors on the force. They were at least in their twenties. Perhaps they were even in their thirties. I have no way of knowing.
We didn't ask.
The thought of asking how old they were didn't even occur to either of us. Besides, all we wanted to do was get away into the relative safety of the house. It was a good decision.
This happened a very long time ago. It was so long ago in fact that cellphones weren't a thing. Although we did walk past a payphone while we were being followed, who would we have called? The police?
Just as we didn't even consider asking for their ages, we didn't even consider calling the police department to report them. I can't imagine what would have happened if we did. My best guess is that something between nothing and both of us getting in trouble with our parents would have taken place.
Of those two, I would have preferred nothing, and nothing was the exact same result we got from not reporting the incident. I stand by our decision, as controversial as that maybe, but that doesn't mean I would recommend it.
The truth is that I still don't know what the right course of action would have been. We didn't even tell our parents, and I suppose that was a mistake. Then again, we didn't want to lose our privileges of walking down the street in our neighborhood.
As teen girls, we were looking for more freedom, not less freedom.
Knowing there were adult men looking at us, even asking us out on dates, would probably have been the final straw for our already overprotective parents. Knowing they were police officers wouldn't have made the offer any less creepy.
So we kept quiet and forgot all about the incident. We eventually stopped looking for slow-moving police cars and handsome, yet possibly threatening, police officers.
We had boys our own age to think about.
It wasn't until today that I remembered the incident. Fortunately, nothing bad ever came of it.