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The Stew -- My Own Story
By CJ Heck
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Rated "R" by the Author.
We're all creatures of our environment. Everything that happens to us makes us who we are ...
by CJ Heck
Saying goodbye to the last of the first class passengers had become methodical. My feet hurt, I was tired, and trying my damnedest not to sound sing-song. It was just difficult keeping focused and my thoughts were wandering elsewhere.
It was the last night of my nonstop coast-to-coast run for the month. It had been a long and tedious flight. For one thing, the passengers had had too much to drink and, as a result, had become overly rowdy. We had been forced to take a two-hour layover at O’Hare so the ground crew could repair an engine problem. As an apology for the delay and with all of the best of intentions, the captain announced an open bar once we were again back in the sky. The
passengers had readily taken advantage of the free booze.
I was really looking forward to my four days off before the next cycle, when it would begin all over again for the next month. I had made plans just the day before to join my three roommates for a bicycle ride on Angel Island the next day. We had done this several times before and ... shoot, I suddenly remembered that I was to buy the sourdough bread and I quickly made a
mental note. The other girls were bringing wine, cheese, and a blanket. It was one of our favorite weekend haunts.
San Francisco, how I loved it there! It was the tail end of the sixties with hippies hanging out on corners with beads and music and wearing bright flower garlands in their hair. Then there were
the adorable cable cars clacking up and down the busy and steeply-angled streets. How I loved going to The Cannery and Ghirradelli Square.
Sunday, we planned to go to Half Moon Bay to soak up some rays. There was never a lack of things to do, only a lack of time in which to do them.
I remember thinking: OK, now the coach section and we’re through. More smiles and more good-byes, although I knew I had lost the battle to sing-song halfway through first class. Now my smile was bordering on a grimace, but oh well, I was almost finished and then I could head for home.
The fear in icy tendrils prickled the nape of my neck as I walked through the all but deserted parking lot back at the airport. I chose to ignore the feeling, chalking it up to the hour and being
drag-my-butt tired from the long flight. As I did most nights after the 3:00 a.m. flight walking
through the lot, I marveled at how the dew crystallized on the hoods of the few remaining cars, creating a twinkling diamond field effect under the streetlights.
Odd, I thought, this “feeling”. That night was no different from any other night after the red eye. I was always bone-tired after landing, but right about then, I was generally relieved, almost rejuvenated, by being earthbound and heading towards my apartment -- and my days off.
To occupy my mind on the walk to my car, I typically thought about the goings on of yet one more red eye special, although “special” was way too nice of a word. The work was grueling and the hours long that a flight attendant spent on her feet "baby-sitting" jet loads of bored sleep-starved passengers who were also anxious to be home.
All things considered, I really loved my job with TWA. It’s what I had wanted to do for as long as I could remember. Oh, there were parts of it that rankled … at times, the wandering hands of the crew, for instance, but easy enough to fend off, if you knew how. I grinned as I thought about their almost universal arrogance and the all too familiar question, “So, sweetie, what did YOU do before joining us in the sky?”
I chuckled to myself with smug satisfaction as I recalled my latest comeback just that evening, “Why, a stock car driver, Captain, Sir.” It wasn't true , obviously, but usually, a knife-sharp comment, a demure smile and the ever popular batted eyelashes was all that was needed to deflate even the most amorous jerk, mid-grope.
Some of the male passengers were just as bad. To most of them, we were fair game and they usually gave it their best shot. I wish I had a dollar for every time I asked, “And you, sir? Coffee, tea, milk, a cocktail?” Then came the condescending, way-too-familiar response, “I’ll take you, little lady!
Har de har har.”
What always came next was a “see-what-a-big-man-I -am” nod to his seatmates. I tried never to dignify their remarks with an answer and, instead, gave them my well practiced smile which said, ”Oh, you clever man, you.”
After flying for awhile, you discovered there were ways of deflecting, as well as ways of getting even, with even the biggest bigshot. Devious? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely.
“Oooops! Oh dear! I am so-o sorry, sir! It must have been the turbulence. Let me get you something so you can wipe that wine (tomato juice/hot coffee) off of your nice trousers.”
Or like that night, for instance. I picked up the dinner tray from a playboy type and found a room key to the Fairmont Hotel and a one-hundred dollar bill tucked under the used napkin. DUH ... as if I would ever be that stupid. What an idiot. For the most part, those kinds of passengers were the exception rather than the rule.
To me, the irony was obvious, at least back in those days when hijackings to Cuba were in the news. At the very first sign of a problem, the bad apples were always the first (and loudest) to
bombard the flight attendants with pleas for help in getting out of the plane. We were suddenly promoted to angels of the skies, where only moments before, we had been treated like flying call girls. Ah, yes ... the glamorous life of a flight attendant.
It sure was different from the bible belt Brady Bunch sort of family in which I was raised. San Francisco really was the perfect place to be back then. It was also the perfect place to renew my
trampled spirit and my heart after I buried my new husband -- and my rose-colored glasses -- nearly two years before.
Doug had been a medic in the Army and one of the casualties of the crisis in Viet Nam. I had been only twenty then and totally devastated. After about eight months had passed, my family,
with well-meaning love and frustration believed the best thing would be for me to jump back into life, or at least into some semblance of life.
Thus encouraged, I wrote a letter to TWA and then flew to Kansas City for interviews. I was accepted and attended their training academy, also in Kansas City. After graduation, I found myself in San Francisco, the most sought after domicile in the whole TWA family.
Walking through the lot, I shivered. Strange I should feel again the shards of ice-cold terror prickling and poking, interrupting the home-glow after-flight mind ramblings that were the norm. Jeez oh man, this is nuts, I thought, as the razor sharp panic once again snaked up my spine and sunk its teeth in. Again I ignored the nagging inner voice. It was more than a whisper, but it wasn’t yet at Defcon One.
I couldn’t have seen from that distance the broken glass twinkling on the pavement below the driver’s side window of my car. I would have been horrified to see the long thin slice cut through the ragtop of my most prized possession, the little red Alpha Romeo. It was already several years old when I bought it, but it had been a present to myself and I treated that car like it was a long awaited child.
I also couldn’t have sensed HIM hunkered down inside my car. But the little voice down inside me had and it had at once spoken. Then a second time, and then again, but I still failed to breathe
the thought to life. But he was there, all right. He was hidey-holed and waiting like a creepy spider ready to bite. His warped mind was filled with who knows what feral thoughts and his
crotch was bulging with sick anticipation.
The comings and goings in the lot had been followed under the comforting cover of night, his trusted friend. He had watched my routine and he knew it well. He had watched, he had planned, and he had waited. He really didn’t care who’s thighs he got to part. He had merely learned my routine. His mind erupted like a boil as he sat and waited for the red eye special that night while a sick smile played across his face.
All of a sudden, the fear was overwhelming, like the static in the air when lightning is about to strike. This time, just as I stuck the key in the lock and opened the car door, I finally heard the little voice booming its alarm like God’s own thunder.
He came at me then with a punch to the face to throw me off-guard. He brandished a knife between us in his other hand like an amulet for good luck. His hate and rage for all women tore
loose and he demanded, “Put out, stew, you bitch!” There were more punches, more demands and yelling. But I never heard his words, and I never felt the punches, either, because that’s when my mind took flight. Mind curdling screams rang out into the night like a metronome gone mad. One scream piled on another, and another -- I didn’t realize they were mine.
”I'd say the screaming is what saved her ass”, the officer said later down at the station. "It was the screaming, and the elderly couple who found her walking, face all bloody, and still screaming, right down the center of a busy four-lane road with cars whizzing by in both directions."
Thank God, they stopped and convinced me to get in their car for a ride to the police station. The couple was still there, too. I could see them sitting on a bench by the wall, wringing their
hands. I guessed they wanted to see if there was anything else they could do to help.
As for me, when anyone asked, all I could recall was having feet like lead and being unable to move, my feet completely frozen to the twinkling pavement. Imagine that. Even through it all, I remember seeing the twinkling glass on the pavement.
It had been like some bizarre one-act comedy. One actor, screaming like a lovesick rock concert roadie, and the other actor, a boxer miming punches at a dummy in the ring. It must have looked like some crazy Mexican standoff. Which one would break first and run? Thank God, it was the sinister star of the freaky play. He lost all interest in the screaming woman. He ran, his legs like pistons pumping up and down, propelling him towards whatever rat infested hell-hole he called home that night.
They never did catch him. Oh, I really didn’t think they would. I wasn’t able to tell the authorities much at all, as freaked out as I had been. I marched right into the airline terminal the next day, though, and quit on the spot, sporting my cuts and bruises like my husband’s medals from Nam.
I did feel the punches that day, though, and it hurt like hell. Somehow, I knew the job would never be the same again. The girl-next-door type of flight attendant I had strived so hard to be ... well, I had left her out there in the almost deserted parking lot amidst the dewy diamond fields and the twinkles on the pavement....
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|Reviewed by J Howard
|Oh my goodness, what a story...a riveting story that had me waiting, waiting, until the assault. i am saddened by the truth that hate lives in men....glad you lived through it.|
|Reviewed by Robert Cosmar
|Every time I read this memoir, I feel sad that you went through this, hun. I wish I could have helped you through it. This shows your writing ability -- well-written.
|Reviewed by Steve Scrivens
|CJ...this caught me completely off-guard having read some of your other pieces. Your composure and contol both in your writing and in life stunned me. It was no doubt a cathartic experience to write it in the way you did being able at once to unfold the drama and fear of the experience whilst keeping contol of it all....something which your assailant was determined to take from you. You kept your dignity throughout and you come out of it still in control of your life as you control the reader. I felt at once desparate for your plight and in awe that your strength remains. I applaud your courage in telling your story!
|Reviewed by Brett Moore
|Wow, CJ. I'm in awe of the fact that you could go back over something obviously traumatic and with such precision and incredible quality of writing recall the details of this event. You are a brave soul.
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|enjoyed the read|
|Reviewed by Jim Parsons
|Don't know if it's appropriate to simply praise the quality of the writing when your own feelings and trauma leap out at me. You have wrtten the piece very tightly - the tension is palpable. Sadly, those guys with their weak sexual innuendos are only a whisker away from the violent abuser. I was on a train once, back in the 60s, and saw a smarmy guy tuck his tip in the waitress' cleavage. Sometimes, I feel ashamed to be male. Cheers, Jim from Oz|
|Reviewed by Rusty Daily
|Jesus CJ, I don't ever remembering reading this, nor do I know what to say.|
|Reviewed by Michelle Mills
|OMG. I don't blame you for quitting. I'd have done the same thing myself. And DID. I was a assistant branch manager at a small savings bank about 10 yrs ago...the tellers were busy, so I kept a back up drawer so I could pitch in when it got crazy. Wouldn't you know it was me that got robbed? The guy was a serial robber, very dangerous. That was enough to convince me that I needed to find another line of work...Well told CJ. I'm glad you were able to survive to tell about it. Wow. Respect and hugs back to YOU. Michelle|
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Excellent story! :)|