There I was, parked in the shade of a tree at a park in Deming, New Mexico, painting flowers on watercolor paper, when a big, white, windowless van drove into the parking lot. It drove slowly. Too slowly. It almost seemed to stop as it drove past my car. The van pulled into a parking spot at the other end of the parking lot. Nobody got out.
My first thought was serial killer. Because I am crazy. Because I have seen all eight seasons of Dexter. Because I read all of the Hannibal
books. Because who needs a windowless van unless they want to kidnap a 39 year old woman and torture her in some secret basement somewhere?
I’m not proud to admit it, but these were the thoughts running through my paranoid brain as I side-eyed that van. I was in Deming, New Mexico after all, the place Charles Manson once referred to as “The gates of hell.” He may have just been complaining about the heat, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
Soon enough a man emerged from the van. He walked around the van kicking the tires and stretching. Likely warming up for the inevitable chase and making sure his wheels could handle the extra weight of a struggling woman. Then he stood next to his van and just stared at me. Just stared right at me.
That’s when I started looking for my car keys. I mean I was just sitting here with the windows open and the doors unlocked. Being able to leave at a moments notice suddenly seemed very important, but I could not find my keys. They weren’t anywhere. I checked the ignition, my lap, the floor. Finally, I opened the door and got out of the car so I could check under the seat. No keys. As a last resort I checked my purse. There they were! What a relief.
At this point I was starting to feel pretty ridiculous and like maybe I was blowing the whole windowless van thing out of proportion, but one glance toward the other end of the parking lot made me hold my breath. The man was gone.
I got back in the door, put the keys in the ignition, locked the doors and scanned the horizon. Finally I spotted him sitting on a park bench. He was staring right at me. Again.
I tried to look nonchalant, but I am sure I failed. I mean, I was just panicking over my keys and here I was staring at a man sitting on a bench staring back at me. I picked up my paintbrush and started painting again. As long as he stayed there, and I had my keys in the ignition everything would be just fine. I kept stealing glances at the man and every time he was still looking right at me.
I decided to start packing up. I couldn’t get any work done while having a staring contest with a possible serial killer. I just wasn’t comfortable. A little voice kept saying, “You’re imagining the whole thing,” but I did not care. I couldn’t relax. I was being watched while I was watching. It was all too much!
Just as I rinsed out my paintbrushes a large group of teenage track stars showed up and started running around the park. Then two other men drove into the parking lot, got out, and opened the hood to their car and started working on something.
The man on the bench started looking around. Then he got up, walked to his van, and got in. Shortly after that he started it up and as I watched, frozen to my seat, he drove out behind me just as slowly as he drove in.
I found myself wondering if I had just had a brush with a serial killer. I’ll never know for sure, but I can tell you, if I see you driving a large, windowless, white van than I will assume you are a murdering fiend. He could have just been staring at me because I was staring at him, but I’m glad I will never have to find out.