I am here today for one reason: someone stopped me. The house was vacant, abandoned, and in a neighborhood a few miles from my house. I'd been there three days, hiding from my life. I found a discarded razor blade in the bathroom. I shaved all the hair from my forearms, testing the sharpness. My image in the mirror disgusted me. I held clumps of my shoulder-length hair and cut it all off. I cut my bangs off to my scalp. I screamed myself hoarse. Crying, shaking so much I couldn't stand, I went into another room and sat in the closet. I didn't deserve sunlight. I was dirty, a bad girl. I should kill myself. Then it wouldn't hurt anymore. No one wanted me. I held the razor against my wrist, ready to cut. But how? I didn't know. Then I heard a sound. I froze. A window opened, metal screeching. Was it going to happen again? I scooched into the corner and hid. A walkie-talkie squawked gibberish. Keys jangled. "I know you're here. Someone heard you screaming. Come on out now." His voice sounded warm and calm, not angry. "I'm a police officer. You're not in trouble. I promise." I bit my lip and closed my hand around the razor. I would use it if he was lying. But he sounded nice. I peeked out. He stood in the center of the room, arms at his sides. He had blue eyes and smiled at me. I smiled back. “Come on out. Let's talk for a minute.” He sat and crossed his legs. He said something I didn't understand into the radio on his shoulder. I crawled forward to sit next to him. I crossed my legs and put my hands in my lap, razor still hidden in my right hand. “What's your name?' he asked. “Charity,” I said. “Do you have a last name?” I gave it to him. “I'm Officer Spalding. Wanna tell me why're you here all alone?” I shrugged. “You look like you might be sad.” I nodded. “Do you want to talk about it?” I looked at him. To this day, I don't know why, but I trusted him. His eyes were clear and kind. His voice soothed me. The last few days tumbled out, words tripping over each other. I told him about the older neighborhood boy I thought was my friend. How he wanted me to meet his mom and brought me in his house, where it was pitch black. How he pushed me to the floor, took off my clothes, and forced his penis inside me. I wept, reliving the pain, the fear, the smell of his sweat, the sound of him above me. How I screamed, kicked, begged, then just fell silent as he finished. I told him about wanting to die. Office Spalding did the most amazing thing. Slowly, he put his arms around me and held me as I sobbed. He waited while I caught my breath. “What happened to your hair?” “I cut it.” “Oh. With scissors?” I shook my head, held out my hand, and opened it. “With this.” “I see. Can I have that?” I nodded. He plucked it from my hand, tucking it in one of his many pockets. “You are one brave, beautiful young lady. What happened to you isn't your fault. Bad things happen, and we must find a way to work through them. Killing yourself isn't the answer. You are precious. You are so important.” “You think so?” “I know so. Now, I'd like you to make me a promise, one you can never break. Can you do that?” I nodded. “You're going to go through tough times. You'll think you don't want to live anymore. But I want you to promise me you will never, ever, take your own life. I want your word, you won't ever kill yourself.” I thought for a moment and looked at him. Something within me spoke. “I promise.” “Good. Now, how about we get you back home? I'm sure your mom is really worried about you.” “No, she's not. She's going to be really mad.” “She might be. Don't worry, I'll talk to your mom, okay?” I nodded. He helped me to my feet. We climbed out the window and walked to his car. A crowd had gathered, strange faces I didn't recognize. Three police cars formed a semi-circle around the driveway, lights flashing. I don't remember much of the ride home. I was tired. Hungry. Scared. My mom was livid, but only because I'd been brought home by a cop. She never even reported me missing. A few weeks later she sent me back to live with my dad. I've never forgotten Officer Spalding's words. They're sealed within my soul in a special place. He was right. There have been many hard times since. There have been times I thought I would break my promise. Something just won't let me give up now, no matter how much it hurts. His words ignite the part of me that refuses to quit. He was my guardian angel. He saved my life. I have used the same exact strategy with my own family – my daughter, who struggles with mental illness daily, my son, my husband, and friends. I honor my promise every day. I have saved four people so far. I hope to keep saving more. He was right, as it turns out, I am important. I didn't know how much until many years later. Now I am important to countless people, but mostly to three special, wonderful people I love beyond words. I carry his message with me and share it with all who need to hear it.
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