Trust your instincts
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FIRST PERSON

Trust your instincts

Esther Kook
Esther Kook

“If you see something, say something” has been drummed into our brains. So has a complementary adage, “Better safe than sorry.” We’ve heard those messages in many variations on television and in the news for a long time, and we remember them.

For good reason. They’re important.

Those sayings are crucial to remember and to integrate into our lives at all times.

We’ve all heard stories about scammers and the uptick of crime. We have to protect ourselves, and one means of protections is using our wits, our common sense, and our instincts.

I thought of those two sayings just the other day.

After shopping at the mall, I got into my car, which was parked farther away than usual. It had been busy when I pulled into the mall, but it was much quieter when I returned to my car, and it had begun to rain.

As I was getting settled and about to start the car to leave, a van pulled up alongside me. There were two men inside the van, and one was trying to get my attention. He motioned toward the passenger door, as if there were something wrong with the car.

The only way for me to check the door was to get out of the car, and that would’ve put me very close to the men’s van.

For a few seconds, I watched as they kept motioning to my door. As I tried to figure out what they were trying to tell me through the car window, I grew curious. I was tempted to get out to examine that side of the car.

So many thoughts flashed in a matter of seconds.

What are they trying to tell me?

Do I have a flat, or is there some major damage to my car?

They’re smiling at me, maybe they’re a little too friendly?

If I get out, I’ll be really close to their van.

But then my heart started beating faster.

Something felt very off.

My instincts kicked in and spoke to me in a loud voice.

“Stop looking in that direction, turn on the ignition, and get the heck out of here. NOW,” my instincts shouted to me.

I drove out of there toward a parking lot that was closer to the stores, and to other people. The van didn’t follow me.

Now that I felt safe, I got out and inspected my car. There was no damage at all. Then I drove straight home.

When I shared this weird experience with some friends, a few wanted to tell their own stories. I learned that these encounters are not so unusual.

A few days later, I had the opportunity to speak with Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton about my incident and to learn some general safety tips.

Sheriff Cureton began by saying, “I believe in the sixth-sense theory. When something doesn’t feel right, go with your instincts.

“Stay in your car if there is any doubt at all. Lock your doors and try to get a license plate number. If someone is following your car, drive to a police station, or flash your lights when you see a police car on the road.

“Always be vigilant in your surroundings, scan the area, and carry your cell phone with you. If someone is following you, go toward a lighted area. If it happens that you are cornered, remember to kick, scream, and run,” Sheriff Cureton advised.

A friend told me about a similar incident. My story brought her own strange experience back to mind. She asked to remain anonymous, because it’s something that still haunts her.

“Several years ago, when my children were little, we were on a family vacation,” my friend said. “Our van was full, with our kids and our camping equipment. After a while on the road we stopped for gas, and we pulled up to a pump. My husband began filling the tank. Then two guys in a truck came by and started asking us several questions about our vacation destination.

“Then they suggested leading us a different way to our destination,” my friend continued. “They were going to take us on a back road that had less traffic.

“It felt really fishy. My husband and I wanted to get away from these guys as soon as possible. So we got into our car, locked the doors, and drove away quickly.

“Even though this happened a long time ago, I’ll never forget how fearful I was.”

Since then, several people have shared their stories with me. It seems that even if the incident happened a long time ago, those memories remain vivid. Those upsetting moments don’t change lives — we continue shopping at malls, going on vacations, and doing whatever we normally need to do. But we also don’t forget them — and we should learn from them.

As Sheriff Cureton said, “just be vigilant.”

Esther Kook of Teaneck is a reading specialist and a writer.

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