It happened in a large bank in Phoenix, Arizona. I had taken my place at the end of the line to await a teller, and there, 3 or 4 people ahead of me, were two very rigid, mean-looking people, a man and a woman. Between them, in file, was a skinny, round-shouldered boy, age 13 or 14. His gaze was fixed on the glassy floor ahead of his feet, reminiscent of a slave at auction. Other than shoes, his only clothing was a huge white diaper. Oversize safety pins secured it, one on each side.
I could hardly believe my eyes. The people in line, avoiding looking at him, kept total silence - "minding their own business", not "getting involved". The alleged parents stood grim-jawed, with arms rigid and fists clenched, as if daring anyone to object to their "right" to parental "discipline". Clearly, they were "teaching the boy a lesson he would never forget".
My trauma alarm triggered internal bells and whistles: I recalled the shameful days I had wet my pants in school, too fearful to ask to be excused. My mind flashed to the beatings I had endured for having wet the bed - which was every night - and the shame of hanging my wet sheets outside, in full view of passing schoolmates.
I'll never know how dangerous it would have been to have "stepped up" to these people. I know that no one in line was about to, and neither was I. No security guard was in sight. I spotted a "LOANS" desk on the far end of the huge bank lobby, and I hurried to it. "Please call the police," I blurted to the "loan arranger". His view was obscured, he didn't want to "cause a disturbance". I grabbed his phone. "Then I'll call them," and demanded an outside line. He complied, and by the time the "family" had reached the teller's window, the police were there.
That was the last I saw or heard of the incident. Had I not spoken, how long would that treatment have continued? Was the boy returned to the custody of those sick, ignorant, hateful people? Were there siblings? Would the boy receive counseling? Would the parents do time? I'll never know. But the image of that humiliated, mortified, tortured boy remains in my mind today, after ten years.