It was late afternoon and we had been on the road for about eight hours with another two hours to go. The drive had been surprisingly smooth on a Thanksgiving weekend but the family was beginning to feel weary.
I pulled into a McDonald’s near the highway to use the restroom and buy a cup of coffee for the remainder of the trip. As we pulled the kids out of the car and entered the restaurant, I noticed a pair of Highway Patrol officers doing paperwork on laptops as we headed for the restroom. Lovely wife took Swee’Pea into the woman’s restroom while I took TheMonk into the men’s room.
As we entered the room, we noticed a man with his son who looked about six and a daughter who looked to be about four or five. The son was using the urinal and as we entered the room the father was yelling at the boy, in an impatient and loud voice, to not touch the urinal. The anger in his voice made my son stop dead in his tracks. He looked up at me for reassurance and I squeezed his hand a bit tighter and smiled.
As the boy finished up at the urinal, the dad began yelling at his daughter to join him in the only stall so she could use the toilet as well. The girl, perhaps a bit scared, began crying loudly and kept telling her father that she didn’t want to go potty.
“GET IN HERE RIGHT NOW!” yelled the father as he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her hard into the stall and shut the door.
TheMonk, still scared from the commotion, asked me why the girl was crying. “She’s just scared, Monkey.” I replied as I tried to be calm and reassuring. The urinal was now free and I asked TheMonk to join me. He shook his head so I told him I was going to use the urinal first as TheMonk stood near the door. I quickly finished and then motioned again for TheMonk to join me.
He came this time and while I was helping TheMonk go about his peeing, the father in the stall continued to yell at the crying girl. “GO TO THE BATHROOM NOW!!”
Then, I heard the unmistakable sound of the girl being slapped.
I quickly pulled up TheMonk’s pants while trying to decide what to do. During that brief time, the father slapped the girl again. Her cries continued even louder and he began yelling at her to “SHUT UP! STOP CRYING!” And then he slapped her once more.
I couldn’t take it any longer and I said rather loudly, “You know… hitting her isn’t going to get her to stop crying.”
Suddenly, the stall door opened and the man appeared to see who had the temerity to challenge him like that. I had been bent over TheMonk helping him with this pants when the man appeared so I stood fully upright, making sure TheMonk was behind me, and stared the man down. I could see the anger in his eyes and, perhaps, he could see the anger in mine. For a brief second I thought he might do something violent towards me but he quickly decided against it and retreated back into the stall.
I grabbed TheMonk’s hand and escorted him out of the restroom and approached the two Highway Patrol Officers seated a few feet from the door.
I explained that the man in the restroom had been slapping his little girl, I said something, and I was unsure if he was going to be angry with me when he exited the restroom. The two officers got up and approached the restroom just as the man was exiting with his two kids. They said something to him, which I could not hear, and he quickly gathered up his bewildered wife who had just come out of the woman’s restroom and quickly exited the restaurant, got in his car, and left.
The officers thanked me for saying something. Swee’Pea and Lovely Wife joined us shortly thereafter, I ordered my coffee and we were soon on the road towards home. My heart continued to beat loudly in my chest, fueled, I’m sure, more by adrenaline than the caffeine in the coffee.
And I couldn’t stop thinking about a little girl who was terrified of her father and wishing I could have done more.