Often, it’s difficult to be absolutely sure of something when no one else agrees or believes with you. The desire to conform is just too powerful (whether we admit having it or not). This is magnified for young children, especially those in sixth grade and on the verge of puberty. Nobody wants to stand out at that age, and I was no different. If anything, I was more motivated than most to blend in (not that I had much success). That’s why I’m still surprised that I refused to budge on what I said one fall evening when I was eleven.
I had begun middle school which also meant I was now an official member of youth group at the church we attended. I was excited about being included in all the activities and desperate to fit in. We had a function just after school started as a “welcome to the youth group” kind of thing. It was held at some members’ home outside the city limits (at the time). They have a lovely house with a hill in back that leads down to a field perfect for playing and a stream. It’s the last house on the left (huh, I just noticed that reference) on their road and their yard bordered open land.
The group consisted of both middle school and high school kids. Even though it was a welcoming party, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the older kids were sizing me up and deciding whether I was worth including or not (church youth groups are often sadly like school). I tried and failed to be cool, but was still doing okay. We were mostly having a good time and no one was mean or made fun of me. Yet.
The trouble started when I happened to catch a movement across the fence row out in the field. I snapped my head and stared, but didn’t notice anything further. I figured it had been a bird or something and stopped thinking about it. I went back to playing . Then I happened to look up in time to see a flash of white drop into the brush.
“Did you see that?” I asked whomever might reply.
“I just saw something out in the field. It was white and I think it’s hiding in the weeds.”
“It was probably just a deer.”
“It was bigger than a whitetail.”
“Could’ve been anything. Who cares?”
He stopped looking, but I did care, and kept stealing glances into the field trying to catch sight of it again. Then I saw it rise up, move a few feet and drop back down.
“I saw it again!” I yelled as I pointed in to the field, “I think it’s a person.”
“Where?” several asked as they gathered around me.
“Out there in the field. I saw him stand up, walk a little, and then crouch back down.” I was clearly convinced it was a person at this point. Our little knot of people stared out into the field for a moment, then quickly lost interest. I stood still, looking in the field for several minutes, but finally succumbed and returned to the game (though I never completely stopped thinking about the field).
Evening came on and the sun slipped below the hillside throwing twilight across us. I looked out in the field again. This time I had no doubt. I clearly saw someone dressed all in white running out in the field.
“I see him again! Look!” At that moment, he dropped down again.
“The guy I saw in the field. He’s really out there. He’s all in white and if you watch long enough he’ll pop up again.”
“You’ve been listening to too many Sonny stories from Camp.”
“I have not. I saw someone out there. Just look.” I earnestly pointed into the field.
No one spent as long looking with me this time and there was much murmuring. I caught words such as “crazy” and “little kid.” Of course, as they turned away I saw him again. In the encroaching night, his strange white outfit stood out against the darkening sky and field. I kept seeing him move occasionally, getting ominously closer.
“I think he’s coming right at us!” There was a tinge of fright in my voice.
“Will you quit already?”
“He’s right there, don’t you see?”
“Shut up! It’s not funny. Quit saying you see someone. There’s no one there.”
“But there is. Look!” At this point their eyes were on me, not the field. One of the high school kids asked, “Anyone else see someone in the field?” No hands were raised. Everyone looked at me pityingly.
“Anyone?” he asked, “Then I guess no one sees him but you, and you’re clearly crazy.”
Now the Asch Conformity Experiments showed that a child was more likely to agree with the group even if he or she believed otherwise just to fit in. The likelihood of changing to conform was increased if the subject was the only one with a stated belief. I wasn’t in an experiment of course, I was in life and alone in my belief that someone was in the field, but I wouldn’t let it go.I refused to give in and say that I didn’t see someone in the field. I told anyone who asked that I did (though I didn’t point it out anymore).
While everyone played, I stood staring into the field. I had convinced myself that as long as I kept watch, whoever it was would not come after us. My heart hammered every time I saw him. Fear crept in with the falling darkness when I could no longer clearly see into the field. Still I kept watch, and I caught the occasional glimpse of a white moving in the black of the field. It drew ever closer, never quite reaching the fence.
I felt relieved when the adults called us in and I could end my vigil. I told my story again as we entered the house, but no one, adult or child, believed me. It would have been easier to decide that the light played tricks on my eyes, or I just saw an animal, but I knew better. I knew what I saw.
The night ended and I climbed into the front bucket seat of my mom’s little Pinto and we headed out. We went down the road, then pulled across the divided highway to turn left for home. Not far down the road, we saw flashing blue lights. Two squad cars sat beside the road with their wheels on the grass median. The back door to one was open and as we passed by I watched an officer place a handcuffed man into the car. A man wearing grass stained white pants and a white shirt.