I was studying abroad in Rome, almost a decade ago. Had a late night dinner with friends a few miles from my apartment. Finishing our food, my friends insisted I call a cab—it was almost 1:00 am and the streets back were poorly lit. Wanting to seem whimsical and self-sufficient, I refused.

I set off, walking by the Tiber. At first the walk was beautiful, the moon was full and glinted off the water. The streets were mostly empty, the few streetlights casting a flickering yellow glow on the cobblestones. I got a mile into the walk when his car appeared.

The grey alfa romeo, beat up with scratches, pulled next to me. “Scusi,” he yelled from the window, “do you have a light?”

“No,” I responded, picking up my pace. I became aware of how narrow the sidewalk was, only about three feet wide: his car on one side, the river on the other, gurgling and dark. I immediately regretted wearing only a sundress. The day had been hot but the night had gotten quite cool, my legs goosebumped in the light breeze.

“Bella, bella” he shouted, speeding up the car to match me. He switched from Italian to English. “How old are you?”I didn’t answer and kept walking. “Why is a girl like you all alone, you should be careful.” Shit, I thought, he knows I am an American and probably knows all the side streets and exits I could turn down. “Come here, come here, get in.” He smiled and opened his door, as if to invite me in. I walked faster now, almost a run. “COME. HERE” He practically screamed.

I am not sure what gave me a deep sense of fear, maybe it was the increasingly angry tone of voice, maybe it was the way it all seemed so rehearsed, so methodical. Maybe it was because I was alone except for him, with no one to hear if I needed to call for help, my cell phone dead from a long day of use.

We reached a large bend in the road, an area full of old ruins and churches. Something inside of me screamed: “get the hell away.” I bolted.

As soon as I started sprinting, he screamed “you can’t get away from me” and revved his engine.

I didn’t know the area well but headed down a dark side street, hoping I could use the shadows to my advantage. I ran by an old church, hoped the iron fence, and hid under a large flowering bush next to its entrance. I don’t know why I felt the need to hide, but I wriggled as deep into the branches as I could. It was dark, and cold, and still.

I saw the car drive around the block a few times. I thought I was safe and let out a deep sigh of relief, debating lying there until dawn, when the city comes back to life and I could slip into the crowds. A few minutes passed and I felt the adrenaline subsiding.

Then, I heard a car door slam. He was parked right next to the church, flashlight in hand. “Come here, pretty pretty.” “Come here, pretty pretty.” He repeated as he walked around the church, flashlight canvassing the shadows. “I’m going to find you” he sang.

My body quivered in fear. This is how I am going to die, I kept thinking, dragged out of a bush by a strange man, with no one to hear me scream.

I still don’t know how he didn’t find me, maybe my floral sundress helped disguise me in the branches of the flowering bush, maybe he grew tired and gave up.

I lay perfectly still until the sky turned blue and the sun began to rise. I would have stayed there for longer but I saw Carabineri drive by (the police) and figured I wold be safe if I needed to scream for help.

Walking back, sun creeping up, I shuddered to think what would have happened if I had gotten into that car. I’m pretty sure I never would have made it home.

I repressed the memory but I still have panic attacks whenever I see silver alfa romeos on the street.