Filed under: Killer Year Members
Something had awakened me. I pulled myself out of a deep, heavy sleep, the kind you have with feeling ill at seven months pregnant; a thick, smothering feeling of ache. I was lying on my back, buried in a comforter, hidden to the world and I turned my head slightly to see the time.
The clock glowed red: 10:04. I will always remember that. 10:04.
I had gone to sleep early, something I almost never did. Carl had wanted me to go with him while he helped a friend move, but I felt like a slow, meandering whale, enormous at seven months, more-so than anyone would have expected. And tired. I remember that — so very tired, like I’d traveled across the universe and had to still make the trip back, somehow. I’d begged off and put Luke to bed, happy that, at four, he was finally willing to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.
And something had awakened me, at 10:04. I half-rose, knowing Luke was going to be standing by the side of the bed, touching my elbow, “Mama, can I have some water?” He wasn’t there; I blinked awake, still half-rising, realizing that what had actually awakened me was the ceiling fan ceasing to turn and the heat of the July room already pressing down on me with just the first stillness of air.
That, and the hall-lights were on. I had turned them off, turned everything off, before going to bed.
A soft yellow light streamed across the foot of the bed and the man standing there, hand still in the air, reaching for the pull to try and turn the over-head light (on the fan) on; only there was no over-head light on these old antique fans.
And I swam up through sleep, groggy incoherence, shifting lights and darks and swelling-stomached illness and saw the man there and reflex won first and I said, “Carl, is that you?” just as logic and reason kicked in, a slow lagging second to say to myself, that’s not Carl.
It was plain to see, if only my senses trusted themselves to see what was out of place here, in that sort of desperate, half-step two-step logic does when it tries to reconcile what it’s seeing with what it should see. This was, plainly, not my husband. I had given away that I was in the bed ; he couldn’t have seen me there in the dark with the light shining only at the foot of the bed where he stood. Carl, is that you? hung in the air and he waited a beat and said, “Just a minute, I have to go to the bathroom.”
And he turned and walked out the bedroom and shut the door.
I blinked, adrenaline rushed, and stared. He had shut the door and I could hear him walking around the house, mumbling something, to whom, I knew not; somewhere between me and my four-year-old, between me and the life of my child and I sat, still half-risen, in disbelief.
Thoughts ran and slammed against me, none of them coherent, none of them near the basket, personal foul, walking, jump shot, out-of-bounds. Had I imagined it? Was I dreaming? Was I still dreaming, only thinking I saw someone, only thinking I heard someone, only conjuring up the voice in the other room, the soft padding of his tennis shoes on my hardwood floors, straining to hear if he had gone to my child’s room, straining to hear if my child was breathing, feeling the baby at seven months kicking in gear in my stomach, mom’s awake, oh good, let’s play.
I stood. I’m not sure how I got out of the bed, because I know it took two eons and a crane to move me, but somehow I had pulled myself up to almost-standing; almost; not quite able to stand all the way up, not sure what else to do, semi-hunched over as if I was somehow hidden like that, not knowing where to go, how can I be such a coward and just stand here while my child is in the other room? and how can I risk this one?
For the first time, I understood the term “frozen in fear.” Every muscle locked up, everything ceased to function, and then as if my brain knew that I had ceased copy with reality, I heard a voice, a distinctive voice in my ear saying, “Move.” Move where? I asked the voice. “To the office.”
I eased over to the door which stood exactly opposite the one which entered the hall; it looked like an exterior door and once, long ago, had been, until someone had tacked on a porch spanning the back of the house, the bedroom and the kitchen, and which we had converted into an office. I silently cursed the fact that we were remodeling my closet. I was dressed in a flimsy night-gown, long since too short with my protruding belly; my robe and clothes were in boxes in the laundry room. I had nothing else to put on, nothing to hide me.
The office was little comfort. Pitch black, but there was a phone.
I remembered the gun.
I had never held it. Only seen it, knew it was there.
Carl had a 22 pistol he’d kept to shoot snakes when they coiled under the house (it was built up on piers, old construction) and when Luke was still a baby, Carl had hidden it up on a top shelf, taller than he was, and nearly impossible to reach.
Fear said to get it. Get it now. Right now, don’t wait, you don’t have time to think about this.
In the pitch black, I climbed on top of my desk, sliding on paperwork I couldn’t see, shifting my awkward weight, pressing my pregnant belly against the shelves, straining to hear what was going on in the other room, as I felt along the dark of the top shelf to rake my fingers across the smooth leather of the holster and the cold butt of the gun. I thought it would be reassuring. I thought having a weapon in my hand, something to even the odds would make me feel like I could handle this intruder into my world.
My mind screamed with what ifs.
what if it’s really Carl and you’re dreaming and you shoot him just like the next-door neighbor’s son died? what if it’s really Luke? what if you don’t know how to shoot the gun? what if he takes the gun away from you and uses it against you or Luke? what if what if; what if what if it’s the only thing that stops him? what if you put it back and it’s the only way you could have saved your child? what if what if
I climbed down, still holding the gun, shuddering, shaking, desperate.
The sound of the man moved away somewhere and I went for the phone, tried to dial 911. I kept getting a busy signal (busy signal? how can that be? how can emergency be busy over and over and what’s wrong here? why won’t this work? why can’t I get through?). I cannot remember when I realized what the problem was and furiously cursed Sony up and down for making a phone with numbers flush to the housing because you cannot feel the difference between the “8” and the “9” in the pitch black. I managed to get 911 dialed and just as they asked what I needed…
The light snapped on in the bedroom. I could hear his mumbling, and knew he was all the way in the room, not content to just stand at the foot of the bed.
I hung up, afraid he’d hear me, afraid he’d head in my direction. I heard him open the closet door, saying, “I know she was in here, man, she was in here. Where’d she go?” The door would be plainly lit now, not fifteen feet from where he was standing, looking in my empty closet, wondering how I had gotten out of the room. It was the only other door. There was no lock. He would be heading my way.
I had one option.
There was another door in the office, which led to the back of the kitchen. It was a new door, not even a knob on it yet; I decided to scurry through there and go to the kitchen while he was in my bedroom. At least, once he entered the office, I’d be gone. I eased open the door, about to tiptoe the three feet to the back kitchen door when the kitchen light blinked on.
How many people were in here? What did they or he want?
There was nothing worth robbing. New babies and bad economies and young marrieds do not make for a combination of yuppie-dom and there were only the bare essentials, and most of it a tad worn already, at that.
I hit a plane of where’s Luke where’s Luke where’s Luke what if what if what if what if ohmygod what if ohmygod my baby, oh please let Luke be asleep, please don’t let anything have happened to him, I have to get to him, I have to, I don’t know how to, and then what? what if what if what if ohmygod… It was harmonic motion in thought, pinging at light speed, screaming for attention, screaming for me to do something, anything, while other parts screamed that “anything” wasn’t an option, be smart about this and still other parts fiercely battling for getting in there to Luke.
And the light snapped on in the kitchen, cutting me off from that escape, and I hung there in that new door frame, not sure whether to go forward or back.
Someone was at the back kitchen door. So far, no one had come through the bedroom door into the office; I backed up, eased the door closed, listened with the intensity to hear breathing on the next street and tried not to let my thoughts be sooo very loud that he could hear them. He pushed open that kitchen door, and I stooped to watch him through the hole where the door knob should have been. I felt the weight of the gun in my hand, the cold heaviness of it, the firm steel, the trigger, don’t touch the trigger! you don’t know how this works, it might be a hair-trigger, just hold it, holding it isn’t going to do any good, it’d be a lot scarier to him if you took it out of the holster, how do you take it out of the holster? can’t see it, it’s pitch black in here, is that a snap? I don’t know, what do I do, I don’t know what to do with this, take it out, hold it, point it, don’t point it, what if it’s Carl? what if it’s Luke? ohmygod, Luke, what do I do?
It didn’t matter that I could see him, see it was a man a different color than my husband, see his mustard yellow shorts and converse tennis shoes with no laces, see the bulge in his pocket, like a knife or something, see the red bandana tied over his head, the white muscle shirt, all illuminated from the streetlight shining in the back door, my brain had ceased to any reason and thoughts criss-crossed in a hysterical race to send me over the precipice. I kept trying to convince myself that what I was seeing was really real, that he was really there, walking toward my office door, which had no knob, much less a lock, and that I really ought to move, ought to shoot, but didn’t know how, but still ought to, and another part of my brain kept flogging the story of how the next door neighbor’s son had come home early one night and so startled his wife, she’d shot him and had slowly driven herself insane with the guilt afterward and what if what if what if.
And as I hunched over to watch through the open knobless hole, I could smell him, acrid sweat; he was about a foot away, looking at my door, saying, “Where the hell does that go?” and reaching for it, dirty fingernails, when he stopped.
Frozen. A moment. Backed up, looked through the kitchen door and turned to the back door. A deadbolt lock, requiring a key to get out and the key was nearby. He walked out and I watched him, through the window, memorizing everything about him, seeing him in the light, seeing him walk past my car and turn up the alley, moving toward the front of the house.
I wanted to move. Go find Luke, make sure he was okay. I was so afraid of what I would find, I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, trying to convince myself if I was safe, maybe he was safe.
Another light snapped on in the bedroom.
Near the bedroom door, heard a voice approaching fast, heard someone saying something, demanding something and nothing was coherent for me then. I just lifted the gun and pointed it at the door, an inch away from whoever’s chest who opened it, maybe that would teach them something, maybe I would pull the trigger and it would all be over, and the door swung open and there was a man’s chest and there was the mouth of the gun touching it and there was the trigger and something waited, paused a moment and his hand pushed the gun down toward the floor as his other one pulled my chin up to look into his eyes.
Carl was home.
I tried saying something, tried explaining that as we spoke, or rather, as he was asking questions, there was a man walking up the alley who’d been in the house, a man who’d turned on every light, who’d tried to find me, ohmygod, Luke, and the only coherent thing I could manage to say was
“That wasn’t you in here.”
I broke and ran for Luke, who had, miraculously, slept through the entire thing, even though it was his window the man had broken into and his floor that had the trail of muddy footprints strolling across it, heading into the rest of the house, apparently alone, staying for more than thirty minutes before hearing Carl come in the front door and so choosing to go out the back. Back to the bedroom, I stood in the corner of the room, tried to press my entire pregnant self into the wall-paper and screamed into my hands, afraid of waking Luke up, afraid of everything, that wasn’t you in here that wasn’t you in here that wasn’t you in here.
I’m not sure when or how Carl finally made sense of what had just happened. I’m not sure when I got dressed, or how, but with every light on and with me armed with a base radio (and him with the other in his truck), he decided to cruise around the neighborhood, trolling through just in case he found the guy. He must have radioed back every three seconds to make sure I was okay.
He found someone lurking which matched my description and had me call the police. They got there immediately, stopped the guy. Had me look at him; wrong guy. He also happened to be wanted for being a peeping Tom, but still, the wrong guy.
A week or so later, they would call me and tell me they caught the guy; he had beaten an 80 year-old lady in another house in our neighborhood with a large stick — like a limb from a tree. Someone had caught him, however, and they wanted me to ID him.
I would later remember a limb that had been just outside that window and wonder why I had gotten so lucky.
He would later get off with a short sentence, two years, I think. I, on the other hand, learned to shoot pretty damned well.
What are your near misses? And how did you cope?
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