In the wee hours of last Wednesday morning, when our bedroom door opened at 4am, I didn’t think much of it. Nor could I, as I was barely able to lift my sleep deprived lids, seeing as how at night they weigh about 10 lbs each. From the bleary crack I peered out from, I saw Jeff come into our room, presumably after having stepped out to pee.
He walked behind the room divider that separates out his desk and computer work station. I wondered if he had forgotten to turn off the hardrive, as he seemed to be fiddling with something where all the power cords are. I became slightly more awake when the white noise we use at night suddenly shut off. We plug the stereo speakers into his laptop for the sound, and I assumed a wire had come unplugged. I felt a little bit annoyed, thinking, “Hurry, turn it back on before Fern wakes up!”. But this type of thing happens frequently, and I was sure it would be a fast fix. Except it wasn’t. Was something wrong with the internet? Was our electricity out? Now I was at least half awake, part of me vigilant and wondering if I needed to intervene.
After a few minutes, Jeff walked out from the desk area and approached the bed, I assumed to tell me what was going on. He stopped about two feet from where I lay. I looked at the outline of his body, I noticed his movement…and my blood ran cold. I slowly glanced over my shoulder to Jeff’s side of our California king.
Jeff was asleep in bed with me.
As I write this now, my blood is cold again and I am shaking. It will be this memory that will linger the longest…The swaying, jittery form looming above me, my shouts for Jeff to Wake up! Wake up! There’s someone in the room! , the slow motion rise of Jeff from slumber, and the way that every inch of my skin felt removed. All sense of personal safety and space dissapated, with an utter and raw vulnerability and my gut a block of ice. Those first few seconds feel mythological, as if the floorboards had opened and the intruder had risen from the underworld, the incarnation of every nightmare I have ever had. In that moment, I knew we were going to die. It was a split second thought, but I assumed he must be armed, as I couldn’t conceive of why he would risk waking us up if not. I addressed the silhouette, asking if I could turn on the bedside light, and wondering which word would be the one to bring the bullet.
The light illuminated a man, a stranger, a face that my terrified mind desperately tried to match to some piece of history, hoping it was a joke, hoping I could find something that was known. Interpretive words rose up...street…drugs…unstable…angry…hungry. There was no place for this man in my life. And he should definitely not be in our home. I watched the warm security that we have created for our daughter deteriorate as his polluted soul sent tendrils of darkness into every corner.
The moments after this are fractured. Bits of speech, bits of pleading…
Please sir, my daughter…my baby is in bed with us. Please let us go in the other room. Please let me take her out of here.
The Man: Alright. That’s right. That’s right Jeff. You gonna pay me. You gonna pay now mother fucker. You gonna give me that money you owe me. You be owin’ me $1500 and then you gonna give me that $900 you owe me too. Ain’t nobody gonna get hurt. You just give me what you owe me.
Me begging. Jeff acquiescing. The Man pacing, swaying, hands behind back. I ask how he got in our house. He gives me a smug smile, says I’m a criminal, baby. Fern wakes up, groans for me to pick her up. I have to step out of bed naked, I put on my robe, I am shaking shaking shaking. I look in his hands, I look at his pockets. Where is the gun? There is something shiny in his hands. A knife? He’s letting us leave the bedroom. He suddenly breaks character and stares at me, You are a very beautiful woman. I stare back, with the same disgust I feel when I hear this on the street, from voices just like this one, shrinking away from the subtle threat, the violent lure. So often it does not feel safe to be a lone woman on the street. Now it is not safe to be a woman in my house, even with my babe in arms.
I step into the kitchen and he calls out There are three ladies in there, so don’t be surprised. Both the refrigerator and freezer door are wide open. I look to the table, where I had left my phone. It is gone. I am shivering, my limbs are lead. I sit in our sunroom and look at the back door. The gate is closed and locked. Where are his friends? Where are our housemates? Has he hurt them too? I consider opening the back door and shouting for help. But I really need to get to the front door. In that moment I am positive that if I called for help, it would come. We are well known and loved in our neighborhood, the folks across the way have told me countless times that they look out for us. Do they know now?
Fern is frozen too, her head resting on my shoulder. In the bedroom, I hear The Man’s monologue going on and on, with brief interjects from Jeff. I am violently shaking, too frightened to cry. I am waiting for the sound of gunshots, I am preparing myself to lose my partner tonight, I am wondering if they will let my daughter live.
Suddenly from the bedroom there is a scuffling and a voice cries out. I think Now it begins, the end. I shout for Jeff and run back to the room, not wanting to bring my child in there, but not able to leave my love alone in his fight. The door frame comes into focus and again everything slows down, frame by frame. Jeff is in the corner, kneeling. I scan the room for The Man, who I don’t see. I wait for voices to come running down the hall, for His Friends to rush in. I hear The Man’s voice. It is coming from under Jeff’s knees and hands. Then, some thoughts like these crossed my mind:
My man is a stud! Ooooo, that asshole didn’t know that Jeff has ninja wrestling moves. That’s right you piece of shit, he may look small but my boy knows about leverage. Wait…is Jeff killing him? It sounds like he’s choking. Actually, that’s fine with me. Wait, where’s the phone?
I found out later that when Jeff saw The Man about to leave with our computer and camera he thought, I didn’t just work my ass off for the last three years and suffer personal sacrifice so you could just come in and take it all away. Not from me and NOT from my family. Then, he slowly took off his glasses, placed them on the mantle…and knocked the intruder down with a sucker punch to the face. It was after this that he employed his ninja wrestler moves.
Shouting where’s the phone? It’s under the mattress, I hid it. I drop Fern for a moment to dig the phone out, she cries out with her typical toddler distress, I pick her up again, I’m trying to dial. Goddamn iPhone with its stupid touch sensitive screen…very bad idea apple…not helpful when trembling from adrenaline. No iPhone, please don’t auto correct, I meant 911, not some random number from the contact list. 911, come on! There is a burglary in our home. This is my address. There is a man, he might be armed, please hurry. You want to know what he looks like? Get the cops here and you’ll find out.
The Man is calling out Tyrone! Tyrone! Get this fucker off me! Jeff says, There is no Tyrone. We think it at the same time as he says, Mary, get Matthias and Dylan. Our housemates, maybe they are ok! Now I can do what I have been needing to do. I unfreeze and I begin screaming Wake up! Wake up! We’re being robbed! Dylan peeks out of his room with a piece of wood in his hand, Matthias tumbles out of his room into the hall, they rush in to stand beside Jeff. I realize the phone has gone dead. The battery ran out. I tear down the hall, I wake up Kristy. She is bargaining with me to not wake up. Just get up! We’re being robbed! The front gate is still secure. How the fuck did he get in? I unlatch the door, prop it open. Kristy holds both Fern and I as I cry and shake. The police run up the steps and rush down the hall. We’re safe. We’re safe. We’re safe.
The police apprehend and handcuff The Man immediately. He stares down Jeff as he leaves saying I’ll be back for that $900. The police look at Jeff incredulously. You know him? No. No, we’ve never seen him before. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 16 years. As The Man is escorted out the front door, he looks at Kristy and says, Sorry about all this. Words from the cops fly over my head. Definitely Meth. Bathroom window. Second burglary tonight. Two blocks away. We look at the bathroom window. It is wide open, the plumbing on the outer wall a perfect ladder.
Jeff, Fern and I sit on the couch in the sunroom after the police have left. Fern falls back asleep in my arms. Daybreak. The sun rises. From all over the city, the birds call out to one another, “I’m here. Are you? I’m here. Are you?”. We lay Fern back in bed and I sage the room. We sage each other. Then we go in the kitchen, and take advantage of my work as a clinician with trauma. We shake, on purpose this time. We shake it off and discharge the adrenaline, the terror. We shake like wild animals, we shake like a dog after a swim, like deer who have escaped the mountain lion’s claws.
A bird call echoes through the hallway. I worry about the finch family that nests above our front door, and run down to make sure there is no danger involving a cat. But there is nothing there. I walk back and Jeff walks out of the bathroom with an astonished smile. It was in the bathroom. It flew in through the open window and circled around and around and then flew out.
It was our neighborhood watch.