Neighborhood Watch

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.

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50 thoughts on “Neighborhood Watch

  1. I am so sorry this happened to you guys. I kept hoping you were trying out an especially riveting piece of fiction when I realized this was reality. No. So so so so so glad you all are safe and in each others arms again. Sending you peaceful energy right now.

  2. omg i started crying. i am so sorry. you guys were so brave. i am so glad you are all okay. mad props to jeff. seriously still sniffly over here thinking of you holding little fern during all this. i wish i could come and hug you all so hard that our backs crack. love you.

  3. Holy hell. That is scary, beyond scary. You guys handled it so well. I just want to hug you now and keep you all safe. Glad you guys are quick thinkers and that you man’s got a good fist on him. Whew.

  4. Wow. How terrifying! I keep re-reading this, thinking “This can’t possibly be real.” I am so glad that you are all OK. Jeff is a badass. Much love to you, sweetie.

  5. WOW. Hard to believe. So sorry you had to go through this. (It certainly makes me think about my bathroom window differently; that’s for sure). And i am thinking yes, probably meth or crack or whatever…so scary. Jeff, you rock. How wonderful. Determination and justice over evil and desperation, however understandable The Man’s distress and hardship. Thank you for all being united and taking care of each other. I am so glad you are all OK.

  6. Mary,
    I have tears in my eyes! I am so grateflu you are all ok and that Jeff is a ninja. Way to go, Jeff. This really makes me take stock of our sense of safety.

    Veronica

  7. oh shit, i don’t know if i’m crazy hormonal or what but i’m fucking crying for you and your very brave family. I’m so glad you’re all alive and safe, so very glad. I hope feelings of normality and security return soon – it’s hard to feel comfortable after something like that happens. Oh, and you lovely woman, staying true to yourself and worrying about the birds after all of that. i’m probably going to come back and read this again later, but till then, much love. xxooxx

    1. teeny, one of my first thoughts before i posted was, “i hope teeny doesn’t change her mind about staying with us!” i’ve already said it, but the house is def secure. and now jeff has a muhammad ali shirt, so we should be fine. 🙂

      1. Bah! you’re going to have to beat us off with a stick if you don’t want us to stay with you. Steve is pretty handy with a shoe, so if Jeffs ninja abiltiy fails him Steve will throw a shoe in the mix. 🙂

  8. Oh, Mary. I almost couldn’t get through this, it was so unreal to think of any of this happening to your sweet family. SOOO so glad you are all safe and much admiration to Jeff’s adrenaline-charged ninja reflexes and bravery, absolutely!!! I am keeping you all deep in thought and sending much peaceful energy your way, also.

    1. i’m still in admiration of jeff too! every once in a while we look at each other and just start laughing. it’s upped his mojo, for sure. thank you mary ann. xoxo

  9. holy shit. my heart is racing and tears are welling. that is just plain horrible to be put in a place of fear in that way. ugh!!!! i don’t know what else to say except that i’m giving you three the biggest virtual hug. and an extra one for jeff the jedi!!!
    i hope you all are healing……i’m sure your experience and wisdom certainly are helping that along……and you can put this behind you for good.

    1. much love to you kim and we send the virtual hug right back. i’m only sorry to shake up your sensitive mama soul. whatever grace blessed us, i send some of it to you, too. xo

  10. Holy shit Mary. My blood ran cold just reading this. What a horrifying experience! Like something out of a movie. It makes me tear up to think of you in that position with Fern. I can’t even imagine. Actually, your writing is so good, I CAN imagine, vividly, and I’m so sorry that you and your family had to live it. SO GLAD YOU’RE ALL OK. You’ve got yourself quite a man for sure, and what a brave level headed mama you are. Oh goodness, so much love to you and your dear family!

  11. Hi. I read it again, and had Steve read it too, not just because it is horrifying, but because damn! You write so well! Mary…when you write of Dylan peeking out from his room with his piece of wood, I smile. My word what an experience to have gone through….brave, courageous people indeed.
    x

    1. thanks you. dylan was our first laugh after The Man left. he had grabbed the wood, but when he first saw jeff on the ground, he thought he was kneeling from a gun being pointed at him. he looked at his wood and was like, “this is not going to be helpful”.

  12. Thank Goddess you are all safe, that you held yourself and Fern close to you, that Jeff found it in him to fight for love, and that you know how to shake after an attack. Many years ago when I lived in Washington D.C., I was held up with a gun pointing at my left temple and it was my anger that helped me escape my death. You see, I was on a mission to get somewhere and I was PISSED that this man was trying to stop me to rob me of something that wasn’t his… after all these years I realize that he could NEVER get the real goods – the deep soulful me, the love, the Shining One within – and that the Goddess kept me alive for a reason… because like I said, I am on a mission and no one is going to stop me!

    May you all laugh and cry and scream and shake and heal and find the calm in your central nervous system and the core of your being. May your mission continue.

    1. knowing you, this comment made me laugh. “i was PISSED”. hilarious.

      after we saged, and before we shook, we took some moments to thank the spirits that watched over us…we had unseen help, for sure. xo

  13. Jeezus…. bloody hell… That must have been the most terrifying experience. I’m so glad you are all safe and I hope that the act of writing this piece was cathartic for you. I’m sending healing thoughts from Ireland. xxx

  14. oh my gosh! this must have have been so scary! i’m so glad to hear that you are all safe! wow, i’m pretty speachless. sending warm thoughts your way.

  15. Thank all the goodness and graciousness in the world that YOU AND YOUR FAMILY AND HOUSEFAMILY ARE ALL OKAY! Thank goodness for both of your clear heads and good judgement. I mean I was terrified to think that Jeff decided to take the attacker on, but also impressed, proud (if one can be proud of someone they don’t know well) that he changed the course of the night and used his judgement to take his power back.

    Being a victim is so paralyzing, you write it out so viscerally that I’m shaking and crying myself. And yet I can’t even imagine how vulnerable you must have felt, carrying little Fern, trapped, seemingly alone.

    So much love and prayers and good things, dearest, for what they’re worth.

  16. Oh my god Mary. Wow. I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t been said a thousand times. I am so glad you’re all okay, I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like for you to be holding your little girl through all of that, and you guys are SO blessed to have gotten out of all of that okay. After Mycelia and I walked away from the car accident that should have killed us I felt this crazy awe and connection to the life spirit that I never had before, and this renewed sense that I was here for a purpose. I appreciate your visceral and captivating writing of this story for reminding me of that. My goodness. SO GLAD you guys are okay!!!!!

  17. mary i thought about this story all day yesterday, told my whole household about it. it is truly my worst nightmare and you tell it in such a riveting way that i felt i was there with you; i was soooo affected by this. YOU WERE SO BRAVE. truly what moved me and brought your story deep into my spirit was to imagine the reactions of all of you…you and jeff were both so calm and level headed and protective, and even fern, what really got to me was to imagine how seriously fern was taking it. makes me want to cry. i love how you wrap it all up and tried to find safety and peace again within your walls. hope that is going well now, a week later…i will be interested to hear how you guys continue to process this. thank for sharing this incredible story; it is full of hope and peace at heart and i love you for that!

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