It was a helluva thunderstorm last night.
I was lost in a good book about perfume and murder in Paris, in my PJs nested in my comfy bed when the rain began pelting the window and the thunder booms started echoing. I snuggled in, pulling up my favorite light green feather comforter, and read on, feeling safe and happy in the pool of the soft light from the lamp by the bed, the iPhone plugged in on the night stand, and my dog Lila snoring at the end of the bed.
Then there was a crashing sound.
I hate crashing sounds. No good has ever come from a crashing sound.
This one was loud and dull, came several times, and then stopped. Tree limbs on the deck or on the car? Blown over something somewhere now a broken mess?
Before I knew it, I was out of bed, heading down the stairs, dreading what I might find. I stopped at the base of stairway to listen and think about from what direction the sound had come.
I turned on the dining room lights and the front porch light, opened the door, walked out, looking for storm damage.
That’s when I heard the footsteps on the deck. And a muffled voice.
My front porch is connected to a small deck on one side of the house. There’s a latched gate between two. Footsteps on the deck meant that someone had unlatched the gate and was just around the corner.
My heart raced. I ran inside, locking the door behind me. Then the dull crashing sound came again. A thumping really. At the double glass French doors that open onto the deck. Without thinking, I switched on the deck light. And there on the other side was someone.
Right on the other side of the glass. Standing under the eave out of the rain. A thin young woman. Straight blond hair. A pink jacket with fancy leather stitching on both sides. A phone to her ear. Looking directly at me.
“Get out of here,” I shouted. She had no response, as if the sound didn’t travel through the glass. She threw herself against the door and tried to open it.
My mind flooded with the memories of a woman who walked in my unlocked front door one Saturday afternoon in Cincinnati some 30 years ago. Walked in as if she owned the place. Said she was being pursued by murderers. Refused to leave. We tussled. She was strong and scary, broke away from me and ran up the stairs to my bedroom, laid on my bed. Vomited. Ranting the whole time. I finally was able to get on the phone in the kitchen to call the police while Emily (who was just a teenager) kept track of her. I was worried that murderers would come barging in the front door any time to kill her. I’d seen that happen before in Chicago some 50 years ago during another house break in. But they didn’t and cops came, got her, knew her. She was off her meds, she had done this before. “You should keep your door locked they told me.”
So I do, mostly. But not always. But lately, since my car has been rummaged through a couple times over the past year, I’ve started checking the doors and the car to be sure they are locked before I go to bed. I miss the days when I didn’t need to lock the door. There’s a imprudent part of me that thinks that since I have a dog, people won’t come in. Crazy people don’t care about dogs though. And Lila would be the first to run from a crazy person. In fact, she was upstairs sleeping while this current crazy person was right on the other side of the glass, slamming her body into it.
I should have called 911 right then. But I forgot about doing that and instead got my sturdy Alaskan Diamond Willow stick from where it leans against a cabinet in the living room. I held it up with both hands like baseball bat, showing her that I’d be glad to wallop her on the head with it, and made a fierce face. “Get!” I shouted, pointing toward the little gate and the front porch. “Get out of here. Go home.”
She looked at me blandly. Again as if she couldn’t hear or see me. Behind her, a wide bolt of lightning split the night sky and lingered vibrating forever, driving electricity into the earth.
I threatened her with my stick again.
A smirk crept across her face and struck fear me. “I’ve got a crazy here,” I heard her say into her phone. Then, looking directly at me through the glass door, she spoke into the phone in a tiny voice, “Help me, help me, help me.”
My body tingled with fear, my mind throbbed with the surreality of this. The two of us standing body to body with glass between us. I was so vulnerable and visible. I had to get away and be safe, out of the light.
I turned off the deck and dining rooms lights, put the stick on the breakfast bar, and ran upstairs to call 911, But I forgot to turn off the light in the stairway where a newly installed LED super bright floodlight bulb illuminates the entire world. She could still see in, and she resumed throwing her weight against the glass door. Over and over.
What was happening, what did the person look like, did I know her, had I ever seen her before, what was my phone and address, asked the woman who answered the 911 call. I replied quickly and nervously, my heart in my throat, from the landing, afraid to make the turn to the downstairs where she could see me, the blazing light still on and me too thick to turn it off.
“She’s banging on the door hard,” I said over and over, nearly matching the rhythm of the thumping. There are police nearby I was told. Don’t go downstairs. Don’t open the door. Stay on the phone with me until the police get there.
The slamming stopped. I crept down the steps and saw her turn away from the door. Will she leave before the cops come? Will I seem like a crazy old lady when they arrive?
Then I heard her open the screen door on the front porch and try the knob of the front door. Thank god I had relocked the door. I could hear her say into the phone, “It’s locked.”
On my phone, the 911 operator says the police are out front right now, but don’t open the door until I tell you. I open the blinds of the front door, and there she is. The screen door open, her hand on the knob trying again and again to open it. We look at each other through the glass.
Then she turns. A tall uniformed man is behind her. I tell the operator and open the door.
Immediately the cop tells me to close the door. I see a woman officer with a blond ponytail come up on the porch through the blinds. The operator asks me if I am okay and we hang up.
There’s a big, loud conversation on the porch that I can only hear part of, mostly what the cops say. Do you know where you are? No. You are not even close to there. Show me your ID. A real ID. A debt card is not a real ID. The woman who lives is 75 years old, do you have a friend that’s 75 years old? You are causing yourself trouble. Is that your roommate on the phone? Let me talk.
Eventually, a wet young policeman came in through the deck door to write down the facts in a narrow lined notebook. I turned on the light in the dining room so he can see to write and I tell him my tale. Another pokes his head in to see if I wanted to press trespassing charges. When I said no, he disappears. Then the question of do I want her to be arrested if she ever comes back. My mind refuses to decide, the question seems so weird. I ask the officer for a recommendation, and he says that’s what he would do. So I say yes. I asked him if I did the right thing, calling 911. He says yes, and leaves.
Meanwhile out on the porch, things are de-escalating. I open the front door. The tall officer, and the woman officer are on either side of the young woman. He tells me they have called a cab for her and asks if it’s okay for them wait on the porch out of the rain for it to come. And could I close the door, close the blinds, but leave on the porch light.
So I do.
I’m inside alone, my bare feet damp from the water that’s been left on the rugs, standing there with all my cells on alert. I sure as heck can’t go back to bed yet.
I hear the cop ask the young woman if she wants to sit down. Peering through the side of the blinds on the door, I see her on the porch swing.
“Thank you, thank you,’ she says in an exhausted voice. “I know. I just want to go home.”
I hear the officer ask if he should call her roommate who was on the phone. And her reply that that wasn’t her roommate, and his simple “Oh.” Then would she like him to give her a ride home. I hear her say yes, if he’s allowed to do that.
I hear their footsteps on the porch steps. Crack the blind. See the dark police car drive away.
It’s so quiet. The storm has subsided.
Lila comes downstairs to smell the police footprints. I turn out the porch light. Somehow, I feel left out. Uncomfortably invisible. Funny, since that was what I'd wanted to be earlier. Then I feel guilty. If I’d had my wits about me, I could have calmed her down and driven her home myself. But, I guess calling the police, and them doing it, was a better idea.
I pee, go back to bed, and can’t sleep. I’m supposed to get up early to go to a symposium at IU in the morning, but it’s 2 a.m. now. The image of the wet, lost young woman on my porch saying into her phone, “Help me, help me, help me” resurfaces. How she didn't seem drunk, she was eerily alert. And the physical memory of my fear. I was scared of her. A young, skinny, lost, wet woman. Afraid that if I opened the door, she’d be wild inside, that she’d hurt me, a not-even close-thank-you-very-much-to-a-75-year-old-woman. I feel weak. I feel stupid. I scold myself for not making good decisions quickly, for my lack of focus. Digging into big fat slices of humble pie. The silly Diamond Willow stick. Why did I agree to the trespassing thing? What would have happened if she'd been a more fierce intruder? Could someone come through those glass doors?
Then worse, I think of what might have happened to her if I’d been successful in shooing her off the deck, the porch, out into the storm. Of never found Lauren Spierer, the wee hours video image of her walking on bare feet in the alley. And murdered Crystal Grubb, her head bashed in, body found in the corn field. Of Hannah Wilson, snatched from town, her body dumped out on Plum Creek Road. Would I have read in tomorrow’s paper about of the body of this young woman found in the little creek that runs by my house?
I wondered if she’d been dark-skinned, black-haired instead of being a cute light-skinned woman in stylish clothes would she have been given the gracious ride home by the police? Would the situation de-escalated?
It was long time before I went to sleep. And when I awoke, I felt uselessly haunted by this incident. Unresolved and resolved at the same time. I could have shaken off this whole thing by going to the symposium, but I blew it off.
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