Monday, June 6, 2011

Things That Go Bump in the Night

 "Was that a rat in the ceiling?" was my first thought. The odd screeching noise had woken me up, but only my face. The rest of me was heavy with sleep. I blinked and heard a thunkety thunk sound over the white noise fan in our room. It must be one of the girls, awake in the middle of the night and soon coming into our room. I heard the thunkety sound again, but no child came sleepily wandering in. I sat up and got out of bed, wondering if there was a humane rat treatment plan on the market. I walked down the hall and, as  my eyes fully opened, I realized that the clunking sound was coming from downstairs. I have done this many times- woken in the night to odd noises and walked to the top of the stairs-an equidistant point between the back yard and the front yard.It allows me to hear the sounds from every angle. The thermostat clock read 2:58 a.m.. I stood still and silent like I always do. The sounds in our neighborhood carry such that someone slamming their  car door down the street with have a percussive effect in our bedroom.
 For the twenty or so times I have stood there and listened, it always turns out to be something-wind, neighbors, raccoons- that explained the noise, so I could go back to bed and sleep, but this time was different.As I stood at the top of the stairs, listening, I could hear something distinctly moving around. It was not the wind, it was not a neighbor, it was someone in the house. I have imagined this moment ever since we moved in and had never gotten past the "oh my god, what if..?" part of it, meaning, I had no plan. I debated going downstairs. I debated locking the child gate and hoping the intruder didn't have kids. I wondered if we should get a gun.
Then I saw him. He walked past the picture window on the landing below. He was outside in the back yard.  I didn't have the paralyzing fear that I'd expected. I think I was so grateful that he wasn't inside that I went straight from scared to pissed. I walked down to the landing and opened the window,which is about eight feet off the ground. He was trying to open the sliding door that goes into our playroom. The screen made the screeching noise that had woken me up- the rat. Thank God for shitty sliding screen doors and my laziness with the WD-40.
" GET THE FUCK OUT OF  MY YARD" I yelled out to him. I figured I shouldn't mince words. To my total surprise, he turned and said "No, No, it's me". For a surreal moment, before he stepped out of the shadows, I thought it was my husband, who I distinctly recall crawling into bed next to me a few hours before.
"What are  you doing out here?" I asked,utterly confused. Then I saw his face. It was not my husband. It was a very tall Eastern European looking stranger standing in the back yard at three am.
"I am supposed to be here. I am sleeping here tonight. it's- Lucas.Lucas?" he said. For  another split second, I thought maybe he was telling the truth. My husband's company has a successful client named Lucas, and occasionally the client's sleep in the guest room, but why wouldn't he have told me we were having a house guest?I mean, I haven't changed the sheets in weeks.No.It made no sense.
" No," I said, " No, get out of my yard before I call the police."
"Wait," he said "please, just listen to me". He sounded pained.
" You obviously have the wrong house, so you need to leave. How did you get in here anyway?" He said that he walked through, he kept saying that he walked through. Then he turned and started walking toward the back yard.
"No!", I said," you need to go out the way you came in,NOW." He shrugged and walked  back toward the garage.
"No!How did you get in here?", I hissed again. He stood, staring up at the window. "I walked through...I just walked through". He stood looking up at me and again asked me to listen. I was not in the mood to listen. This guy was really fucking annoying. I went back upstairs and woke up my husband.
"You need to get up, there is someone in the yard". He sat up, looking dazed, and followed me down the stairs. He asked the guy what he wanted,what he was doing etc. and told him to leave. I was suddenly furious at this person for being most likely drunk and lost and wasting precious minutes of much needed sleep. I stomped down the stairs in search of something threatening and found my Louisville Slugger in the coat closet. I used to keep it in my car before I had kids  "just in case"(of what I am unsure but it seemed more practical than a gun). I grabbed it, fished in the key bowl  for the spare key, went to the back door,unlocked it, and went outside. The guy was standing there, waiting patiently for what I do not know. His expression was confounded, and his arms were crossed as if negotiations had broken down, and he was trying to figure out what his next move would be. My husband had grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels off his desk and followed me outside,which struck me as kind of funny, but as effective a weapon as anything I suppose. It wouldn't have surprised me if the guy thought we were all going to stand around and have a drink before we asked him to leave. I cut a wide swath around him, the bat pronouncedly between us, and reached to open the gate. It was unlocked, which was an odd relief that he had, in fact, "walked through" and hadn't come from inside the house.  He stared at me, swaying slightly.
"You need to go", I said firmly, gesturing with the bat. He looked at the bat and put his hands up and said "I will go in peace".  He walked out. I shut the gate behind him and locked it. We went inside, and my husband called the police. We stood in the front window and looked out at the empty street. He seemed to vanish. I had gone inside quickly, and expected to see him walking down the street,but he was gone. I was reminded of the last scene in Halloween.
The cops came in less than ten minutes, though it hardly seemed necessary since he had disappeared. It gave us both closure having them walk the yard and declare it intruder free. I could tell that they were hoping for a little more excitement than two middle aged people in their pajamas lamely describing an unarmed man who walked in the back yard through an unlocked gate looking for a warm bed. I quickly realized what a poor witness I would make in a real crime scene. It is odd what one remembers from such a stressful  interaction- his high forehead, sloth like eye sockets, heavy eyebrows, but a describable image of his face eluded me until much later. He looked like Anthony Bourdain crossed with Sacha Baron Cohen, which really just illustrates what kind of television I have been watching lately. I said something vague, because everything I wanted to say sounded incredibly racist or seemed to describe the cop I was speaking with to a tee. They nodded, unimpressed. One stepped in mud and the other one told me not to go outside if there was a next time. I apologized on both counts and unlocked the gate so they could leave.
We went up to bed. The phone rang thirty minutes later. We hadn't gone back to sleep anyway, but it was dispatch checking in to make sure we were okay. I kept thinking how unlike Los Angeles the follow up call  seemed considering what goes on in the darker corners of the city on any given morning. Do they call the survivors of home invasion robberies just to check in? or rape victims? I hope I never find out.
As I lay there trying to salvage what was left of the remaining two hours of sleep, I started wondering about the guy and what his issue was and if he had needed our help instead of our wrath. I know  it sounds insane, but I knew in my heart that he wasn't there to harm us. What made our interaction so odd was his reaction to my behavior-he hadn't understood why I was yelling at him. He looked hurt and confused that I wouldn't listen to him. I was struck by his obvious disappointment that we weren't inviting him to sleep over,despite the fact that he trespassed,scared the shit out of us and was a gigantic stranger standing in the shadowy yard at three a.m. He clearly wasn't a con artist, or a thief, so something was off. I wondered if he might be a diabetic having a hypoglycemic episode, or a schizophrenic who had stopped taking his medication. I wondered if I had been less fearful and more inquisitive, maybe he would have given me something to work with. I wondered if he had parents somewhere who had shepherded him through to adulthood with whatever his affliction, their only hope that he could live a somewhat normal life if he was lucky. Were they praying for the kindness of strangers to keep him safe from his defect and I, fueled by  rage and fear, had assigned him the role of the besotted intrusive fool? So much for saving the world.
I actually hope to encounter  him someday, though I really don't know if I'd recognize him. I really just want to thank him for being our wake up call. Thanks to him, we now know that the cops do show up when you call them, the neighbors have a rifle, and that I really shouldn't go outside if someone is trying to get in.Oh yeah, and lock the fucking gate. It was like a dress rehearsal for the big show which I hope never to star in, even though I was kind of bad ass.