Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Things That Go Bump in the Night


Dear Mackenzie,

One night a few weeks ago my cell phone rang at 3 A.M. I groggily looked at the screen and saw that it was you calling me.  I knew you were home and having a sleepover with your friend Peyton. Weird.

"Hi," I mumbled into the phone. "Daddy", you said in an urgent whisper. "Come downstairs quick. Someone is breaking into the house".  I bolted out of bed and down the stairs. In my fog, my mind was not processing what you were doing downstairs at that hour, or where Peyton was, or for that matter what I could possibly do to combat an intruder if indeed there was one.  In the nanosecond that it took me to get downstairs, I had a horrible flashback.

Many years ago, the year I graduated from law school, I spent the summer studying for the bar exam.  My girlfriend at the time lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in a sketchy part of town. But the rent was cheap and when you're young you feel immortal, so neither of us paid too much attention to our surroundings.

Throughout that summer, I would often study late into the night with my good friend and classmate Jon Panzer and then head over to my girlfriend's apartment. I would bring all my notes and study books with me to her apartment and then go to the review class in the morning.

My girlfriend had a roommate, and her roommate also had a boyfriend.  Since neither she nor her roommate knew who would be sleeping over when, they each got in the habit of closing their respective bedroom doors at night.  On this particular night, we knew her roommate wouldn't be coming home but we closed the bedroom door anyway. Force of habit.

At about 2:30 AM, my girlfriend shook me awake and whispered "someone's broken into the apartment".  As I started to tell her she was imagining it, I saw a light go on inside the apartment and heard several sets of footsteps. My heart jumped to my throat and my girlfriend whispered, "what should we do"?

All of us hope, my sweet daughter, that we will act courageously if and when that need ever arises. But I can tell you from experience that no amount of planning can prepare you for a moment like that. As I write you this letter some thirty years later, I am still embarrassed by the first thought that went through my mind. It was "please God, don't let them steal my bar review materials or I will fail the exam". I hope my former girlfriend can forgive me.

I put the absurdity of that thought out of my head and tried to think. Whoever was in there was making a lot of noise and we were both petrified with fear. In a whisper of my own, I asked my girlfriend if it was possible her roommate had come home, but she responded that her roommate was out of town. Besides, we could hear whoever was out there dismantling the stereo system, which I seriously doubted her roommate would be doing.

"Go out there and see what's going on", my girlfriend whispered to me.  Now I loved my girlfriend, but there was no way I was going out there. Whoever had broken in was not being at all quiet, and was taking their sweet time robbing the place to boot. To me that meant that either the burglars thought no one was home, in which case surprising them didn't seem like a good idea, or they didn't care if anyone was home, which seemed even worse.

I called 911. Now this was in the days before cell phones, and to make matters worse my girlfriend's apartment still had one of those old rotary phones.  So when I dialed 911 it sounded like machine gun fire. The 911 operator put me on hold. Then she hung up on me, hopefully by mistake. I kid you not.

I didn't dare try to dial again. So we lay in bed, no doubt silently praying, for what seemed like an eternity and was in reality about twenty minutes. At one point we heard the footsteps coming towards us, and we could see shadows by our bedroom door.  

They lingered there for a few seconds and then retreated. My girlfriend later told me that at that moment she was going to whisper to me that she loved me, but she had this vision that if she said that, the door would burst open and we would be killed. So she stayed silent.

At some point the sounds stopped.  We lay there for at least fifteen more minutes, and then I softly opened the bedroom door. The burglars were gone, and so were the stereo and everything else that wasn't nailed down.  Well, except for my study notes.  For some inexplicable reason those didn't interest the thieves. We called the police, who came and took a report, and then we went to Junior’s Deli to celebrate that we were still alive.

All of that raced through my head as I bolted downstairs. You and Peyton were huddled in the media room, where you had fallen asleep hours earlier watching a movie. "The bell on the alarm system chimed", you said. "There's a woman with her hands on her hips in your back yard." added Peyton.

Adrenalin pumping, I quickly scanned the downstairs and fortunately no one was there. The "woman with her hands on her hips" turned out to be a chair by the pool. And I was able to show you and Peyton that the alarm had been triggered by a set of French doors, still locked, which sometimes gets toggled by the wind. I hugged you both, and I told you that nothing bad will ever happen to you as long as your mom or I, or your older sisters, are with you. You gave me a kiss and the two of you went upstairs to bed. Before doing the same, I said a little prayer of thanks.

In truth, the notion that nothing bad can happen to you as long as you are with us is more a meditation than a certainty. But I'll keep saying it to you, and I'll make sure you keep believing it, and I would not hesitate to do whatever it took to will that prayer into reality.

Of course, a little luck and some divine providence wouldn't hurt either.

All my everlasting love,

Dad


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