The year was 1980. I was engaged to my second husband and living in a large apartment complex not far from the home he shared with his best friend.
My 11-year-old daughter lived with me in our one-bedroom apartment where our only furnishings consisted of lawn chairs in our living room, a card table and chairs in our dining area, and cots in our shared bedroom. I received no child support from my first husband and the meager amount of money I made from my job didn’t allow for more than housing, clothing, and food.
One particularly hot night I left the sliding glass door open so we could get a breeze through the screen. I awoke, as I frequently did, with an asthma attack. My rescue inhaler sat in my purse on the card table.
As I was getting out of the cot to get it, a body jumped on top of me and held me down. The body shape looked like my soon-to-be husband, but I wasn’t wearing my contacts, so I couldn’t see him clearly. He was wearing a mask. I wondered what the shiny instrument was that he held near my throat.
“What are you doing?” I asked him, as I attempted to get up. “Can’t you see I’m having an asthma attack?”
He pushed me back onto the cot.
“I need my inhaler! What the hell are you doing?” I asked, pushing him out of my way. What kind of stupid game was he playing? As I walked into the dining area, I noticed the freezer door open in the kitchen area. Somebody was hidden behind it, rummaging through it.
Still completely confused, because I had just awoken, I asked, “Are we having a party?”
Nobody spoke a word, but when the freezer door slammed shut and the body shape standing in front of it was unrecognizable to me, I suddenly realized, after searching the knife handler’s arm for a tattoo that wasn’t there, that the man with the knife was nobody I knew either.
My daughter stirred in the bedroom and the guy with the knife grabbed me around my throat with one arm and held the knife to my throat with the other. “What was that?”
I wanted to lie and say, “My husband,” but I was afraid the two strangers might respond violently. “My daughter,” I said, suddenly aware that she might be in danger if I didn’t tell the truth.
Keeley came out of the room to see a man standing behind me with one arm held around my neck and a knife held to my throat. She halted in her tracks.
“Come here,” I demanded. I wrapped my arms around her and hid my engagement ring and my heirloom ring as I did so.
Even in that precarious stance, with a stranger’s arm around my neck and a knife held to my throat, I didn’t feel frightened – possibly because I was so confused and possibly because my body was in shock – instead I felt protective. My only concern was for my daughter’s safety.
But I was also thinking that if they came here to rob me, what were they going to take, my lawn chairs, my card table, my cots?
Whatever they were looking for they apparently didn’t find, and when it was time for them to leave, one of them asked the other, “What should we do with them?”
“Tie them to the table,” one of them said.
At this point, I almost laughed as I looked at the legs of the card table.
The would-be robbers apparently thought about how ridiculous the idea was too, because one of them said, “Let’s put them in the bathroom.”
So they shoved us in the bathroom and demanded that we not leave for at least 15 minutes. They stole nothing. Just before they left, the guy with the knife whispered to me, “From now on, lock your screen door.” He must have had a conscience.
I was still in a state of shock when my daughter broke my thoughts by demanding that I call the police.
At a time when nobody owned cell phones, I also called my fiancé whose line was repeatedly busy, which was odd considering it was 4 o’clock in the morning and he and his roommate were usually asleep at that hour. After nearly half an hour of trying to reach him, I was getting frustrated. The police came and left after telling me the men were probably looking for drugs. Didn’t I know I lived in a high-crime area, they wanted to know (I didn’t).
I attempted to call my fiancé again. The line was still busy.
I later learned that my fiancé’s roommate’s girlfriend had called her boyfriend to tell him that my fiancé was in danger. She asked him to check on my fiancé. When he returned and told her he was sleeping, she asked him to check the rest of house.
Though he came back with a good report, she asked him to check the grounds outside the house, and when that report came back OK, she asked him to check the garage and warned him that if something hadn’t happened yet, it was about to occur and she wanted them both to be safe.
Turns out the warning was for me.
It took until the next night before I felt any fear from the episode. I asked my fiancé to move in with me until I found another place, and he did.
From that night on, I slept with my doors locked.