Every night once our daughters succumb to sleep, I savor a cup of herbal tea, the day’s newspaper and an over-sized bowl of granola. If you’re inclined to watch my sacred evening ritual, please show some respect. Use a pair of binoculars like a normal human being and observe from a distance. Do not stare with your face pressed up against our kitchen window. Staring is rude. And dangerous. Though mild-mannered by day, I’ll happily rip out your intestines if you interrupt my nightly feeding. Or threaten my family.
Alone with our two daughters, my husband in Houston overnight on business, I’d waited all evening for those precious moments of unfettered me time. Simple pleasures awaited: a crossword puzzle, crunchy snacks, and blissful quiet. What could be better?
The flash of white caught my eye first. As I rose to reheat my tea in the microwave, I sensed movement outside. The convergence of light on our kitchen window illuminated a jaw and a covered forearm. Or a figment of my imagination.
I froze. Stared.
The open wooden blinds and a glare from the pendant lights over the kitchen island obscured my view. Because our kitchen overlooks a poorly lit alley, I saw nothing but my own reflection.
I waited, holding my breath. And watched.
I fought the temptation to approach the window. With visions of a deranged killer breaking the glass, I knew such a move would be an outright act of stupidity. Apparently, my appetite for scary movies as a teenager was paying off in that moment.
As my heart slowed down, I calmed myself, “Relax. You’re tired. Stop scaring yourself.”
I returned to my crossword puzzle. Word for “lethal weapon.”
“Does ‘paranoia’ fit?” I joked to myself.
On my best days, my sleep-deprived imagination conjures catastrophes out of mundane occurrences. Knowing I needed sleep more than obsession, I finished my snack and carried my bowl to the dishwasher, casting furtive glances over my shoulder at the window.
My movements around the kitchen felt unnatural, forced; as if I were acting in a bad play. Resisting the temptation to look out the window again, I pretended to yawn and stretch, exaggerating each movement; attempting to appear casual and oblivious to anyone who might be watching.
“Go to bed, Mary. No one is there,” I soothed.
I cleared the counter of stray papers and flipped the nearby light switch, instinctively looking at the window one last time.
And there he was.
The details in shadow, I could clearly see a young man’s face pressed against the glass. A short, bulky, bulldog of a man.
Mouth ajar, I didn’t scream, didn’t move. Stared. My mind read blank. A feeling of terror mixed with rage electrified my veins.
He appeared to be wearing a dark jacket with a big white “I” on his chest. As I flicked the lights on again and rushed to grab the telephone, the man turned and ran.
Panicked and confused, my first instinct was to call my husband. He answered after the second, ungodly long, ring.
The sound of Mike’s familiar, calm voice instantly brought me to tears. Perhaps he thought I had replaced my nightly snack with a more lively elixir, but he sounded annoyingly undisturbed by my description of the night’s events. His attempts to calm (read placate) me by suggesting the intruder was likely a student from the nearby university playing a prank or our oft-drunk neighbor mistaking our back door for his own did little to reduce my anxiety.
Mike stayed on the phone with me as I dialed the police who dispatched a patrol car to check the alley behind our home. Mike suggested we install a fence and a locked gate around our back deck and assured me he’d mount a motion-sensitive light outside when he returned home the next afternoon.
After another cup of tea to calm my nerves, I pushed a chair under the locked back door and finally fell asleep to the sound of far off police sirens.
The following morning, our college-aged babysitter called in tears, “A good friend of mine died last night. He was hit by a car on campus, not far from your house. I won’t be able to babysit for a few days.”
When our babysitter returned several days later, she showed me a picture of her friend, a strikingly handsome young man with a welcoming grin and a wrestler’s stature and physique. In the photo, her friend wore a dark blue jacket emblazoned with the letters U-I-C in white on his chest.
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