It was a dark and stormy night on Friday the 13th in September. The creepy cliché of it all seemed too good to pass up, so I asked my new roommates if they wanted to watch a scary movie.
The three of us -- me, Anna, and Stephanie* -- had all just moved to town to start different master’s programs, and I thought a little more roommate bonding was in order. I considered myself a major horror movie buff (Scream is my all-time favorite movie), but by the time we had negotiated a level of scary everyone was comfortable with, we were down to the edited version of Joy Ride playing on cable. Not exactly a terrifying movie, but still, new roomie bonding!
By the time the movie was done, it was around midnight and Anna and Stephanie said goodnight. The weather and the creaky age of our new house had spooked me enough that I decided to stay curled up on the couch for a couple episodes of Parks and Rec to ensure sweet dreams instead.
To preface what happened next, I have to admit that many people find watching scary movies with me annoying. I often view them as “how-to” survival guides, rather than just goosebump-inducing scare fests. I mean, look at my main dude, Randy, breaking down the rules of survival.
Anyway, I frequently end up shouting at the screen, criticizing the actions of that babysitter who’s definitely not cut out to be the final girl and offering (not exactly kindly worded) suggestions of what the characters should do instead. However, what happened to me this Friday the 13th proved that not only would I not hack it to reach Final Girl status, but I probably wouldn’t even make it to the opening credits. Drew Barrymore is my fate.
Probably an episode or two into "Parks and Rec," I heard a noise that was definitely beyond the “creaky old house” level of OK. I muted the TV to pinpoint the noise and looked across the living room to the foyer to see our doorknob rattling. It stopped, then shook again.
Here is opportunity #1 where I would yell at the dumb girl in a slasher flick to “RUN. GRAB A WEAPON. ANYTHING.” Instead, I sat there, frozen as the door rattled a few more time and finally popped opened. A twenty-something bro-ish dude stepped inside.
“Hey,” he said.
This would make opportunity #2 to run away, scream, or do literally anything useful.
Instead, I remained seated and responded with a “Hey” of my own, running through scenarios in my brain that would make this dude’s presence OK. Maybe one of the girls -- who I had yet to get to know super well -- had invited over a gentleman caller? Maybe he’s friends with the girls that live on the first floor of our apartment?
The first floor...a significant detail finally clicked into my brain: The door that mystery dude entered through is not the front door, but the door that leads to our second story porch. The second story porch with no other entrance, meaning this dude had literally scaled the building to get inside.
“Holy shitballs, definitely a break-in,” said my brain at approximately the same time the dude began coming toward me.
Finally, my body recalled some sort of self-preservation instinct and I sprinted past him and ran into Anna’s room. I locked the door as she looked at me in total bafflement.
“Call the police,” I whispered. “There’s a MAN in the apartment.” The words felt totally unreal to say and I had to repeat them a couple times before she processed them too, grabbing her phone. “I only have 2% battery.”
PROPS, horror films! While I have time and time again ridiculed your use of technology in scary movies (check out this montage for proof!), here it was cropping up in real life. Dialing 911 for the first time in my life and answering the questions of the soothing voice of the responder made the situation so much more real and I instantly teared up while trying to remember my new address and any other details.
Again proving all my movie-prep had not transferred to real life, I had no details to give the 911 responder over the phone about the intruder. I knew he was white, but hair color, eye color, height, clothing description? My brain recalled nothing.
I remember telling her the phone was going to die, and then Anna and I stood in the dark room, waiting for police. We had turned the lights off to conceal our location. I then realized that Stephanie had no idea what was going on. What if she came out of her room and ran into the dude? While he hadn’t seemed ready to attack me, he was still an intruder. We couldn’t text her now. Should we yell her name? Make a break for her room?
We were still debating the best way to get her attention when the banging started, quickly identified by a voice yelling, “Police! Open up!”
They were downstairs, coming to rescue us! But the dude was still somewhere in our apartment, presumably somewhere between us and the door. I felt frozen with indecision yet again and through tacit agreement, Anna and I remained in her locked bedroom, unwilling to risk a confrontation with our intruder, especially now that he knew the police had arrived.
A tense minute later there was a crash, this time from the back of the apartment in the kitchen. The police had come up the back stairs and kicked in the door. Stephanie, whose bedroom was right next to the kitchen, opened her door to find a police officer with his gun drawn.
Anna and I came out too, as the police came down the hall. The three of us stood huddled together in the back hallway as the police checked the rest of the apartment, trying to explain what had happened as quickly as possible to a freaked-out Stephanie.
An officer came back down the hall toward us, visibly less tense. “He passed out on the couch. They’re taking him outside now.”
As we gave our statements to the officers, the rest of the story came out. The mystery dude was indeed a drunk college student, and this was his third offense of this variety. The officers told us this happened all the time. The houses near the campus all look similar and break-ins were often the result of confused drunk kids that thought they were at their own home. Still, “it could have been worse,” one officer said gravely, echoing my own thoughts.
I’m incredibly grateful that the scariest situation of my life turned into a silly story to share at dinner parties. It is frightening to think of how much worse the situation could have been and how completely unprepared I was to handle it. I try to protect myself the best way I can now: Never walk alone at night, always let people know where I am, double-check the locks before bed. I should probably take a self-defense class, but I have yet to do so.
Another, less practical consequence of the break-in: I take my horror films even more seriously than I did before. While it was already unlikely that I would visit an abandoned insane asylum or a decrepit cabin in the woods, they’re definitely off the list now. I don’t mess around with graveyards, baby-sitting, or lots of drugs and alcohol (OK, maybe some alcohol). And I never, ever say, “I’ll be right back.”
*Names have been changed.