Bang. Bang. Bang.
At the last one, the barrier gave way, followed by the sound of footsteps thundering across the floor above me. Dangerous energy exploded inward immediately, alerting me that something was very wrong.
I texted my roommate to ask her if perhaps her son was home, banging around.
“It’s probably just the neighbors upstairs, they have a 3 year old.”
Oh, how I wanted her statement to be true, but the distinctly artificial voice of the alarm system had already announced that someone had entered the apartment.
As the realization that I was in real trouble spread through me, I had to fight against my fear, to will myself into action. I wanted nothing more than to close my eyes and pretend I was dreaming.
Someone was in the house with me.
This thought burned its way through me until I could no longer avoid it. Terror exploded inside of me. All rational thought subsided. My body leapt into movement. In one fluid motion, I grabbed my phone, checked the lock on my bedroom door, and hid myself in the closet.
I attempted to send another text to my roommate. I quickly tapped my fingers across the screen. My phone was devoid of all but a few seconds of battery power, and I was dismayed when my shaking hands produced nothing but gibberish on the screen.
Hysteria began to rise up in me, but I refused to let it take over. I needed the energy to will my phone to work. I returned to the home screen and pressed the power button, gently hoping that the brief moment of rest would give my phone what it needed to complete the task. I began to compose my message again, this time more deliberately.
“Someone is in the house, call the police.” Send.
Then my phone died.
I had no way of knowing if my text had been sent or if my roommate had taken me seriously. Hope was all I had.
I knew it was only a matter of time before the intruder made it from the first floor to the lower level where I was hiding. With growing dread, I listened to the sounds of destruction above me. The most terrifying sound of all was hearing the intruder make a high-pitched shriek of elation at some unknown discovery.
I heard a cold hollowness, and an undertone of invincibility that made me wonder about the person who had made the sound. It was at once juvenile, reckless, and violent.
The lights came on in the hallway outside of my bedroom door. I heard the intruder open the laundry room door across the hall from my room. I held my breath and waited for the inevitable.
I suddenly felt a presence on the other side of the door, and the intruding energy pushed me further into the closet. The soft click-clack of the hangers behind me jolted me back to my senses. Had they heard me?
Shortly afterward, the door to the bedroom next to mine was opened. I was confused. Had they passed my room up? I was afraid. Would they come back to try again? At some point I realized that I was still hearing movement upstairs.
There was more than one person in the house.
The facts, devoid of emotion, seemed to reveal themselves to me in layers. I was only given enough awareness in each moment to deal with the task at hand; probably to prevent me from shutting down completely. The reality of what was happening became clearer.
I considered my options. I grabbed the metal afro pick comb from the floor by my bed. I could stab them with it if they made it into the room.
No, that wouldn’t work. I would be outnumbered, and an attack on one would undoubtedly provoke more violence from the other intruders.
I gingerly removed my flip-flops and thought about running for it. There was a back door on the basement level that led outside. I quietly walked over to my bag and took my ID, debit card and bus pass out.
No, I couldn’t run. I wasn’t sure if the gate that encircled the parking lot would unlock. I couldn’t take the risk of being trapped inside, especially since the alarm would announce my departure.
I was in extreme survival mode. I vacillated between the urge to fight for my life, the pressure to find a way to escape, and the desire to curl into a ball in the deepest recess of my closet and never emerge.
I was painfully aware of the fact that the decision I made could very well determine if I lived or died.
I finally decided that if confronted, instead of fighting, instead of running away, I would appeal to the intruders. I would see them as human beings as frightened as I, and communicate with them on that level.
I tried to prepare what I would say, but the part of my brain that controls memory and speech functions had stopped working. I didn’t know exactly what would come out of my mouth, but I felt the right words would come if they were needed.
There was a peace in knowing that whatever my fate, I would allow my heart and spirit to stay open in a final attempt to connect with the soul of another person. There was nothing else to do but wait.
I don’t know how much more time passed. In my mind I kept repeating the phrase, “If I can just make it until the police come, everything will be OK.” I was prepared to stay in there as long as necessary.
After awhile, I heard the grainy sound of police radios near the same window, but still couldn’t rejoice in the possibility of rescue.
I walked up the stairs to the main level. At the top of the stairs I hesitated; listening for movement. I heard nothing so I moved quickly to the front door.
The sun blinded me when I made it outside. There were police cars, unmarked cars, and black SUVs lining the entire street. I was overwhelmed by all of the activity.
Surprise colored the faces of the police officers who were standing around, trying to decide what to do. I heard myself babbling. I took a deep breath.
“I was in the house. Someone broke in,” I said.
The next few hours were a blur. One of the neighbors who had just moved next door hugged me. My friend came shortly after and the tears I had been holding in came flooding out as I ran into her arms. My roommate returned to find two 42’’ TVs stolen.
Afterward, I was confused by my feelings and my behavior. On the outside, I appeared to be fine. I was surprised by my ability to put on a brave face, even laugh about the absurdity of it all when asked how I had made it through.
But inside, I felt like screaming. I had been violated and impregnated with fear. I could feel the dread, apprehension and disgust crawling around inside me, making me shudder. I wasn’t sure how to get it out, how to move on with my life.
My friends showed me the way. Their support made me feel protected, loved, and safe. They breathed with me through my panic attacks, and caught me just as I was about to fall over the edge.
Their love forced me to keep my heart open when all I wanted to do was to shut down and retreat within myself. Bit by bit, they helped me release the fear and find my center again. They saved me.
I could have died that day.
I can only imagine that grace made the intruders skip my bedroom, so that I could live to complete my mission. I still have work to do, and after being afraid that I might die before I get to complete it, I no longer take this responsibility lightly.
For so long I have fought against the truth of who I am and what I am meant to do. I have even invented creative ways to run from my power and my destiny, and been frozen with apathy and indecision. It took a near-death experience for me to accept that sometimes the only viable option is to surrender.