Sombody Had My Back
When social media emerged and we all had to start creating “profiles,” I found myself using a standard line for a description, “There but for the grace of God do I go.” It’s absolutely an apt description; I’ve been in some pretty sticky situations and have come out unscathed. It reminds me of the character, Ronette Pulaski, a friend of Laura Palmer’s, on the cult classic series, Twin Peaks. I don’t want to give anything away, in case you haven’t seen it, but Laura’s friend is saved by a guardian angel because she prays for help. The reveal of that moment happens in the movie, not the series, I highly recommend both. Anyway, I’m the chickie with the angel, no doubt, and gratitude is the order of my days.
My tales of potential whoa start when I transplanted to Columbus, to attend Ohio State University, my freshman year. I was allowed to live off campus because I had a sibling, (the hero of the final story, more on that later,) who was an upper-classman. Sandwiched in between a frat house and an apartment building, at the end of Greek row, we lived in an old three-story that had been converted into three apartments. We, three ladies, (my best friend and my sis,) occupied the second floor of the house.
There were a number of strange and frightening mishaps while I lived in Columbus, Ohio, too many to write down, but the three that follow are the hit parade of PTSD, they are the stuff nightmares are made of. The first incident in my cavalcade of creepy was a rude awakening. Literally. At some point in the wee hours of the night, (the first week I was away at college, a tender 18,) I was awakened out of a sound sleep by a large, lunar looking man, pounding on my door, yelling, “Wake up. There’s a fire.”
The delirium of sleep can be overcome in a split second. Trust me. You never saw a person fly out of bed so quickly. I scrambled for my shoes, but that was all I was allowed. The instruction was immediate and emphasized, “Follow the light.” I had no choice, you couldn’t see two inches in front of your face. The entire house was pitch black, overtaken with choking smoke. There was a fireman located at each doorway, oscillating a blinding flashlight, ushering us out of the house, one frame at a time. Standing in the freezing cold and drizzling rain, we watched the sun come up on a literal hot mess. Luckily, the fire was contained to one room, the culprit for all the smoke was a plastic hairdryer. The mess that needed cleaned up and sleeplessness that followed were the crops of that first calamity, but no one was hurt. Someone was definitely watching over us.
During most of the summer break, I held down the fort alone. I had an assistant manager’s job at a retail chain, so I lived in Columbus year-round. One night I got home from work around 11:30 and thought I heard something as I was coming in the door. As it did quite often, I figured my over-active imagination was getting the best of me and I tried to just shake it off. That imagination is pretty vivid, so I only made it as far as the couch in the living room and I laid down there for the night. Now, to be fair, I lived in the attic of this particular house and, while it was a cool space, it was the attic. Cue the tense music. Ah, no, think I’ll just hang here. I woke in the morning to the voice of my best friend, Barb, (she shared time between home and our college castle,) she had come in and was running through the house, calling my name. When she rounded the stairs and saw me on the couch, she announced with alarm, “We’ve been robbed.” Another rude awakening. This one cut so much deeper though, all of our belongings were pulled from our drawers and tossed about. He had cleaned out all the jewelry and valuables he could carry. He must have heard me coming when he was in my room though, because it was destroyed, but my jewelry box was untouched. For the next five years or so, (when I could get some,) I would occasionally wake up from a sound sleep with a start and sit bolt upright in bed screaming out at an imaginary intruder. Became a bit of a lunatic, but I was in one piece. Somebody had my back.
But the big daddy of all incidents, (the close call, that to this day elicits a flood of gratitude for the protection I was given,) was a car-jacking, or “Kidnapping,” as the court documents read. I had taken a half-day and was leaving the mall at 1:00 to go back and pack for a short trip home to see my parents, (they lived in Dayton.) As I was walking out to my car, I noticed a young man lounging on a small patch of grass near the entrance. It was a beautiful day, so it didn’t seem all that odd. He had a brown paper grocery bag sitting next to his leg. I smiled and said hello and he returned the greeting. I continued to my car, which waited for me in the closest spot to the mall. When I pulled in that morning, I thought it was my lucky day. Turned out it was.
Out of my peripheral vision I saw the guy crossing into the lot. The sun had made the car hot so I rolled the window down as soon as I got in. When I looked up to my rear view mirror I realized he had vanished. Within seconds a butcher knife was at my throat and he said, “Move over.” It’s interesting the way your mind reels and assesses the situation when something like that happens. I owned an old British car, a Cricket. It was a compact car that was closely related to a tin can. Not the most reliable set of wheels, this car had a passenger door that was stuck shut. It took two or three hefty shoulder thrusts to get the door open. As I moved into that seat I realized I was trapped. Plan B.
His first move when he got into the car was to stick the knife between the seats and pull a rope out of his bag. The next exchange can only be explained as Angelic intervention. Although my feet were literally shaking in my shoes, my hands and demeanor were calm. I assured him that he didn’t need to tie me up, that if he needed money that badly, I was anxious to help. It was as if the Angel said, repeat after me, “My brother is in prison, I understand how much you need the help.” What!?! He immediately relaxed his body and started asking me questions. It was a free association that rivaled the skill of Robin Williams. Empathy emerged as the plan. I was definitely getting help, my 19 years couldn’t have conjured that kind of composer, (who knew your feet could isolate such horrific fear.) Compassion, (that had sincerity, you must be desperate to be pushed to do such things,) was the path to my freedom. At least I thought that was my ticket, but no, that Angel had a failsafe up the sleeve ~ a manual transmission. The concern was only getting me so far. He started to turn the key in my ignition and didn’t depress the clutch. Do you drive a stick-shift? No. He said, no.
I offered to drive him where he needed to go, stretching the truth again by telling him my sister’s fiancé lived with us and they were both home. The banks were closed by that hour, so getting money back then wasn’t an option. (One of the first things I did when he got it the car was pull out the only bill I had, a twenty, and hand it to him. Then I gave him my wallet but hung on to my purse. I had a canister of mace. That was a part of plan B.) After about twenty minutes in the car, he said, “I’m going to let you go. And I’m going to watch you leave.” I had told him all I wanted to do was go back to Dayton to visit my folks, that I had no intention of calling the police. And to be honest, I didn’t. He had my wallet and knew my address. I didn’t want to give him any reason to come after me.
As soon as I settled back in the driver’s seat, (he had walked into Sears and was standing in the entrance, waiting,) I collapsed onto the steering wheel in shuddering sobs. But then I remembered him saying he was going to watch me, so I pulled it together and backed out. On the highway, I saw a cop had pulled someone over and I slammed on my breaks. Fear got the better of me, I reconsidered and headed home instead. Here’s where my sister, Mirn, the true hero in this horrendous tale went into action. By the time I got home, I had stopped crying but the blotchy residue of my power-sobbing had taken over my complexion, so the minute I walked in the door, she asked, “What’s the matter?” That’s all it took for the flood gates to release a fresh torrent. During my heaving explanation, my sister called the police to make a report. They called us back five minutes later with the news that he had been arrested. I politely declined to press charges over the phone and was told a detective would be right over. Oy.
The detective assigned to the case told me to go home and talk with my parents, they could hold him over the weekend and I could give them my answer on Monday. It was always going to be no charges; that is, until I told my Dad. As the Director of Security for an entire air base, you can imagine his answer, “You will press charges. Period.” The discussion was over.
With my big girl pants on and my parental marching orders firmly engrained, I went to the police station on Monday morning. They took me to a little room and did a line-up from pictures. He was easy to pick out, I sat inches from the guy for twenty minutes. After I made the correct identification, they left me in the room alone. A few minutes later, four detectives walked in, one from Ohio, one from Pennsylvania and two from New Jersey. My perpetrator had been on quite a spree. He had car-jacked a girl in New Jersey, drove her into Pennsylvania, raped her in the woods and left her tied to a tree. Naked. He drove her car into Ohio and wreaked it. Hoofed it to the mall where I was the next one in line.
David Lynch, the brilliant director of Twin Peaks, knows the deal; asking for guidance and protection changes outcomes. When I moved to Columbus to launch my adult life, I pondered the question, “Did you go to church and pray all those years for Mom and Dad or did you do it for you?” I decided I had done it for me; that it felt good and I was going to keep it up. And keep it up I have. I must be a tough case though, because my poor angel has had to work overtime; I couldn’t be more grateful.
There but for His grace do I go.
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