Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Think it's time to move?

After a fresh snowfall about four years ago, while my husband was out of town skiing with some friends, I decided to shovel our sidewalk. It was late, but I didn’t realize how late because the streetlights were reflecting off the snow banks, making it seem earlier than it was. It was quiet and peaceful outside, the air was cool and crisp, and it felt good to be exerting some energy. So, there I am, lost in my thoughts, shoveling away, when a car pulls up across the street and a guy gets out. His friend stays in the passenger seat. My women’s intuition kicks in and I start feeling nervous. Something doesn’t seem right. He crosses the street and walks toward me. I keep shoveling, wondering if I could use the shovel as a weapon if I had to, wishing I had paid better attention in my self-defense class back in college.
He tells me that his friend’s car broke down and they need a few bucks for gas money.
“For five bucks I can finish shoveling,” he says.
I’m almost done shoveling and tell him thanks, but I’m almost done (and I was).
“We need gas money,” he says again. “I can finish shoveling for you.”
I try to remain calm as I suggest that he ask a neighbor instead. He shakes his head no. I realize he’s not going anywhere and tell him, “Let me go inside the house and see what I have.”
I try not to break into an all-out sprint, my heart racing, and barely remember to leave the shovel outside. Once I’m in the kitchen I lock the door with hands shaking harder than a senior with Parkinson’s. I figure he’ll get the hint that I’m not coming back outside and go away.
I am wrong.
A few minutes later, he starts banging on the front door. He’s not politely knocking. He’s banging. I’m home alone and frozen with fear. What do I do? What do I do? He’s going to break in and rob me. He’s going to rape me. He’s going to murder me. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod.
I do what any self-respecting 29-year-old would do and call my dad, even though he lives 30 minutes away.
“There’s a guy outside banging on the front door and he wanted gas money and I don’t want to call 911 if it’s not an emergency and I’m home alone and—”
My dad cuts me off, “Call 911.”
“I don’t want to bother them,” I answer. “What if he’s harmless?”
“What if he’s not?” he asks.
Good point.
I tell my dad I’ll call him right back. I hang up the landline, take my cell phone to the stairwell (for some reason I feel safe there), and call 911. I have never called 911 before. For anything. The dispatcher is very nice and tells me I am the third person in the area to call with a similar complaint. She wants me to stay on the line with her until an officer arrives. In the meantime, my poor dad is trying to reach me on our landline and I’m not picking up so he’s thinking he should jump in his truck and drive 100 mph to get to me and make sure I’m alright. I can hear the phone ringing and ringing but I am too nervous to get up out of my hiding ‘spot’ to answer it (I don’t want the Bad Guy to see me), plus I am on my cell phone with the dispatcher. The phone is ringing, my heart is pounding, and the whole time this guy is relentlessly banging on the front door. It feels like the perfect set-up for a horror movie.
After what seems like an eternity (in actuality probably a few minutes), a squad car arrives—cherries flashing—and I am finally able to stop holding my breath. I am covered in a cold sweat. I hang up with the dispatcher and call my dad back, apologizing for nearly giving him a heart attack. He’s just glad I’m alright. I peer out the window to see a young officer (my hero) talking to the a-holes. I wait inside the house. As soon as I see the big dude get in his car, I venture outside. The driver notices me, WAVES and smiles, like this is all some sick joke to him.
The officer tells me that he knows both men well and they are wanted for crimes in California, but since California doesn’t extradite, we—unfortunately—are stuck with them in Minnesota.
“They’re fairly harmless,” the officer tries to reassure me.
All I hear was “wanted for crimes.” I don’t think to ask what the crimes were. I don’t think much of anything except that I’m sure as hell not sleeping in that house alone.
The officer waits outside while I run inside and hastily pack an overnight bag. My adrenaline is pumping. I exceed the speed limit by quite a few miles as I drive up to my parents’ house. I call my husband to tell him the story, but it doesn’t sound as scary when I’m relaying it to him. It sounds like I over-exaggerated.
That whole winter I was paranoid about those guys returning to seek revenge on me. And four years later, I still don’t feel entirely safe in my neighborhood.

* Since then, there was a gang-related drive-by shooting on our street, a gang rape two blocks down from our house (the victim was six months pregnant), and two well-publicized baseball bat attacks—one victim a 49-year-old woman battling cancer; the other an 18-year-old guy—at the park we used to regularly exercise in. I know crime can happen in any neighborhood, but this is ridiculous.