Intruders, Sponge-Rollers, and Pearl Harbor

Have you ever had the daylights scared out of you? It’s a bit like being half-killed. I’m not exactly sure where the daylights are stored, but I recall one night in 2009 when my daylights left me and ran for cover.

As with almost all near-death, injury, or broken appliance mayhem story, this story beings with “my husband was gone”. He was states away for training, leaving me alone in our historic military housing in Fort Benning, GA. These homes, some of which are featured in the movie We Were Soldiers, have been renovated so that the screened-in sun porches are now master bedrooms. They are the rooms farthest from all potential exits and retain their glass-paned door to the bedroom. The closets are also almost too small for a grown person to hide in, with sliding accordion doors that close with a squeak. Our home was on the second floor, so the windows are not a viable exit. As one can probably tell from the description, my lack of an escape route is rather essential to this story.

It was the early hours of the morning on December 7. The following morning would be an early one for me at the Infantry Museum; a large WW2 tour and commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day required authentic adornment. As always when my husband is absent, I went to bed in lovely, matching pajamas, slight make-up, and perfectly coiffed hair. (Pause. Crickets.)  Oh, I’m sorry. That sentence should read, “I went to bed in sweats and, to prepare my 1940s hairstyle, my damp hair was set it bright green sponge-rollers.”

My first sign of trouble came at about 4:30am. I was sound asleep, enjoying rare pitch black and total silence, when the sound of a hairdryer came roaring from my bathroom, about 6 feet away. I lost 2 years of my life and 3 pounds on the spot. I had left the hairdryer plugged in and somehow a circuit had flipped or a demon had triggered the dryer, despite the switch remaining in the off position. After a burst of adrenaline it is hard to fall back to sleep instantly (before having an infant) so I tossed and turned in bed for a while.

Then, the cliché. A bump in the night. No, a deep thud, really. It echoed through the house easily with the wood floors and barely insulated walls. It pounded high on the wall, probably should height. My body went from a straight 180 line to a perfect 90 degree angle. Something was in the hallway, and it could not be my husband.

Thud. BANG. Someone was most assuredly in my home. Worse, it was in either the hall or the bathroom, about 20 feet away. I’d always wondered about my flight or fight instincts in this situation, and my ability to handle a firearm under pressure. My only thought was, “I’m trapped.”  As it turned out, I had total clarity and no qualms about shooting someone. I had no escape; the most dangerous rattler is one cornered. My hands flew to the lamp and pulled open the nightstand drawer. The firearm was gone. The feeling that overwhelms someone when they realize they are defenseless is much like discovering no diaper in the bag after a blow-out. It is sheer horror and determined desperation to survive the saga.

My hands flew to the lamp and pulled open the nightstand drawer. The firearm was gone. This must mean that my dear beloved had moved the weapon. This meant it was in the top drawer of his nightstand. To reach that I must get out of bed, reach his nightstand, and line myself up with the glass-paned door about 6 feet from the loud intruder. Even at my fastest, there was no way. Thankfully, my mother’s greatest babysitting advice stuck with me through the years;  “keep a Louisville Slugger behind the door. Men are easier to hit than baseballs.” Okay, Plan B.  There is NO crying in baseball.

Rustle, bang, thud. At this moment, I’m surprised and proud to say, the voice of reason kicked in. “Someone made it past a locked doors, 3 additional shut doors, up the stairs, and into the back room on military housing 2 blocks from the MP station? Okay, no escape route. Time to fight.”

My mind was racing with all kinds of images of my undoubtedly large, male, armed and dangerous intruder. I was quite sure he outweighed me by 100 pounds based on the noise level. This huge assailant was about to be added to the list of attackers taken out my feisty redheads, like Maureen O’Hara in a John Wayne movie or Reba in Tremors. Now the banging sounded like someone was going through the bathroom drawers. At this point I’m as confused as panicked. No one keeps valuables in the bathroom. I’m the only one who thinks the house’s most precious commodity is toilet paper, and that’s not worth breaking and entering and possibly being shot.

As I sprang from the bed I realized something horrifying; when one is off-balance, it is hard to fight. Much like trying to run while hugely pregnant, a head full of sponge rollers will knock equilibrium irrevocably off-kilter.  Before all major movie battles there is a famous line or pep-talk; I too, gave myself a battle cry of inspiration:  “I HAVE to fight out of this. I am NOT about to die with a head full of green sponge-rollers! Even if I do shoot someone and the firing is heard, I will put on my cute polk-a-dotted pjs, make-up, pearls, and take these rollers out so my hair looks great for the news team. If they ask, I will say I fell asleep after my nightly vacuuming. I am not a Jeff Foxworthy bit I will NOT be another woman in sweats and rollers describing the intruder on the news in Georgia, SO HELP ME GOD!”

If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin; that is what I thought. I charged that bathroom, flipped on the light…no one. The shower curtain was open, sparing me a horror-film moment.  My heart was pounding. I flew to retrieve the firearm, reaching into yet another weaponless drawer. COME ON! Where on earth was the gun?! No time for that now. I backed out of the room and into the hall. The sound of roaring thunder crashed about three inches above my head- inside the wall. At this point I was sure my assailant bore either the mark of the beast or a tail. Now I REALLY wanted to shoot something.  I searched the attic and possible openings, to no avail. I had survived a Rodent Of Unusual Size attack. The Princess Bride fans can assure you that ROUSes do exist.

Once my heart rate returned to normal and I determined I was out of imminent danger, it was about 6:00am. I found my phone – which I had totally forgotten about until now, for all of you smart people yelling “Call 911” at the computer screen. No one likes having you in the movie theater, by the way. My husband was greeted with the following text message: “Good morning! Where is the firearm? It doesn’t seem to be in the bedroom.” After about two minutes I received, “I moved it. Why do you need it?” Marriage tip; this is one of those times where back-story questions are not helpful before the answer is given.

By sunrise I was dressed for work in my grandmother’s dress, an authentic “Remember Pearl Harbor” pin, red lipstick, and victory rolled hair. I had come under attack in the early morning and survived. Obviously, this was nothing as serious as a world-scale war, but I had NOT hesitated. I had not cowered. Most importantly, I had not died in sponge-rollers and sweats.  Although I had regained my composure, I had undoubtedly had the daylights scared out of me entirely. “And that, Margerie, so you will know, and your children will someday know, is the night the lights went out in Geor-gia!”

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