A surprise, winter storm left me sitting in my dark family room listening to the wind whip through the trees while the branches rubbed frantically against the side of our house and window. The leaves created creepy shadows across my carpet and walls. The rasping and creaking sounded like someone trying to break in to my house.
It reminded me of another stormy night years ago, as a small child, when a similar storm sent me diving under the bed covers shivering from fear. It seems like yesterday, but then I realize some of the facts are fading from my mind, especially since I was never sure whether what I saw that night was real or a dream.
My bedroom was on the second story of our three-level, “L-shaped”, Swiss/German chalet-styled home on Holmes Point Drive in Kirkland, Washington. I had grown old enough to get my own bedroom one flight down from my mother’s and father’s room, and my baby brother’s room. I was so excited to have a room of my own! My new room was down a long, dark hall, running in back of a large country kitchen. The hall ended in our glassed- in family room looking out across the lawn and flower gardens.
Our home sat on an acre and a half of lawn and trees, in a very rural, wooded area. The road in front was an oiled gravel road. We had very few neighbors, as our street bordered Lake Washington on one side, and the woods, where we lived on the other side.
I remember awakening in the middle of the night and listening to the wind howling. The branches lashed against my window as if they wanted to come in. The moon’s reflection through the leaves of the giant Quince tree outside my bedroom window created eerie images. The shadowy claws seemed to reach out for me. The creaks and groans inside the house escalated my fanciful thoughts and fear. My heart started to pound, I closed my eyes tight hoping my imagination would settle down. I was terrified of being alone, but was trying so hard to be a “big girl” so I could keep my own bedroom and not have to share with my brother.
As I peeked out of the covers, two huge glowing eyes seemingly peered into the room watching me. The eyes appeared to be crouched on a huge limb while the shadowing of the leaves around the smoldering globes made the face appear to be some form of tiger or monster studying me. I didn’t know what to do, but I figured if I lay as still as a statue, while trying to hold my breath, the creature would believe I was asleep, so the bogeyman wouldn’t know that I had seen him.
Suddenly the windows shook from what I thought was the boom of thunder and I heard a terrible crash, like the tinkling of breaking glass, the sound that lightning sometimes makes. All this noise took place while I was now hiding at the foot of my bed under the quilts shaking. I was too afraid to go to mom’s and dad’s room, since it was a long way from mine, and I would have to brave the dark, deserted house, to climb the stairs alone. Besides, mom would get really angry at me if I disturbed her sleep. I wanted to run to my mom, but I was afraid to. Eventually, I must have fallen into a troubled slumber.
Next morning when I wandered along the gloomy hall to the family room, I was shocked to find the glass paneled French doors of the family room shattered. The shards of glass had been swept up and the door was covered with plywood. The furniture had been straightened but the room still lay in slight disarray as if a fight had taken place.
My best friend, our one year old, pure-bred, German Shepherd, Duchess, came hobbling out to greet me. Her right ear was bandaged like an upside-down ice cream cone, and the corner of her mouth was taped where the vet had stitched it, and her paw was bandaged. I cried “Mommy, what happened?”
“Someone broke into our home last night. The intruder and Duchess fought, but Duchess protected us and chased the man away.”
Now many years later, a familiar name jumped out at me from an article in the Seattle Times, our local newspaper. It was a story about my former childhood neighbor and periodic babysitter, who had lived across the street from my old house. He was now in his seventies, but according to the article he had a police record for exposing himself to women and children. The paper had reported that he had been caught exposing himself to a child and her mother at the park near our old neighborhood.
I was horrified as my mother and this man’s mother were close friends. His mom taught my mom how to make pottery. They gardened together, and his mom had even rescued me from sleep walking out in our yard late one other night.
Seeing this man’s name and reading about his background with women and children made me wonder if this man had been the person who broke into our home that night. Had he actually been heading for my room only to be attacked by Duchess? In those days, scandalous subjects were so forbidden that everyone hush-hushed them and swept them under the carpet. Never to be talked about, especially in front of young children.
In all these years, I never thought to question my parents further about what happened that night or if they knew who broke into our home. So I couldn’t resist doing a teeny bit of detective work, as maybe I can get Gibbs of NCIS to hire me. It was easy, as I picked up the phone and called a mutual friend that grew up with my former neighbor and who keeps in contact with my ex-neighbor’s family. I was saddened and relieved to learn that my former neighbor had not broken into my childhood home, but in the last few years he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s so his personality had changed and he was doing things he normally would not have considered doing.
So why had I so quickly jumped to conclusions that someone I had trusted as a child would have broken into my home to harm me? Here as an adult, I had jumped to conclusions and assumed the worst because of a newspaper article that had not included all of the facts. This situation was a good lesson for me in – not assuming the worst about people before finding out ALL the facts.