It's funny how certain things bring back memories from the past; whether it's a scent, a song, or something as simple as driving past a city park. Today, it was the latter situation that took me back a couple decades. This is the day as I remember it:
Memorial Day, 1985.
I was one month away from turning 17 years old.
I was finishing my Junior year in high school.
(Ironically, it's exactly the age my daughter is today....)
One of the worst days of my life -- up to that point.
Grandma Ruby was sick. She had cancer and was close to death. Usually we go to the mountains for Memorial Day, but due to Grandma's illness, we stayed home. Mom was at Grandma's house helping, spending time with her dad, her brothers and sisters. My dad was left at home with us... wondering what he could do to keep us entertained and keep our minds off the fact that our beloved grandmother was dying. We had the wonderful idea to prepare a picnic to take to the park. To be honest, I'm not sure what food was prepared for this picnic. All I remember is that Dad gave me the assignment of making potato salad.
I had never made potato salad before. It was always my job to make the cookies and treats. I didn't even like potato salad, but Dad wanted to give me a challenge, so I went ahead and made it... without a recipe!! Under Dad's direction, I threw in a little of this and a little of that and voila! That was the one high point of the day. That potato salad was delicious and the best potato salad I had ever had.
We put it in the fridge and got other food ready for our picnic.
Unfortunately, as the time to go to the park approached, so did the rain clouds. They opened their gates and rain poured down, cancelling our picnic and brought our spirits even lower. There was nothing else we could do: we didn't have cable TV or a VCR, so we were limited as to what we could watch; it was too wet to go outside and plant the garden (which was my father's second choice of activities, I'm sure); none of my friends were available to hang out with so when a family friend called and asked -- last minute -- if I could babysit for a couple hours that night, I said sure. They promised they'd be home by 10 pm.
So far, it's just a gloomy day, isn't it? I haven't written about anything that would make it the worst day in my 17 short years have I?
Just wait, it gets worse.
The evening progressed as well as possible. The three boys I was watching were good kids. I loved them and I think they were fond of me as well. Shortly after I got them into bed the phone rang. It was my dad. He wanted me to know that Grandma had just passed away.
I was so sad. I wanted to go home to be with my family and I couldn't. Crying, I sat down on the couch in the living room, watching the clock and watching TV, waiting for the kid's parents to come home.
At 10:00 the news came on. I felt disappointed because the parents said they'd be home by then and they weren't! I kept watching the news. When the weather came on at about 10:15 I wanted to look outside and see if it was still raining.
**Editor's note: (If you're still with me on this, CONGRATULATIONS!! I tend to write looong posts when I'm reminiscing.) At this point I need to describe the house I was at. The living room was at the back of the house. The backyard had a big privacy fence all around it. There was a large picture window that took up the length of the living room and the couch was in front of that window. The curtains were open. At the end of the window was the back door into the house. Even though it had been raining, it was warm and the door was open with the screen door closed but unlocked. Back to my story, and hold on... it gets a little more exciting:
As I said, I wanted to see if it was still raining, so I turned around and looked out the window. Instead of getting a view of the backyard I got a view of something else.... it was a naked man.
Yes, you read that right! There was a man, with no clothes on, pressed against that living room window, watching me. (Yes, I'm leaving some details out here. Remember, Rated G!)
It took me about three seconds to register what I was seeing and then I stood up and screamed and ran down the hallway to the parent's bedroom, where the oldest boy was sleeping. I slammed the door closed and got on the phone to call for help. I called the first and only person I knew that could help me... my daddy.
He had just crawled into bed. He told me to call 911, threw his clothes back on, called my uncle who was at Grandma's house -- which was a couple blocks away -- and drove 90 mph to get to the house as quickly as possible.
Call 911? DUH!! The thought hadn't even occurred to me! So I dialed quickly... forgetting that the door into the house was still completely open and unlocked.
"911... What's your emergency?"
"THERE'S A NAKED MAN IN THE BACKYARD!!"
"Where are you?"
"What's your location, ma'am?"
"My location? I don't remember their address!"
"Is there anyway you can find out? Please stay on the line...."
I remembered the little boy that was asleep in the room. He was 8 or 9 years old (?) and should know his address....
"TYLER!!! TYLER!!! WHAT'S YOUR ADDRESS?!? WHERE DO YOU LIVE?!?!"
A groggy Tyler answers, "I live at home."
He was no good to me.
I jump back on the phone and say, "Sorry. He's asleep. He can't tell me the address."
The 911 operator kept telling me to stay on the line. I could hear people at the dispatch center trying to trace my phone call. Eventually I hear the name of the people I'm babysitting for.
"YES!!! That's the name of the family!"
Which finally led to the address of the home.
It all came rushing back to me. Of course I knew the name of the parents and of course I knew that they lived at that address.
By that time my Uncle (my hero) was at the door. He was pounding, ready to break the door down. I told the operator that someone was there. They let me go. Uncle K came bursting through the door and ran to the back yard. "IF I EVER CATCH YOU, YOU SON OF A B**CH I'LL KILL YOU!!!" (can you see why he's my hero?)
Naked Man was gone. I was very blessed. I shudder when I think what could have happened with that unlocked door. The police arrived and my daddy arrived. I started giving my statement to the police and was almost finished when the parents drove up. As a parent, I look back on that and wonder at the horror they must have felt when they turned on to their street and saw police cars (I think there were 2) as well as two other cars in their driveway?
The police kept asking me if I could identify this man. Seriously? Think about where I was sitting in proportion to where he was standing. Did they really think I could see his face? I was embarrassed about that for a long time, but in my old age, I realize that there are few people in my situation that would have seen a face.
After all this happened, a few facts came to light. The police found his underwear in the flowerbed in the backyard. Evidence. Too bad DNA wasn't as available as it is today because, there was a definite suspect in the case. The mom of these kids was being stalked by a crazy man. He had been calling her, watching her and harassing her for some time. Our hair was a similar length and style and since he could only see the back of me, he thought she was sitting on the couch watching the news. Again... knowing how he was obsessed with her, it is a real blessing that nothing happened with that open back door!
The reality is that he was probably as shocked as I was when I turned around and I was not the person he thought I was. Does that make sense?
To conclude: The guy was eventually incarcerated for a terrible crime. The crime was not committed against this woman, but he continued to harass her from prison. I don't know if he has been released, and personally, I hope he hasn't.
Uncle K has always held a special place in my heart for the role he played that night. The fact that he came over to save me from a crazy person with no thought about his own safety means more to me than any other gift he could have given me.
That night I realized how much my dad really loved me and how much I needed him. Oh sure, I was growing independent and thought I was mostly grown-up, but when I came down to it, he was my knight, my protector and the only person in this whole world who could keep me safe from evil. I still smile when I think of him driving 90 mph through the darkness of the night. And I shudder when I think of what a horrific drive that must have been for him, not knowing what he would find once he reached his destination. Thanks, Dad, for being there for me!!
After effects of that night: DO NOT... I repeat DO NOT jump out at me from a dark window. I will most likely hit you, throw an object at you or otherwise injure your body. Twenty-four years later, I still hate dark windows.
Memorial Day 2009 was nothing like the one of 1985. Well, it rained. But the similarities end there.