Fear and anger converge when burglars violate a home

by Brian Clarey

It was late. Pre-dawn darkness late. Scary late.

I was in bed laying down the kind of snores that compels my wife to wear earplugs at night. She was enjoying her own fitful slumber under the covers next to me. Our sons lay tangled in a mess of sheets and blankets on a mattress at the foot of our bed, a treat reserved for weekends and the rare weeknight when there’s something really good on the Cartoon Network. They were dressed in their superhero costumes, Spider-Man and Mr. Incredible. Across the hall our daughter sawed some wood of her own – she snores just like her daddy – in the tiny bed that she graduated to on her second birthday in the fall.

Things, it seemed, were as they should be. But most assuredly they were not.

Because in the precious early-morning dusk, the slice of the day that once belonged to me and my rambunctious crowd, those hours, we used to tell ourselves, when absolutely anything was possible and when the weirdest shit always seemed to happen, there were things… people… conspiring against us. They were right outside our bedroom window. And they were trying to get in.

My wife heard something through her earplugs that, God bless ’em, failed to live up to their advertised properties. She sat up in bed.

“What are you doing?” she asked in the darkness. “Go back to bed.”

Later she tells me she saw a head by the window. She thought it was our son.

She woke me up.

“I think someone’s trying to get in the house.”

And though I generally sleep like I’ve got a head injury, that did the trick.

How many men like me fear those words more than anything else? How many of us sometimes lie awake at night replaying the scenario over and over? How many of us have nightmares about an unseen and malevolent force creeping among the ones we love and the home we’ve made? How many, when we even think about it, feel our hearts fill with rage and limb-numbing fear?

And when it all goes down, what the hell are we gonna do about it?

I woke quickly, tried to stay quiet as I fumbled for my glasses and slid them on. I crept to the edge of the bed and saw two of my babies still sleeping on their pallet on the floor. I looked and saw the blinds swaying lightly in the window frame. The sash was wide open.

I leaned to the floor and found my pants right where I’d dropped them before I crawled in bed. My phone was still in the pocket. I pulled it out, dialed the magic number and handed it to my wife.

I slipped from under the covers and got the only weapon within reach, a fraternity paddle I keep on the top shelf of my closet.

Yes, I was in a fraternity. Now is not the time.

My wife had the 911 operator on the line and I moved towards the open window, rearing back with the sturdy wood paddle, picturing the dent I could make in a man’s head with it, wondering if I had the balls to do it.

And I saw him. I saw the motherfucker, the tips of his fingers as they separated the blinds and allowed a slash of light to play across his right eye.

I reared back again.

“Get the fuck out of here!” I said.

My wife told me later how scared I sounded. But I guess it did the job.

There’s more to the story, of course – my room to room search, flicking on lights and attacking shadows; checking on my daughter and nearly weeping with relief to see her undisturbed; my window screen lying mangled in the grass in my backyard like a bird that had been shot down in flight.

And the Greensboro Police Department, it must be said, responded in a few short minutes, though they were the longest of my life. And to the credit of the force, which has been having troubles of its own as of late, the crime was solved before the sun came up.

Seriously: Thanks, guys. If we ever get a good night’s sleep again, it will be in no small part to you.

They were teenagers, of course, though not unfamiliar with the penal system despite their youth, and their pre-dawn confession will put them at the mercy of the justice system.

My wife and I are talking about getting a gun. Or a dog. Maybe both. We’re certainly going to increase security measures in our house and our yard. Today.

And we’re scared. The “what-ifs” are piling up like garbage over in my house, and beneath them all is the certainty that one more illusion we held about the world is gone for good.

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