It was a normal summer night, I was dreaming of rain though I could hear it through the barely cracked bedroom window, drip, drip, drip off the roof onto the concrete outside. A light wind tried but failed to rustle the soggy fallen leaves but gave the cramped, humid room welcoming whiffs of cool air. A car door shuts across the street, two quick beeps of the alarm mix with a siren from a distant highway. Falling deeper into sleep, the neighbor kids I used to babysit when I was 20 are walking horses past me on an unfamiliar street; followed quickly by my high school typing instructor holding a baby who is crying. I had been holding my breath longer than my body could stand it and I gasped, awoke briefly and took a deep breath. What had I been dreaming? There was a baby but… Drifting away again my dreams start to mix up people, places, and things from unknown times and places, patching them into stories I will never remember when I wake up. Had Jim come to bed? Why is my old boss wearing a women’s dress? Did any of the kids come home yet? Whose dog is barking? I turned to lie on my back trying to recall the last dream. Why is it so hard to remember? Was the car door one of the kids coming home? Whose baby was my teacher holding? Was that siren nearby? Trying to relax, barely awake I tell myself to not open my eyes because I would never fall back to sleep again. I sighed and was swept into a deep sleep.
I awoke with a start, presumably from another apneic snore, though briefly I wondered if I had heard a noise. Focusing on the sounds around me, I heard nothing but the rain outside. Thunder rolled somewhere far away, comforting and calming until I became aware of something touching my right leg. It took my breath away as adrenaline seized my chest and panic rushed through my body in split seconds raising the hair on my arms. Holding my breath, my mind was playing catch up to recall which dream this had been, the one where someone touches my leg, under the sheet, just above my ankle. Okay… okay, wait. Breathe…I lay as still as I could, paralyzed, eyes closed, telling myself that dreams can certainly feel real, but reassuring myself that someone had not just touched me. It was a dream. It had to be a dream. Keep breathing, try to relax I told myself. Good God. What the hell…
Breathe in, breathe out, slowly, that’s it, you can do it; go back to sleep, think of something nice. Remember? Where is that place again? The beach? The ocean? Waves gently slapping the shore, the sun, and the warmth? There we go. Sigh. My breathing becomes slower and my racing heart has started to slow down even though my consciousness is still asking, what was that I felt? Why did that feel so real? This is ridiculous, I tell myself. Then…it happened again. This time I was awake, very awake. My panic was so severe that I willed myself not to move, not to breathe, not to open my eyes. Something WAS touching my right leg, someone’s hand, this time on my shin slowly moving towards my knee. My mind is so confused with the scenarios, trying to come up with possibilities that seem rational. Nothing did. Was one of my kids sick? Why didn’t they shake my arm or my foot to wake me? Why haven’t they called my name? To put their hand under the covers and touch my leg? No, they wouldn’t do that. They are teenagers. Jim wouldn’t do that either, would he? Racking my brain to think of reasons why one of my kids or my husband would squeeze into the small space between my side of the bed and the wall to get my attention this way did not make any sense. There had to be a reasonable explanation but what was it? I kept my breath shallow, trying to stay silent but my throat felt like it was closing up and I felt faint. I needed to help whoever was trying to wake me, but who was it. I tried to whisper but my voice just cracked…”Eric?” I said, starting with my youngest son’s name. There was no answer. The hand on my leg remained there when I whispered, more clearly this time, “Christian?” Still no answer. The hand slipped away from leg, the blanket replacing it when I said, louder this time, “Sarah?” It had to be one of them, who else could it be? “Jim?” Something didn’t add up. One of them was sick, lying next to my bed, on the floor, not being able to respond to me. I opened my eyes. The room was pitch black. It took a minute to make out the dark shape on the floor beside the bed. When the shape started to move, I flung the covers off my body towards Jim’s side of the bed. My left arm hit his shoulder. He was sound asleep on his stomach, aware of nothing. I mentally checked him off my short list of people who could be on the floor beside me. I sat up slightly and reached my right hand out moving it slowly left and right in the darkness trying to connect with whoever needed me. I touched what I hoped would be one of my kids’ head and that is when I screamed. “JIM” I screamed! What I felt was not the head of anyone in my family. Within seconds of feeling the short, wet curls of thick short hair I sprang to all fours on the bed and hopped away from the dark shape onto Jim’s back and screamed again. “Jim! Jim!” I yelled, shaking him violently. “There is someone in our room! Wake up! Wake up!” Jim was a very heavy sleeper and it took him what seemed like forever to figure out where he was and who was yelling at him. As he tried to roll over, I slipped off from his back onto the floor. “He’s over there”, I cried, “Someone is over there by the wall! Someone is in our room!” my voice shaking through the sobs. Jim rubbed his eyes “What? What?” he kept saying. “What are you talking about? Where?” As I pointed, the figure next to the wall was crawling on the floor at the end of the bed slowly heading for the bedroom door. I heard a quiet male voice say, “You told me to come here.” When Jim finally realized what was happening, he reached down and grabbed the jacket of the man on the floor, lifting him easily to his feet. I sat huddled in the corner, watching and shivering. Jim, clad only in underwear, towered in height over the intruder who still insisted he had been invited but was not resisting being led out. Reaching the hallway outside our bedroom, Jim guided the man towards the apartment door which was only steps away, opened it, and gave the man a little push outside. I heard him lock the door. I let out a breath, a loud sob, uncertain how long I had been holding it in. What the hell just happened here I asked myself? Someone, a strange man, had entered our apartment, crawled right past us while we both slept without us hearing a sound and, it seemed, was preparing to crawl in beside me in our bed. Now that he was gone, I felt more scared then I had ever been in my life. He could have had a gun; he could have resisted Jim’s attempt to get him out; he could have bypassed our room and gotten into the rooms of our kids. The realization that our bedroom had been Sarah’s room until a month ago was making a huge sickening pit in my stomach. I could hardly stand to think about the “what ifs”. I was about to bring that up when Jim walked back into the bedroom. I stood up from the corner still shaking and I asked Jim whether we should call the police? He said “no, he’s gone” and he crawled back into bed, on his stomach, and covered himself with the blankets. Within minutes he was snoring. I am not sure how long I stood there staring at him in disbelief that he could just go back to sleep after what just happened. I wondered if he would even remember this in the morning. I knew I would not be able to go back to sleep. I walked down the hall and checked the lock on the apartment door again to assure it was locked. We had once again became too lax on keeping it locked, the kids were always losing their keys and with 3 of them coming and going we had started to find it easier to just keep it unlocked. I quietly opened the door to the boys’ room. Both were asleep, covers in disarray, their long lean bodies barely contained in the length of the bunk beds. They would be unhappy to learn they missed all the excitement. Before I shut their door, I noticed the baseball bats in the corner and made a mental note of them. I look into Sarah’s room, her door was rarely shut. I lean against the door frame and watched her sleep too. I thought about whether I would even tell her about what happened tonight. She definitely would be sleeping with a bat at her bedside and a knife under the mattress if I did. She hated living in this neighborhood and this would be just the ammunition she would need to try to convince us to move. I sat in the darkness of the living room the rest of the night thinking about how it had come to be that we decided to change bedrooms with Sarah. All I know is that I am so thankful we did. We never did call the police, no harm was done – except to my peace of mind – and he left peacefully. Our apartment building is identical to the building next to ours. It is probable that our intruder got the buildings mixed up and entered our apartment by mistake. Maybe he, like Jim, forgot all about the incident in the morning, too.