“Hey kid…you ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight?”
Make no mistake; writing can be intimidating. Blogging is not an entirely natural phenomenon for me, being an individual who values her privacy. I do, however, love and need to write so, occasionally, I fight my inclinations toward reticence and unleash my word-horde, as Beowulf would have it.
Today, my composure has been shaken by something as unassuming as a sentence prompt. In the attempt to jog my mind into action, it has released a river of feelings I have hoped to bury for good. I do not wish to think about this event, on a Friday of all days at the end of a very long week. Even now my mind is screaming at me, begging me not to post this. Why can’t I write about revisiting old blog posts and cringing, or raging against Chris Brown, or gushing about how much I love Fringe and/or John Noble?
Perhaps it is time to exorcise this ghost, once and for all.
The challenging sentence, given by Cyranetta in her Friday Notions post is as follows: “I wasn’t exactly prepared when disaster struck.”
No. No, I wasn’t. And it nearly changed the entire course of my life.
It was a Friday morning, the very day that my grandparents were to come down to my university and help me move my ridiculous amount of stuff back from graduate school. I woke up, expecting to see them at my door within the hour. Instead, I received a phone call that would turn my blood to ice. My grandmother’s voice was on the phone telling me that a man had broken into their home, held them up at gunpoint, and had nearly murdered them both in an attempt to rob our home.
I vaguely remember my brain clouding in shock as she continued to relay each horrifying detail: he had broken down the door, knocked my 80-year-old grandfather to the ground and threatened them both with his Uzi. She remembered his face was unmasked, meaning he had no fear of identification. He attempted to get them to go upstairs; I think we all know what would have happened next had they obeyed. They put him off his guard by lying and telling him that I was asleep upstairs. In reality, I should have been upstairs since my original plan was to stay with them the night before and drive back to graduate school with them.
I’m not sure now why I changed my mind: perhaps I was tired. Perhaps I went out with friends instead. Perhaps I’ll never stop wondering why I didn’t go. Had I been there, what would I have done? Would I have done something stupid in an attempt at heroism and gotten us all killed? Would I have made a difference? Could I have stopped him? I wake up at night in a cold sweat and wonder sometimes.
Whatever the reason, the thought of another person upstairs gave him pause. I’m not sure I remember the exact details of what happened next but I believe he then made an aggressive move towards my grandfather and my grandmother stepped in front of him to shield him from whatever happened next.
It is hard for me to continue after typing those words, thinking of my grandmother’s love and her near sacrifice. My grandmother, who was not in the best of health at the time, acting as a human shield for her husband of more than 50 years. My world stops spinning at the thought.
Her distraction of the would-be killer gave my grandfather enough time to hit the emergency button on their home alarm system and the robber ran out the door, making away with my grandmother’s wedding rings instead of their lives. The police came, reports were given and filed, and my grandparents were advised not to have too much hope that this guy could be found and caught. Grandma said that she stayed up most of that night using her incredible artistic talents trying to sketch the face of the man who had threatened them both. As of the writing of this post, he was never caught and her rings never recovered.
I wonder sometimes how often they recall this event and whether or not it haunts them as it has occasionally haunted me. My grandfather brings it up on occasion in the context of how he would have thrashed the guy if he’d had a weapon of some kind at hand. He, at least, seems to have come to grips with it; as to my grandmother, I’m not so sure. Whenever the subject has come up, the rest of the family usually replies with some platitude about how we’re just grateful that they’re both alive and quickly change the subject. I’m not sure any of us, nearly 6 years later, are ready to fully acknowledge the significance of that day and how that would have affected/changed /shattered our lives forever had even one moment unfolded in a different manner.
I don’t want to appropriate and trivialize this event by making it about me, but it is hard for me to deny the obvious parallels between this incident and a critical moment in the fictional life of the young Bruce Wayne. My grandparents have effectively acted as my parents for all of my life and their loss would have transformed me in ways that I cannot begin to fathom. Would I have spent my whole life finding ways to hunt down their killer in an unending and unholy crusade? Would a desire for vengeance have unhinged and corrupted me? Would I have ended up in jail, my life wasted and hollow? How would this event have defined me? Does it to this day?
Ultimately I believe that I still suffer from a transferred form of survivor’s guilt. If they were spared, why was I so lucky and what does it mean, if anything? What have I done with this rare opportunity? I embrace the fact that Someone up there was looking out for them and that, aside from a momentary loss of a sense of security, we could be grateful, move on, and continue to work to make this life a better place for others and our family. It’s a wretched cliché, but I have worked to appreciate their lives and presence all the more and I tell them that I love them as often as I can. For anyone out there who did not escape this fate, my thoughts are with you for healing and for the closure you seek, whatever that may be.
I’m thankful you exist, Batman, but you can keep your night job.