Standing in the shower and hearing someone break in to your apartment

Many readers have asked me why I write the kinds of books I do - where a girl is kidnapped, being chased, held captive, or otherwise in danger. For a long time, I would say I didn't know. I had a great childhood in a safe neighborhood.  I've never been kidnapped, chased, etc. But something had happened to me. I just didn't like to think about it. So I mostly didn't.

The Night I Could Have Died
It all goes back to a night in 1982. A night when I could have died, but didn't.

Corbett ApartmentsWhen I first moved to Portland for my last term of college, I lived in an old apartment building that probably dated back to the 1920s. These apartments were carved into a steep hillside just below the freeway. The hill was held back by a retaining wall a few feet from the back of the apartments. Because of the steep hill, the building had shifted over the years. If you dropped a pencil, it would roll into one corner.  You couldn't lock the bathroom door because it no longer fit in the frame. You just closed it until it caught.

UnknownIn 1982, everyone was doing Jane Fonda exercises, and I was no exception. I didn't have the doofy legwarmers, but I did have a leotard. And on the night in question, I had been doing my Jane Fonda exercises. And like everyone in the apartment building, I didn't have curtains on my back windows. Why should I, a broke college student, go to the expense of buying curtains when there was only a retaining wall back there?

Naked and Shivering
That night, as I did my donkey kicks, I head rustling from the back. Raccoons, I figured. Then I turned off all the lights, went into the bathroom, stripped, and got into the shower.  At which point I heard another noise. A rusty-sounding squeal.

It sounded like someone forcing open my kitchen window.

I turned off the water and stood there, dripping in the silence. Only it wasn't completely silent. Because I heard footsteps. In my kitchen. And I was naked and shivering, staring at the door that didn't close, let alone lock.

For a minute, I was frozen with a combintation of disbelief and horror. I finally got out of the shower and dragged on my leotard. Then I stepped out into the dark hallway and said, "Who's in my kitchen?"

No answer, but I could hear a man. Breathing.

I came to my senses and ran past the kitchen and through the living room and out the front door. I remember being too frightened to reach back into the darkness to close the door.

Guns Drawn
o-POLICE-OFFICER-GUN-facebookI pounded on my neighbor's door. He answered wearing tiny black briefs and releasing a cloud of pot smoke. He was a law student at the time.  "I'll call that new emergency number!" he shouted.  "1-1-9!"

"I think it's 9-1-1."  I answered. He did, and then he ran around opening all the windows and waving his arms, trying to dissipate the smell.

And when the two cops showed up - a man and a woman - there we were, me in my wet clinging leotard and my neighbor in his tiny black briefs. For a long time, this was the part of the story I focused on. The funny part.

They searched my apartment, found no one, and talked to me in my living room. Then there was a thump from the bedroom. Both cops drew their guns. It was like a bad movie, because in walked - my cat. Which was also kind of funny.

The Mystery of the Missing Dishtowels

Unknown-1The cops asked me to look through my apartment to find what was missing. I was a poor college student. I didn't own a lot for someone to take. But all my dishtowels were missing. I thought this was amusing. "Why not take my salt shaker?" I said to one of the cops. "Or my pancake turner?"

"Ma'am," he said, "he was planning on tying you up with them."

I spent that night at my boyfriend's, and moved out shortly thereafter, when the landlord was taking his sweet time about fixing the broken lock. As for who broke into my apartment that night, I think it was one of the painters - or someone they knew - who had been working on the backside of the building a week earlier.

The Girl I Could Have Been
So I was very lucky.

But today I'm thinking about the girl I could have been. Tied up with her own dishtowels. Certainly raped. Probably murdered.

So yeah, there's a reason I write what I do.
Holy Crap!!
You know, I think you told me this story at a conference but not like this. As scary as shit!!!But you did the one thing they never do in teen movies....YOU GOT OUT OF THE HOUSE!

Good girl!
Yeah, I like that commercial where the people are debating where to hide from the killer and it gets worse and worse, until they are hiding behind a wall of chainsaws.

I get asked all the time during school visits and I've been saying no, I was never kidnapped, etc. It's like the further I came from it, the less I thought of it. Just like I never think about being so poor I couldn't afford to heat the place, so I slept in sweaters, a bathrobe, a hat AND my coat. But that probably shaped me too.

PS We need to cross paths agains sometime.
Whoa! Scary! So glad you ran and good thing you did Jane Fonda so you COULD run! ;-)
Or at a minimum donkey kicked. It's so creepy to think of him watching me as I thought I was in total privacy.
You get cooler every time you write about yourself. You know that, right? I'm glad you were able to use your experience to create something instead of letting it hold you back.
I think it dug in deep like a splinter. I used to write more traditional mysteries. It's only with YA that I have turned to thrillers.
We do tend to try and forget the scary stuff. I'm glad you got out!
There are so many ways that could have gone wrong. And I still can't get over how stupid I was to stand there and ask.
Welp. I won't be sleeping ever. OMG. When I got to the line about hearing the man, "Breathing." Holy crap. Nope, nope, nope. And then the dishtowels.

I'm so, so, so this was an "almost" story and that you're okay. So many stories don't turn out this way, as you no doubt know. You were amazing clear-headed (and brave!) in running out of the house, especially right past the intruder.

Having someone come into my house while I'm here -- especially in bed, being in the shower, or in some other way vulnerable -- is one of my worst fears. In fact, I have a recurring nightmare of waking up to someone standing beside my bed.

(I recently read Sebastian Junger's book "A Death in Belmont" about the Boston Strangler. I don't normally read true crime books, but I'd heard him interviewed on NPR several years ago about this book, and his description of a particular incident with his mother and the guy who turned out to be the Boston Strangler (Al DeSalvo) really stuck with me. DeSalvo was doing some work on their house and one particular day, he'd gone into the basement to check on something for her. He called her down to come look at something and when she went to the top of the stairs, she saw him standing at the bottom of the stairs with a disturbing look in his eyes. She put him off and didn't go down, and made an excuse to leave. Turns out, he'd just killed (or was about to kill, I can't remember) a neighbor around the corner. It's a brief passage in the book, but is by far the most terrifying.)

And now that I've sent enough shivers up my spine to ensure I will need to turn on all the lights in the house, I'm going to look for cute kitty pictures.

Edited at 2014-12-03 08:31 pm (UTC)
There must be so many girls who can't tell their stories because they are dead. Have you ever read The Lovely Bones? After I did, I read her memoir called Lucky about being brutally raped - but "luckily" not murdered - and realized exactly where The Lovely Bones came from.
Wow. WOW. I'm so glad you got out, and that you're here to share stories with us.