I heard the knob rattle, saw a shadow standing outside my door.
I froze, unsure of my next move. Mr. Outdoorsy Tech. It must be. He hates when I ignore him.
The knocking started.
He tried to send flowers. He left messages and sent dozens of texts, emails, and Facebook messages. All of which I have ignored.
Five days ago I ended our relationship. For good this time. It was a polite break-up. The kindest I’ve ever engineered. The most necessary of all break-ups, perhaps.
These thoughts raced through my brain, a marathon of memories and emotions competing for attention. My first instinct–as it turns out, the right instinct–was to not open the door.
I imagined myself asking him to leave through the door, how loud I’d have to speak to penetrate the wood, glass and paint. My not-yet-asleep child coming out when he heard my raised voice.
I brushed off my fears and steeled myself to be strong. Calm.
I opened the door, even though everything in me was screaming, “don’t!”
I’d ignored that inner voice for a long time; this was just another instance of acting against what I knew to be good and true.
There he was, holding the door open with his bulky body, one brown hiking boot planted firmly inside, the other on a concrete step outside. The arms that held me tenderly just last week are now holding a large rose bouquet in a square silver vase.
“Hi,” I said timidly, “I’m just heading up to bed.”
I gestured to the oversize men’s velour robe draped over my nightgown and my favorite blue footie slippers.
Mr. Outdoorsy Tech smiled weakly. “I need to talk to you. I deserve to talk to you.”
I spoke carefully, reminding myself to be kind. He doesn’t like it when I’m too assertive or too sure. It never goes well when I’m positive about something or when I don’t acknowledge his feelings. “I know you want to talk to me, and I said I would think about it, but my kids aren’t yet asleep and I’m so tired. I’m heading up to bed myself.”
He did not move, and secured his body against the open door even more, as if settling in for a fight. “I deserve ten minutes,” he demanded.
“Please, I hear that you’re hurt. But tonight is not a good night. I did not invite you over, and I can’t talk right now. I would like you to leave.”
I tried to close my door but he wouldn’t allow it. His stronger body, his taller height, and his sturdy boots all worked against me.
I’m no waif, but I’ve never felt smaller.
He resisted. He refused. “You’re not in control any longer. How does that feel?” He growled.
My mind spun as I fully grasped the situation. It was a dark, cold, fall night. My son was upstairs, and might come out any minute for yet another tucking-in. I was absolutely alone, and my phone was behind me in the next room.
And what was this about control? His anger, his frustration, and his dominance all flowed towards me, dark waves on a dark night.
He said it again, taunting me, “You’re not in control now, are you?”
My eyes searched behind him, looking for a neighbor on a jog, or perhaps out walking a dog. Someone I could yell to for help, but the street and sidewalks were empty. My lovely, quiet neighborhood suddenly felt dangerous and a bit too quiet. I felt fragile, a glass doll on a broken shelf.
I heard my voice grow more insistent, more hysterical, as I said: Please go. I can’t tonight. I need to sleep.
Please. Go. Please. Go. Not tonight. I can’t. I’m sorry. Please go.
He remained firmly in place.
“Please, if you won’t leave I’ll call the police,” I implored. I thought this threat would do it.
I was wrong.
“Go ahead,” he laughed at me. “That will just mess up your night more.”
I think I laughed out loud at this absurdity, although inside I was quivering.
We are middle class, educated people. We don’t call the police to settle interpersonal conflict. We talk and work it out.
But tonight this is not working out and I am simply scared.
I reasoned with him, “Come on, you don’t want me to call the police.” I smiled.
“Please, just go.” I tried to use the same even, confident tone I use with teenagers at work.
He didn’t budge. I attempted to pull the door closed. His boot remained inside, a soldier in combat gear.
The ex-boyfriend I had once loved (despite early warning signs) was now a threat to my serenity. An impenetrable barrier.
Just then I heard my oldest son come out of his room, “Mommy?”
I didn’t want Big Brother to see this, I didn’t want him to hear us arguing, and I didn’t want Mr. Outdoorsy Tech to have any contact with my son.
I decided I would dash inside to get my phone, call the police, and put my son back to bed all in one fell swoop.
I didn’t pause to think what Mr. Outdoorsy Tech would do. I couldn’t. I just knew I needed my son in his room, safe, and I needed the police to help me get my door closed so I could go to bed.
It all happened in a flash.
As I ran into the kitchen to grab my pink-encased smart phone, Mr. Outoorsy Tech entered my home.
He planted both boots in my living room, closed the door securely behind him, and locked it.
He was still clutching the roses. Pink, red, and white.
I panicked. I was terrified. Why would he come in after I said I didn’t want to talk? After I’d asked him, countless times, to please leave? What could we possibly accomplish?
I did the only thing I could think to do at this point: I took off running. Through my kitchen, dashing through the garage, and over to my next door neighbor’s house. I pounded on the door and rang the doorbell. When Bill answered I pleaded: “Please, come with me.”
I ran the very short distance back to my house, Bill on my heels, and that’s when it registered: my driveway was empty. How could he have driven away so fast? Wouldn’t I have heard the engine, seen the lights swing by?
When Bill and I returned to my kitchen, Mr. Outdoorsy Tech was there, leaning rigidly against my kitchen counter, arms folded. The flowers had been placed in the center of my table.
I was sobbing. I don’t know when I started crying or how I dialed 911. I’m not sure what I said, but later I checked the call log and I was on the phone with the 911 operator for 8 minutes before the police actually arrived. In my memory, it feels like both a second and a day.
Me: Howling hysterically into the phone, the operator asking me to calm down and to please tell her what’s happening. For my children I need to stay calm, she says.
Bill: “I don’t know what’s happening here, but if she asks you to leave, you need to leave.”
Mr. Outdoorsy Tech: “No, I’m not leaving. It’s not fair.” This I got from reading my neighbor’s police statement a week later.
My son: “Mommy? What’s happening? I heard you yelling at Mr. Outdoorsy Tech to go away. Are you having a fight?”
One minute before the police arrived, Mr. Outdoorsy Tech finally decided to exit back through the front door. He disappeared into the night, leaving the flowers behind.
It settled on me like a damp fog: He hadn’t parked in my driveway as he had done countless times before. He appeared like a ghost. Had I not run out to get help, nobody would’ve known he was there.
Despite multiple police vehicles and officers on foot searching with flashlights, they never found him. They did not discover his car in my neighborhood.
He had vanished.
Terror is a foot in the door.