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the time i survived a home invasion
My recent trip within unearthed my feelings on my journey so far. I drove down memory lane to cherish jewels and precious memory stones. I found this gem of a story in the dirt—whole, intact, and unblemished. It would’ve been rude to keep this from you.
I have two icebreakers I fling out from time to time—I worked at a chocolate factory for six months, and I survived a home invasion. The former usually gets a “oooh Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” reaction. The latter makes people think I have superhuman reflexes or an uncanny penchant for smelling doom—neither of which is true.
Let’s time travel back to early days of the pandemic, back when we didn’t know whether we would be sheltering in place for a few months or years, around the time we were doing that awful thing of disinfecting our grocery produce. Something I did only once. To appease my roommate back then.
I lived with my best friends—sisters from another mother, two peas in a pod who could start and finish each other’s sentences. Those early pandy-days were actually fun for us. We watched renditions of dumb shows. We drank too much wine and recorded a whole season of a mildly-scandalous relationship podcast. (Don’t ask for the link or audio, it has been scrubbed off the internet so we can maintain a modicum of professionalism.) We had a lovely Friday evening routine—someone would make dinner, another would provide the libations and the last person handled the agenda, “operations”, and dress code.
As we tethered right on the cusp of coherent tipsiness, but before plunging into drunken babble, we would head to the recording station—our dining table fitted with three wired microphones on cheap, plastic stands cobbled together from Amazon. The balance was fun—we all grew up in different places and had different perspectives. We already talked about this stuff all the time. It was the stuff single people in their mid-twenties waffled about—whether it’s fine to ghost someone (nah), navigating dating apps and situationships.
These nights were a beautiful refuge amidst the global chaos. As the world was crumbling and being thrown in different directions, our project provided a semblance of control and fun that we could relish and look forward to.
This very house that housed wine, laughter and three silly individuals was the same one that was upended by an unwelcome guest one Tuesday evening.
How did it happen?
One of my roommates had a penchant for watching scary, true-crime documentaries. We watched documentaries together (about frauds—Adam Neumann, Imelda Marcos, Elizabeth Holmes, Fyre Fraud, the Tinder Swindler), but when it crossed over into the ghoulish, murderous territory, I’d tap out. She’d delve further, driving deeper into the night using the narration of a gruesome crime to soothe herself to sleep.
One random Tuesday evening, she called my phone around 2AM. That in itself wasn’t surprising. I was half-awake and my phone was resting on my chest. So it buzzed and woke me back up. I picked up the call. “Shushhhh, can you come into my room right now!”
I thought she needed me to kill a spider or grab something from a high cabinet.
Like a zombie, I sleepily walk over to her door and knock. No response. Weird. I knock again. She texts me to say “come in”. I walk in.
“Can you hear that?” she whispers, pointing at the ceiling.
“Huh, what?”I groggily respond.
“I think there’s someone up there.”
At this point, I’m like “See, this is why you should not watch all those horrible true-crime shows.” You start to hear things, or worse, you start to worry based on things you hear. And then sleep deserts you.
“Shhhhhh, I’m coming to your room.”
We walk back to my room. Mind you, my room had a screen door that extended to our balcony. That door was almost always locked at night. But it provided a way to get out if we needed to get away. But wait—get away from what?
She walks into my room and locks us both inside. I make sure the screen door is locked. I ask her to describe what she heard and where she thinks it’s coming from.
She points up at the roof and describes a kind of rustling that sounded too loud to be breeze dragging dead leaves across. Hmm could it be a bird? An eagle making a quick refueling pitstop? A flying antelope?
I strain my ears and look at the ceiling as if that would help me hear better. I start to hear something but I can’t make out what it is…or whether it’s cause for concern. You know houses make noises, not in the haunted, ghost-enchanted way, but like wood creaking, pipes stretching, and wind whistling.
Anyway, I wasn’t trying to be a hero…that’s how you get dead. So I suggested we call the police. Or call Chris—the guy who lived downstairs who moonlighted as our handyman and our first port of call for anything in the house.
I’m trying to remain calm because if there is a problem…that’s what will keep us safe. As the only man in the house, I feel a physical responsibility—if I need to hit someone to keep us alive, well, I have to do so. I look down and slap my thighs—you might need to kick someone’s head today🥴. But, I’m also trying to rationalize the situation. Trying to tell myself all the logical reasons why that rustling sound is coming from the roof. In sweet disbelief, I say “Hey, what if Chris is fixing the roof?”
At 2AM?? What kind of maniac does that? Of course, there was no chance that was happening. But clearly, I didn’t want to believe there was an intruder about.
We lock ourselves in the bathroom and call the police. They say they’ll send someone over in a few minutes. OK cool. At this point, our third roommate had woken up from her sweet slumber and locked herself in her own room too.
We call Chris half-expecting the line to ring and ring because it’s 2AM on a school night. But he picks up instantly. Weird. Hmm maybe he is on the roof after all? Or is he just awake at this time?
“Hey sorry to bother you at this time, but we think someone is on the roof. Is that you?”
“Uhh, no wtf. But I can check. I’ll look through the skylight”
Immediately…and I mean within a few seconds, we hear what sounds like a scuffle through the phone. Metal clinging on metal. Someone panting and running. It sounds like Chris is chasing someone but I don’t know where they are. I’m hearing this through the speaker phone.
In hurried breadth, Chris goes: “If I f—ing catch you, I’m gonna hurt you, mother******”
My roomie audibly gasps and gives me that “I told you” look. I usher her back into the bathroom. We’ll be safe there. It doesn’t matter if I believe it. I had to convince myself that it’s true so we can stay calm.
Then, it all goes quiet.
Wait—is this a good thing or a bad thing? Is Chris okay? Are we ok? Was there only one person on the roof or did an an accomplice get Chris?
For ten minutes that felt like an eternity, we waited silently in that bathroom. I don’t remember what the signal was…but something happened that made us feel safe enough to step outside. We heard Chris chatting with the police. They had searched the entire area and confirmed it was a lone actor.
But who? Why?
The police lady asks us to recount what happened. We tell her. She tries to make us laugh—”I know it’s gonna be hard to sleep now, but you should get some rest”. It wasn’t funny. She promises to put extra men to patrol the area for the next week. Reassuring us that we were safe because intruders rarely ever return to the same house….unless it’s a targeted attack. Which she doubted.
I ask one roommate if it could be one of her previous dates. “Stop making these men fall in love with you….so we can sleep in peace, please”. We return upstairs and spend the next six hours trying to distract ourselves from what just happened. Sunrise greeted us on the same couch that sleep abandoned.
Later that week, we learned a few things about the man who climbed our roof. He was an exceptional climber, the police said he ascended the roof using a pipe that’s too thin for most people to hold…and after surveilling the houses on our street, he scaled our roof in one swift, smooth move. He was probably looking for an easy house to burgle…and chose ours for some reason even though the lights were on.🤷🏽♂️
We also learned that he was wearing an expensive-looking, fleeced jacket. So we named him Patagonia man and turned him into a meme in our lives. And we all moved out of that house shortly after.
So what’s the takeaway? Lend an open ear to your friends, even if they are drunk on true crime. Intuition speaks so loudly, if we would only listen. Gut instincts have a mysterious way of knowing things before our minds can put them into words. Laughter is a phenomenal coping mechanism. We were already blessed with penchants for dark humor, so it was natural to chuckle at the situation. But it's a blessing to be able to laugh about your trauma.
It’s funny how this story which should be disturbing or scary became a shared, bonding experience for us. But there’s a beauty in that. The agency to rewrite an unpleasant chapter. To paint over a crummy, lifeless wall. To act out another take. To re-record a verse. To shake off the leftover beach sands from your sandals.
These days, I look back on this story with a bizarre fondness. Yes, I didn’t enjoy Patagonia man’s route of entry—the roof had poor access to the kitchen—I mean, he could have pressed the door buzzer if he needed a snack or something. But this experience is a pixel in the collage of fond memories from that house. Memories etched deep that could never be captured by any camera.
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