Intruder in the Night

Two months ago, Joyce wrote a column about loving in a difficult situation. Little did we know how our ability to love (as well as forgive) would be tested to the extreme.

On Friday evening, May 5, Joyce and I got all the women settled in for the first night of Joyce’s annual weekend women’s retreat at our “Home-Center,” as we like to call our property in Aptos, near Santa Cruz. Then we went to bed, completely unaware of what was about to happen.

At about one in the morning, I felt myself being roused from a deep sleep. I opened my eyes and beheld a young man’s face about a foot above my head. He was swaying slightly, intermittently leaning his weight on me, and there was the unmistakable smell of alcohol on his breath. The sight was so bizarre, and I had been in such a deep sleep, that I thought I was dreaming and closed my eyes hoping this ghost in our bedroom would somehow simply vanish.

This changed, however, when I felt his grip tighten on my shoulders. By now, Joyce was also awake. In the dim moonlight, I realized this was not a ghost, but an actual person in our bedroom, and someone I had never seen before. Within seconds I was wide awake, adrenaline pounding in my veins. But at the same time I could see the disoriented look in his eyes, the confused face of someone who didn’t know where he was, so I didn’t feel immediate threat.

I finally found my voice and asked as calmly as I could, “Do I know you?”

There was no response.

“What’s your name?” was my second attempt at communication.

His only response was to mumble some incoherent words. I realized he was drunk, but wondered if he was also high on other drugs.

I felt a strange combination of fear mixed with the desire to help this lost young man. Joyce and I slowly sat up in bed, so as not to startle him. Then, while I tried to calmly communicate with the intruder, Joyce slipped out of the bedroom, crossed the hall into our daughter Mira’s vacant bedroom, quietly locked the door, and then dialed 911. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t see the lost expression on the young man’s face, and couldn’t tell if he was dangerous or not.

I got out of the bed, told the stranger I would like to help him, and got dressed. A strange wild look came into his eyes, and he bolted out of the bedroom, heading across the hall to the room Joyce was in. As he tried the locked doorknob, I tried to calm him down. It didn’t work, and he next headed for our twelve-year-old son’s room. He opened the door, ran into the room, jumped up on John-Nuri’s bed and stood there with his shoes straddling our son’s head. I was afraid John-Nuri would surely wake up with all this commotion. I firmly but still calmly commanded, “You can’t stay in this room. You’ll wake up our son. Come out now!”

He jumped off the bed, headed toward me, and suddenly put up his arms in an aggressive stance. I backed away saying, “I’m not going to hurt you.” I could see he was getting paranoid.

Abruptly he turned and ran down the stairs. I immediately thought about the three women sleeping in our living room. I quickly tried the door to Mira’s room, remembered that it was locked, and yelled for Joyce to call 911. I didn’t know she had a police dispatcher on the phone who heard me yell, and asked Joyce if I was all right. His rapid-fire questions, designed for efficient emergency triage, did little to help Joyce’s escalating fears. “Was that your husband? Is he in danger? Does the man have a weapon? Ma’am, do not unlock the door. Stay in that room and stay on the phone with me.” Joyce started shaking uncontrollably.

I ran after the young man. I saw that he had run out the front door rather than into the living room. But my relief was short-lived. He was running around the garage and up the stairs to Joyce’s eighty-four year old mother’s apartment. Joyce’s dad was compulsive about locking the door but, since his passing a few years ago, Joyce’s mother eventually completely stopped locking her door. The young stranger tried the knob. Miraculously, it was locked.

Standing at the bottom of the stairs, I again called him back. As he came down toward me, I could see his paranoia was getting worse by the minute. Although I again reassured him that I wasn’t going to hurt him, he acted as if I was the enemy. He came at me to hit me but his intoxicated condition allowed me to get away from his swing. Our driveway was filled with cars because of the retreat. I thought it best to keep a car between us, and to keep him with me rather than in the house with the women.

A few minutes later I heard sirens in the distance. I knew I had mere minutes to stall him. He was beyond all reason and control now. He chased me around the cars in those final moments in what must have looked like a scene from a suspense movie.

Finally the first of four police cars raced up our driveway, sirens blaring and lights flashing. Within seconds the young intruder was subdued at gunpoint, handcuffed, and then roughly dragged off to one of the waiting cars. I felt relieved, shaken to my core, and profoundly sad for this young man who had gotten himself into so much trouble. We learned he was only eighteen years old, and was recently arrested for public intoxication and for attacking and breaking the hand of a sheriff’s deputy.

Can you imagine our surprise when, the next day at dinnertime, there was a knock on our door and there standing on our front porch was this young man and his friend, come to apologize.

The young man, who I will refer to as Bill, had spent the night in jail, had somehow gotten out on bail, and learned our address from the police report. We learned he had been driven by his friend to a party at our neighbor’s house, where he “blacked out” drinking and wandered up the hill to our house.

He had absolutely no memory of anything that had happened at our house. He listened with rapt attention and deep remorse as we narrated the full details. Joyce and I (especially Joyce because she did not know what was happening) were both still shaken and exhausted from a sleepless night. Bill admitted to having a serious drinking problem, with both parents alcoholics. As he left he told us how touched he was by our love and caring. He was fully prepared to receive our hatred and vengeance. Because of his sincerity and remorse, we were drawn to hug him before he left. We pray that Bill will get the help he so desperately needs, in lieu of prison time.

It has now been almost three weeks since our peaceful bedroom and lives have been violated. We are still not quite back to normal. The image of a strange face with an eerie, vacant expression less than a foot away, may haunt us both for a long time. Yet we can’t help feeling that this whole experience was guided by a great spiritual power, that Bill was guided to us for some unknown reason. I feel I was given an opportunity to love in a truly difficult situation.

Because Bill came back to fully apologize, he made it easier for us to forgive him and make faster progress in letting go of the whole traumatic incident. We have often wondered how we would have felt if we never saw him again. We are convinced this would have made it more difficult to open our hearts to him. And this is a lesson that is vital to all relationships. When we have done something that has caused pain to a loved one, it takes courage to humbly apologize, to share our own pain at having triggered suffering in another. Yet if we do this, it allows sweet forgiveness and love to flow back toward us. Isn’t that worth it.

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