Ten Minutes of Terror
Only the mother of a child who has been very ill could know the kind of tiredness that Barbara was feeling in the early hours of that spring morning. Jacob had been sick a good deal of the time since his birth over a year ago. This time it was pneumonia, which triggered his recurring asthma. Today they were going back to the doctor to see if he was well enough to travel the next day. The trip to Colorado had been planned for months, and Barbara really felt the need to see her family—parents, brothers, and a sister that she had not seen in the two years since moving to Texas. Both she and her husband, Bill, had been working very hard. She worked a part-time job at a nearby department store and raised their three children; Bill worked for a popular golf course thirty minutes from their home.
Over the past months their neighborhood had experienced a rash of crime, mostly burglaries, but for the past two months a rapist had also been terrorizing their area. Bill had every window and door wedged shut with sticks and old golf clubs, but Barbara was still edgy as she sat rocking Jacob in the dim hours of that morning. She tried to convince herself that the noises she was hearing were not real, but the result of intense fatigue or maybe just normal house sounds that she would not notice if there was not a rapist making headlines. After all, the house was locked up tight.
The sun was beginning to send up barbs of light in the eastern sky and dance with the shadows of the living room when she finally got Jacob to bed. She checked on his sisters--Cathy, who was five, and Susan, three. The dead-end street they lived on, in a subdivision that prided itself on keeping as many trees as possible, still seemed tranquil. The houses were close together, but backed up to a small patch of woods. It had been raining, but had stopped now, leaving the sky overcast. It would be another hot and muggy day for Bill, who was leaving for work as Barbara crawled into bed at 5:30. She had left lights on in the dining room, kitchen, and hallway, although she did not know why. She would have to be up in a few hours anyway. She was close to sleep when she heard Bill return a few minutes later. Probably to get his golf clubs, she thought as she drifted into an exhausted twilight sleep. She was lying on her side, facing away from the hallway door, and glanced over her shoulder to see him walking down the hall. But it was not Bill, and in her state of fatigue, and in the half-darkness, she did not realize it. She was asleep in seconds.
The intruder had already had a busy night. He had burglarized over twenty homes, taking purses and wallets. He was after money; he was on foot and did not want to carry anything else. After leaving a residence with a purse or wallet, he removed the money and threw the containers into the woods. At the last home he had planned to rape the woman, but her male friend had appeared and he had barely gotten out of the house. But that did not stop him, it only made him angry. And his anger increased as he took a path through the woods to Bill and Barbara’s home. He tried to gain entry at every window, even cutting the screen out on the sliding doors that connected the bedroom to a small patio, and cursing when he could not pry the door open. Then he saw his break. The husband was leaving to work. He almost laughed aloud that he was so close to the front door, and the clueless man had no idea. As Bill’s taillights disappeared down the street, the trespasser calmly used a credit card to unlock the front door and walk in.
He familiarized himself with the house and picked up a purse that sat on the floor by the couch. He put it by the back door, unlocking the door so that he could make his exit easily when ready. But this time he had no intention of leaving with just a purse. He turned toward the bedroom.
In those first few seconds Barbara was unable to determine if it was a bad dream, a delusion caused by extreme weariness, or a very real nightmare. There was a man on top of her, a knee in her back, a knife at her throat. He violently jerked her face toward him while pushing her flat onto her stomach. She could not see his face, only the outline of the fan sitting atop the ironing board—the barricade she had made in front of the sliding doors. It was supposed to forewarn her if someone tried to get in that way. Still, she had a strange hope that this was Bill, maybe delirious himself from the sleepless nights, and playing some twisted hoax on her. She hoped it even after the first ugly words were spoken, “If you move or scream, I’ll kill your children.”
“Is this a joke?” Even in her state of mind, she knew this was a bizarre question, but hoped for the affirmative answer.
Without replying, the man stood up and turned toward the hall door. It was at this instant that she knew--this was no a joke. Was he going for the children? “Wait! Wait a minute,” she pleaded. “I’ll give you all the money I’ve got. There’s change in the jar. I’ll write you a check!”
He laughed at this, as he calmly locked the door and turned back to her, pushing her down once more and placing a pillow over her face. “Shut up,” he said with a coldness she had never heard.
She threw the pillow off her face and said with conviction, “You know, God loves you.”
His reply chilled her, “Shut up, bitch.”
She began to think, rational thoughts and abstract thoughts colliding and dispersing like drops of rain on a hot walkway. There was no use in screaming; it would wake the children and she did not know what he would do to them. She began to feel detached from her body, as if she were above the scene and analyzing it. She thought of a story she had heard about a man at a construction site who had become trapped under a collapsed road and was suffocating. He concentrated his thoughts in a last hope that someone would think of him and “feel” that something was wrong. A friend and co-worker across town felt an urge to go back to the site and was able to rescue his friend. Barbara tried this now, as the attacker ran his hand down her back, and with a slash of his knife cut open her gown. He cut her underwear into shreds, as if venting some of his intense hatred on the silky material. She asked him now, calmly, “Are you going to kill me?”
“If you don’t shut up, I swear I’ll kill you,” he said.
Barbara again concentrated her thoughts; there was only one thing she could do. She would fight.
What happened next cannot be told as two separate events; they were simultaneous. She threw him off; headlights appeared in her driveway. She began screaming now, “Cathy, get out of the house!” He pushed her back down. Again, she threw him off with a strength that was not her own, and continued to scream for Cathy to run. His arm went up, and though she still could not see his face, she could see the knife coming down at her. She reached up to block the blow and felt an unfamiliar warmth, but her attention quickly shifted—he had become very still. He must have realized that the car in the driveway was not leaving. He looked out, and she took advantage of the lapse in his attention to roll to the floor. He grabbed her purse, kicked her with unrestrained wrath, and ran to the sliding doors, falling over the ironing board. Barbara suddenly realized that he was barricaded in. She said, “There’s a stick in the door!” Finally, he was gone. Ten minutes could not have elapsed, but it was ten minutes that would consume her life for years to come.
In the driveway, the paper carrier wondered what quirk of fate had brought her here. She had made a mistake—thrown the paper into the wrong drive and stopped to retrieve it. There was screaming. She thought at first that it must be a domestic quarrel. She decided she had to stay. A very young girl ran out, confused and terrified. Seconds later a woman followed, naked except for ragged underwear and a blue and white flowered quilt, most of which seemed to be wrapped around her hand, and screaming, "Get my children out. Please, help my babies."
A neighbor had finally awakened and came running over. He got the other children out of the house and safely into his. The police were summoned and arrived in minutes. They searched the house and woods, finding only purses and wallets, Barbara’s among them. And in her purse, strangely, a knife. And that’s when someone noticed the blood drenched quilt.
“Mam, let me take a look at your hand,” one of the officers said.
She unwrapped it from the quilt. Her finger was hanging by a tendon. It required fifteen stitches in the emergency room. A rape kit was used to process any possible evidence on her body. Bill had been contacted and was at the hospital when she was released two hours later.
The intruder was asleep in his own bed by this time, just a half mile from Barbara’s home, in a house almost identical to hers. As he slept, the people whose lives he had forever changed that night struggled with decisions. Barbara would never go back to their home to live. Together they packed and left for Colorado. Barbara could not sleep, and now fought the demon of fear with every sunset.
But Bill returned to Texas after two days, a changed man. He called Barbara in Colorado at odd hours, asking her questions about the attack. He couldn’t speak of anything else. After a while the calls stopped, and Barbara never heard from him again. He went to work, and when he came home, the neighbors would see him go into the woods in back of the house each evening. They did not see him come out. He sat, and watched.
And the rapist slept, and occasionally moved on to other neighborhoods.