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Of all the possible weapons I might have grabbed, I chose a toilet brush. The men's boxers and oversized Hello Kitty t-shirt I wore reinforced my feeling of absolute stupidity. I made a mental note to buy myself a baseball bat, should I live through the next few minutes. And maybe some grownup pajamas.
I choked up on the brush and prepared to leap out at the intruder in my kitchen.
Logic, if I had any that early, might have suggested the unknown guest was my friend Sara, making coffee and waiting to ambush me into going to the gym. I didn't think of that until later. I woke to the smell of coffee and naturally jumped to the conclusion someone had broken in.
And my response was to grab the toilet brush on the way down the hall. I'm not my brightest first thing in the morning.
I craned my neck around the corner and peered into the kitchen. Logic would have been wasted anyway. It wasn't Sara at the table.
The intruder sat with a newspaper tented around his face and torso. He hummed to himself. A cup of coffee disappeared behind the paper. The humming paused for a sip, then resumed its tuneless refrain. The cup reappeared.
I was a bit put outcurious, but also irritated. I suppose I should have been more alarmed, but who breaks into a house with ill intent and stops to make coffee and read the paper? Under the table, a pair of checkered high-tops bounced in near time with the humming. My guest turned the page of the newspaper, and my throat locked in mid-swallow. The chalky, bony fingers holding the edges of the San Francisco Chronicle were familiar.
I ducked my head into the hallway and leaned against the wall for support, gulping air. I knew those hands. I clutched the toilet brush against myself as if it had the power to ward off nightmares. In the flash of a forgotten memory, I could see those hands grabbing at my doorframe, reaching to snatch out my eyes. My skin was clammy with terror ripened by over twenty years of repression and denial. I was five again, and monsters were real.
* * *
Kids are born with self-preservation instincts, and that night those instincts kept me still. The slightest twitch would alert the monster in the closet that I knew he was there.
I lay motionless beneath the sheets and stifling blanket, my fingers clasping the fabric beneath my chin. In the ambient glow of my Care Bear nightlight, the closet door seemed to swing outnot enough to be certain, but enough for me to hold my breath and squeeze the covers tighter. A floorboard wheezed a soft sigh.
I considered pulling the covers over my head for protection, but a sudden move like that would yell "I know you're in there!" which would make the monster fly out and devour me so fast I wouldn't have time to scream for help. Besides, having my head covered meant I'd eventually have to come out for air. If I wasn't watching, what would stop him from creeping beside the bed and waiting for me to peek out to find his warty, drooling face breathing over me?
I held still, limbs locked in place. In my mind I practiced making a run for it. My nightgown was damp with sweat. Between the cotton fabric tangled around my legs and the white socks on my feet, I knew I couldn't break free of the bed and sprint across the room before the monster heard me. I had to cross in front of the closet to get out. I would never make it.