I woke up last night around 3 a.m. and had to pee. This is a fairly common occurrence, and I took care of it without difficulty.
I should mention: we live in a 100-year-old house in which the bathroom is a tiny closet off the kitchen; its door faces the exterior back door, and is next to the bedroom.
I should mention also, I typically wear foam earplugs to bed, because the boy snores. It's probably not a good habit, but there it is. When I got out of bed, I took out one earplug and laid it on the nightstand, so I could negotiate the doors more quietly.
As I came out of the bathroom, in the pitch dark, I heard a sound that literally sent gooseflesh prickling down my spine and arms. It sounded like someone screaming. Like a fight, and someone screaming. It was slightly distant, as if coming from outside the house, and had a kind of doppler effect, as if it was close—like outside the kitchen door—and then moving forward, toward the street.
Friends, I was sure as could be that someone was being chased through the neighbors' yard and clubbed to death.
I took the other earplug out and took a step toward the back door, which put me in the doorway leading to the living room. The sound came again, but I couldn't zero in on it. I just knew it came from the east side of the house. I stood there for a probably less than a second, sorting through possible scenarios, which included domestic violence, drug deal gone bad, home invasion next door--where there is a cute little blonde soccer mom and three young children--and I was standing there stark naked, in pitch darkness, without my contact lenses.
Did I go for a weapon? Call the police? Put on clothes? I couldn't answer any of those questions until I knew what was happening, so: glasses. Confirmation. Find out what the fuck was going on. I went into the pitch-black bedroom and crawled over the bed, put my hand on the Sparring Partner's ribs. "Honey, wake up."
My tone got to him. "What?"
"There's somebody screaming outside."
"Are you serious?"
"I just heard it. Sounded like it was coming from the street." But I couldn't hear anything more, and with our bedroom windows close to the house next door, any noise from the street tends to get amplified. I grabbed my glasses and cat-walked through the house toward the front door.
Halfway there I heard it again: screaming. Sounds of blows, fighting. Sirens? Car engines? Even when you are awake in the middle of the night, panic and darkness can be very disorienting in terms of direction and distance. I thought, Why aren't there more lights on the street? Why don't I hear other voices yelling? People don't fight silently, ever. And I was hearing car sounds that suggested there should be flashing blue lights.
As I got closer to the SP's desk I realized the sounds were coming from the headphones he had left plugged into his computer.
He had been watching World War Z on Netflix, and put it on pause when we went to bed. But apparently Netflix had started running some little preview loop—like the bits of music/sound that get layered behind DVD menus—that consisted of running, screaming, fighting.
Lord Almighty. The release of tension was incredible. I was annoyed at myself and annoyed at the computer but mostly I was just glad nobody was dying and glad I didn't have to make some terrible decisions. By the time the SP walked up behind me I was nudging the mouse to close the browser window. "It's all right," I muttered. "It was just your computer." I did feel kind of stupid for not realizing it sooner. Maybe I would have, if it had been three in the afternoon instead of in the morning.
"Well at least you're still pretty," he said, which is one of our standard lines. He sounded relieved too. He put a hand on my bare back. "You're sweaty."
"I know! I literally broke out in a cold sweat when I heard it!" Some of the clichés are true, it seems.
We went back to bed. I had a brief, minor attack of the shakes as the adrenaline wore off, and a sicker sense of dread as I realized that I probably wouldn't hear someone being murdered in the house next door—nor would anyone notice if I screamed my head off inside our house. We live in a little brick bunker.
What would I have done if there had been a murder taking place in my front yard? I'd like to think I would've thrown on a robe, grabbed a weapon and gone out there to disrupt it, at least. I was well on my way to doing so, and I woke up the SP with two thoughts in mind: that I needed him to verify the situation, and to call the police if necessary. I did not wake him up and say, "Go check this out," because that's not my style. I am more confrontational and damn-the-torpedoes than the Sparring Partner, possibly because I have a less realistic idea of my own physical vulnerability.
I train in martial arts and I take advantage of the laws which allow me to arm myself. I read tactical articles and books because they pertain to my research as a writer and to my safety as a woman. But it's all theoretical; very rarely does the average person get their mettle tested without actual bloodshed.
But almost the first thing I thought of—and what I'm still thinking of today—was how that actress from The Commish was attacked and stabbed in the street while everybody stood around and watched. I saw the made-for-TV movie of that years ago, probably while I was still in high school, and I pretty much made up my mind then and there that I would never be a bystander to something like that. I hope I never have to make that choice, but if I do, I hope I make a choice I can live with.
The irony of all this is, if I hadn't taken out that one earplug before leaving the bedroom, I probably would not have heard anything at all. But afterward, I was creeped out to realize—anew—how easy it would be for someone to break into our house at night and I'd never hear them.
I should re-train myself to sleep without those earplugs. And train the SP to put his computer to sleep at night.
At around 7:30 this morning it occurred to me to hope I hadn't heard a banshee. Because that's the way my mind works.