Lucy, my little shi-poo, started barking hysterically. It was 5 a.m. and I still had the luxury of another hour’s worth of sleep until my alarm was set to startle me awake. What was her problem? Lucy barked at anything and everything. Person walking…bark, bark, bark. City bus driving by…bark, bark, bark. Leaf blowing…bark, bark, bark. You get the idea. What was going on now? Then I heard strange noises outside my bedroom window. Was that a scraping sound? Was there construction work going on outside? Snow plows maybe? As I maneuvered myself from under my nice, warm sheets, Lucy persisted with her panicked high pitched barking. I sauntered over to the window, pulled the curtain to one side, rolled up the horizontal blind and was shocked to see that good ol’ Lucy actually had a legitimate reason to be barking her head off. Imagine my surprise when I saw 4 police cruisers with their flashing lights whirling around, illuminating the houses on the street. Was there a gunman out there?
Wha-what you must be asking yourself. How on earth did you go from Police cars to gunman?
It was 1990-something. I had a doctor’s appointment early that morning and my brother had decided to tag along with me. I was driving home, yawning exhaustedly as I had only had 5 hours sleep and did not function well in the daylight hours. We had no classes at University that day so we were heading home to have a nice hot breakfast of bacon and eggs. As we got to our street I noticed a police car blocking the road. We couldn’t get onto our street. That was odd. No matter. I turned around and drove all the way around the strip mall and around the next few blocks to enter our street from the top end instead of the bottom end. Imagine our surprise when we saw another police car parked sideways, also blocking the road. What the heck was going on?
“Go ask him what’s going on,” said my brother. I didn’t want to bother the gentleman and I wasn’t sure what to say either. Our house was the 4th one in from where the policeman was blocking the way. Our mother was expecting us home because she had errands to run and needed me to drive her. Cop? Mom? Which one terrified me most.
“Excuse me?” I asked the police officer as I drove up closer to him. (Yes, I was more terrified of my mother. Oh sure, he had a gun, but my mom had her own weapons arsenal: THE LOOK that could burn your soul, THE SILENT TREATMENT that was a deafening mime of disappointment and THE POWER to make my father transform into THE PUNISHER. She won…hands down.) Anyway, the policer officer marched over to me with a look of mighty annoyance.
“Could we just drive home?” I began timidly. “Our house is that one right over there…the 4th house in,” I begged, pleadingly.
“I can’t let you through Miss,” he declared authoritatively.
“But it’s right there…you can see it from here. It won’t take me long…”I began and was cut off with a sharp, “I can’t let you through. There is a man with a rifle in the townhouse complex and we aren’t sure he won’t try to take a shot at you,” he said, matter-of-factly.
I really had nothing to say to that. “Thank-you officer,” my brother added as he leaned over toward my window from the passenger seat. Then whispered angrily to me, “Get moving.”
I did a remarkably quick and accurate 3-point turn and headed back from whence we had come.
HOLY SHIT!! A SHOOTER!? was all my mind could process.
“Let’s go to the coffee shop,” my bro said. “We can figure out something while we are there.”
“Do you have any money?” I asked him. I had a two-dollar bill in my possession and that would not be enough for coffees for the both of us. I went to the bank machine and discovered I had five dollars in my account. I couldn’t get it from the bank machine as it only dispensed ten and twenty dollar bills. It was going to be one of THOSE days, obviously. After trying not to look like a hobo in front of the bank teller, I gave her my withdrawal slip to get the last five bucks out of my bank account. Bank balance: 52 cents. Then we were off again, heading toward the coffee shop. We got ourselves two coffees and sat down to plan our next move.
Our top story. Police are at the townhouse complex located at [insert my street name here] talking to 39-year old [insert shooter name here] who has threatened suicide…The rest of the story mentioned that his wife had told him that morning that she was leaving him. He wanted to see her or he was going to end his life.
“We should call mama,” said my brother, “and let her know we can’t get home.”
Made sense to me. I grabbed a quarter, went to the payphone hanging on the wall by the door and punched in our home number. (Yeah people, no cell phones then). My mother picked up after the 3rd ring. (Not sure if you had any obscure rules like this at your house, but for some reason we weren’t allowed to answer the phone until the 3rd ring.) I calmly explained to her that we couldn’t come home right now because our street was blocked with police cars. She didn’t believe me. I passed the phone to my brother. He told her about the cops. He told her about Rifle Man. He paused, rolled his eyes at me and then waited, silently listening. “Fine!” he replied, exasperated. “We will try again.” He slammed the receiver down onto the cradle, harrumphed angrily and said, “she wants us to come home.”
Seriously? The cops won’t let us pass. My brother explained that he had told her all of this, but she said to tell the police officer that we had to come home because she said so. Oh yeah…that would definitely work (dripping sarcasm).
Off we went again, driving home. The same police officer was there. I drove up to him again, rolled down the window and saw his initial look of confusion and subsequent disdain as he wandered over to see what we wanted.
Now, I cannot imagine what my face looked like when I explained to him that my mother demanded we come home. I begged him to just let us through. “He might shoot at you,” the policeman said with a look of bewilderment and a pinch of exasperation. I saw on his face what his mind was really thinking: Are you crazy? If he could only read my mind: You don’t know my mother.
“I know,” I replied, thinking about how much crap we would be in if we couldn’t get home. “My mother told us to tell you that we need to get home.” It was at that point, that the expression on his face became etched in my mind forever. His brow wrinkled, his eyes screwed up as he tried to remain calm and dignified. His mind was trying to work out what kind of people would be willing to risk being shot at? What kind of mother would allow her own flesh and blood to be used for target practice. He didn’t realize that my bro and I were professional storytellers (a.k.a. compulsive liars). As such, my sibling and I were pretty sure she (our beloved mother) wasn’t believing any of this far-fetched gunman / police stand-off hooey.
“No,” he said flatly. “I can’t let you through.”
We’re dead. That’s all I thought. She’s gonna kill us. Yup, no thought about the shooter whatsoever. I even had thoughts of parking the car and then visualized us pulling a total Bionic Man move and running evasively past the copper to get home. Sheesh! What fear can do to you!
And you guessed it…back to the coffee shop we went. Back for two more coffees. Back to coming up with a backup plan.
Being low on funds now didn’t leave us many viable options for a feasible hangout. We couldn’t sit at The coffee shop and NOT order coffee. We decided to wait for a bit and hopefully the guy’s wife would show up or the cops would finally get him out.
“I know,” said my brother excitedly, “let’s go to our aunt’s house.”
It sounded like a good plan. Actually it sounded like an excellent plan! Genius! Our aunt had a phone so we wouldn’t need to use our change for the payphone and she only lived a few blocks from our house. It was the perfect plan!
What do they say about best laid plans? Yes, they do go awry. We pulled up to my aunt’s house. It had now been two hours since our ordeal had begun. Oh yes…forget about the man threatening suicide…our lives were in peril. Our mother was seriously going to kill us once we got home.
Well, we arrived at our aunt’s place. She was just getting ready to eat a lovely sandwich she had made herself for lunch. “Would you like one?” she kindly asked.
My brother and I looked at each and psychically knew that we would be beheaded if my mother ever found out that we ate food at our aunt’s place. Yes, don’t pshaw me. There was this weird rule about not eating at relative’s houses either. I have no idea where my mother’s “Thou Shalt Not” rule book came from, but there were many of them and any broken rule led to eventual beatings and/or possible threat of death. Or even worse…The Magnanimous Silent Treatment. Brrrrr….iced out forever! (Who knew that one day this would become my preferred daily experience). However, on this occasion we declined her offer, but did ask for a glass of water. Just one glass…that we would share. Only one glass for out aunt to wash so not a fatal sin in our minds.
After glugging down the water and extinguishing our thirst we decided to call home again and see if the cops had made any progress. Our next fantastically great idea was to have our aunt initiate the call. Mom couldn’t yell at her right?
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING THERE!? GET YOUR ASSES HOME RIGHT NOW! YOU HAD BETTER NOT BE EATING ANYTHING THERE! WHY ARE YOU DRINKING HER WATER! WAIT UNTIL YOU GET HOME!” This is what I heard after my aunt happily passed the phone receiver over to me.
Our aunt had had a pleasant conversation with my mother. She explained how happy she was that we came to visit. She hoped the police would resolve the issue soon. My dear, loving aunt had no idea the verbal barrage I would hear as she passed the phone to me.
“We can’t come home,” I tried to explain to my mother, attempting not to yell back at her over her yelling. “The police have blocked the road. We have told you this. Go outside and look.”
“COME…HOME…NOOOOOOOOOOOOW!!” our mom bellowed.
That’s when I got incredibly brave and yelled back, “HOW DID YOU WANT US TO GET HOME!” I thought for sure this was now a done deal. She would leave us alone until the police left.
“Drive the car to the street behind our house. Park the car there and jump the neighbour’s fence,” she said hurriedly.
I looked over at my brother. I really could not clearly compute what this woman was saying. Seriously? Did we look like fence climbing / jumping people? My brother looked over quizzically at me. I nodded silently and then realized that no words had escaped from my lips. “Yes,” I agreed solemnly, “we are coming home.”
And so it was that we thanked our aunt profusely for the hydration and for the use of her free phone and hoped we didn’t bother her too much. If we grovelled enough we might receive bonus points in accolades after she praised our good upbringing to our mom.
Back into the car and back to our neck of the woods. I parked the car as my mother had demanded. We got out of the car and headed into our neighbour’s backyard.
Oh, did I mention it was winter? Did I also mention that there was a slight incline in our backyard at the back of the property? Now, dressed in winter coats and winter boots we had to scale an 8-foot high, wooden fence and land in our own backyard without breaking any appendages. I will be honest and say I do not recall if I went first or my brother did as we could not both scale the fence at the same time. There was only a 2-foot wide expanse of fence that bordered our backyard. I do recall bumping my elbow with full force as I clambered over. I remember hearing the neighbour yelling, “What are you doing? Get off my property!” I recall landing hard on my knees and almost bashing my face into the ground. Nothing elegant about this stunt. No MacGyver worthy escape here. But, the good news was we had made it.
As we pulled ourselves up and out of the snow pit we had created, the back door opened. Our sister had been visiting over the weekend and she had opened the door to inform us that there was an ambulance across the street at the townhouse complex. They were wheeling someone out in a gurney. My emotionally and physically exhausted brother and I marched into the house and headed to the living room so that we could get a better look at what was happening.
The ambulance doors closed. The siren wailed as the flashing lights were turned on. We saw the ambulance race down the street. Then we saw one….two…three….four…oh my….five police cruisers follow behind it. All sirens on…all lights flashing. The ordeal was over. Well, the shooter’s ordeal was. Ours was just about to begin. Our mother’s pinched, angry face had appeared in the doorway of the living room.
In our defence I said, “See, I told you there were cops.”
P.S. We survived.
P.P.S. The gunman did not.
P.P.P.S Our mother doesn’t remember any of this. I guess we did many more traumatic things to her during our younger days.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Our generation was one where, as children, you did get spanked, you did get yelled at, your feelings were not spared, and parents did not bow to the whims and desires of their offspring. When I say that my mother was going to “kill us”, please know that this was a slang expression used in our generation to define the horrible verbal abuse and/or occasionally the meeting of wooden spoon to child backside…like whack-a-mole without missing the mole, that we children experienced. We all lived. Thankfully, this particular old European style of upbringing has allowed us to forever have fond memories and stories of the craziness and hilarity of our childhood.