When I was in my mid-twenties and my daughter, Emily, was six or seven months old, we lived in an older ranch-style home with my sister, just the three of us. I was a single mom, working part-time, and my sister was a full-time student. There were usually a couple of days a week when I wasn't scheduled to work and my sister was at school, leaving my daughter and I home alone.
|Me, with my sweet girl, Emily|
One such morning, I put Emily down for her nap and I got ready to hop in the shower. I don't know what drew me outside into our backyard at such a moment, as I was barefoot and had on nothing but an old threadbare, almost see-through bathrobe - maybe I thought I should turn the sprinkler on to water the grass while I was showering, I can't remember - but out I went. The kitchen door that I exited through had a pane of glass in the upper half and a door knob that locked and stayed locked unless the button was twisted to the unlocked position. I was usually pretty diligent about checking to make sure I unlocked the knob before going out, but this particular time the realization that I had neglected to do so occurred to me at the same moment the door swung shut. I grabbed at the knob, but it was too late; it was shut and it was locked. Immediately I started to panic.
|Little Em - home alone|
This was back in 1980, long before we carried cell phones with us everywhere, long before I had even heard the words 'cell phone' strung together. There I was with no shoes and, to put it mildly, feeling a tad vulnerable in my flimsy bathrobe. Although I knew that I had tightly closed and locked all of the other doors and windows (being the paranoid person I was) I just had to check in case I had forgotten this once. I felt like a character in a bad sitcom as I tried to be stealth moving around the house, praying that no one would see me. We had lived in the house only a few months and I didn't know any of my neighbors, but even if I had I would have been mortified to go to one of their houses to ask for help while wearing a nearly transparent bathrobe. (Have I mentioned that my bathrobe was old?)
After confirming my worst fear - that I was locked out and my baby was locked in - my panic started to increase. I began worrying that my daughter would wake and start crying for me and even if I could hear her, which I couldn't at that distance, I would be unable to get to her. I knew my sister would not be returning for some hours and nobody else was expected. I did the only thing I could think of: I busted the window out of the back door. I'd be lying if I said that the experience of purposely breaking out a window didn't make me feel a little dangerous. I don't remember what I used to break it, probably a rock or maybe my thick skull, but I do vividly recall the horror I felt as I smashed the glass and watched it spray across the kitchen floor inside the house. I had bare feet which meant I had to walk across the glass-strewn floor once I got the door opened, and then there was the painstaking clean up required so my daughter, who was in the crawling stage, wouldn't get cut. I had visions of her little hands being pierced by or embedded with tiny shards of glass that might be left behind. I have always hated the uncertainty of cleaning up broken glass. It's impossible to be sure you've got everything picked up.
|In the infamous backyard|
Once I re-entered my house (finding my daughter still sleeping peacefully), I put a square of cardboard in the broken window to keep the bugs out, then called a friend who came over to help me install a new window in my door. And fortunately, I managed to clean the kitchen floor sufficiently as Emily never suffered any injuries from broken glass.
I have thought of this episode often down through the years. It closely mimics a classic bad dream. Something akin to walking down the street naked, or finding yourself using a public restroom that has no walls or doors, situations where you feel physically, and therefore emotionally, exposed and vulnerable. (Those are classic, aren't they, or am I the only one who has these dreams?) Anyway....
Before my husband and I moved last year, our house had a front door with a knob lock with the same "feature": it stayed locked unless you twisted the button. Instead of a knob on the outside, it had a lever-style handle that you pushed down with your thumb. I never, ever, pulled that door shut behind me without pushing on that lever to make sure that it was unlocked. And every time I did, I remembered this episode. Even if only for a nano-second, the image of me standing outside that locked back door after realizing what I had done, practically in my birthday suit, flashed through my mind. You just don't forget things like that.