Monday, August 11, 2008

How I Met the Mister, Part I.

I grew up in a strict, conservative Catholic home, the Argentine-born daughter of two immigrants. I was not allowed to speak with boys, date, or wear makeup. No daring outfits, dangling earrings, or dark nail polish. I begged, at the age of 13, to read Seventeen Magazine. I think my mom might have allowed it, but my dad flatly refused to even entertain the thought, even after I explained to him that 17 year old girls don't actually read Seventeen. After college, it was assumed I would return home. And I did. I was twenty-one years old.

I didn't even think of getting my own apartment until I was around 24 years old. By that point, I was almost done with my Masters and my dad was finding it increasingly difficult to end arguments with, "Because I said so." I found a very nice apartment in a lovely woodland-like setting. I had money saved up (living at home doesn't cost much) and I took great pleasure furnishing my new place. As I placed furniture and hung poster art, I couldn't help but fantasize of all the parties I would be hosting, late nights laughing with friends, and grilled dinners on the balcony.

Here's the rub. Sheltered Catholic girls don't have many friends, and the friends they do have lead equally dull lives. My friends from college all lived out of state. Things were not going as planned. I was now poor, bored, and lonely. I started going home to have dinner and staying until it was time to go back to my apartment to sleep. Suddenly my parents and brothers seemed infinitely more interesting.

I'm a night owl, so I would often pull into the apartment parking lot between 10:30 and 11:00pm. I am also exceedingly cautious. Morning, noon, or night--whether I was in or out of the apartment I kept everything deadbolted. On my first night there I installed a security light. So I was on my toes when I stepped out of my car just before 11:00pm. I did everything right. I scanned the area. I held my keys in my hand, and even had one extended and ready to stab any unsavory penises that dared cross my path.

I bounded up the stairs, looked around, and seeing no one, unlocked the door and quickly went inside. I immediately locked all the locks, including the deadbolt. I put on my pajamas, washed my face, and was scrutinizing my face in a magnifying mirror when I first heard the knock on my door. I had been inside my apartment for less than 10 minutes.

It was a happy knock, if knock can be happy. The kind of knock you rap on a friend's door when they are expecting you.

Knock! Knock!

Who's there?
I said without saying. I gently put down my tweezers and cocked my head, waiting for a familiar voice to call my name.

Knock! Knock!

Bill? Steve? Not Tiffany, we're fighting. Kara is already in bed. A little something inside me started to tingle. I quietly got up from my vanity stool and walked towards the knock. I didn't make a sound as I approached the door and stood before it, not knowing I was projecting my fractured image through the peephole to whoever was standing outside.

Knock! Knock! Knock!

A little more insistent. I softly pressed my fingertips against the door and looked through the peephole.

White male, or light-skinned hispanic. Early 20s. Average height, 5'8-5'10. Overweight and doughy, about 220 pounds. Dark hair slicked back, round glasses. Some acne. He must have sensed my presence or noticed movement in the peephole because he suddenly broke out in a huge smile and chuckled, like I should be happy to see a miniature version of him staring back at me. I did not say a word. I did not know him.

I reached down to release the deadbolt, and then changed my mind. Instead, I walked into the kitchen and pulled my chef's knife out of the block and walked towards the bedroom. I picked up the phone and debated calling the police.

And then he tried to kick down my door.

For a split second, I stared at the door in disbelief, wondering if perhaps I didn't imagine the deafening crash. But then the crash came again, and I knew by the way the window in front of me shook that he was rushing the door and trying to break the deadbolt. I called 911 and explained in bursts what was happening. I had to yell over my potential intruder, who was now screaming, cursing, and kicking the door, for the operator to hear me.

The operator was very nice. He took down all my information and told me someone would be there shortly. And then he said he had to go.

Please don't hang up. I'm scared. I could barely speak the words. My mouth was taking in short gasps of air like a fish out of water.

I'm sorry. I have to answer more calls.
And it occurred to me the operator didn't want to stay and hear what would happen when my intruder made his way past my locks.

We hung up, and I called every person I knew and then my dad. Only my dad was home, and by the time I reached him the pounding at the door stopped. I daresay in the deafening quiet he didn't believe me when I told him someone tried to break into my apartment and the police were on their way. He showed up as I just as I finished giving the officer my statement. He thanked the officer and as I walked down the steps towards my dad, the officer called down from my stoop.

Your daughter is very lucky. There's someone going around. She would have been the 3rd.

We didn't ask 'the 3rd what?' because we didn't want to know. My dad never said a word on the way home, and I never went back to the apartment. My mom had a family friend clear it out and put everything in storage. I canceled my lease. I resumed my boring, sheltered life, only this time with great pleasure.

Two weeks later, Kara called me and invited me to eat dinner at our favorite restaurant, T.G.I.Fridays. Now that I was at home, I had plenty of money for such luxuries, and 30 minutes later we were in the lobby of the restaurant waiting for a table. I had a night class for my masters, but if we ate fast, I could make it in time.

I know you two ladies aren't waiting for a table!

Kara and I looked over to find a bartender leaning over the bar and looking in our direction. Kara and I turned around to make sure he was talking to us.

Yeah, I'm talking to you! You're not really going to wait for a table when you can have dinner right now with me, are you?

Kara and I looked at each other. I don't really drink. I don't go clubbing or dancing or partying. I certainly don't eat dinner in bars--don't people puke in there?! My eyes said it all: I couldn't possibly do that.

Kara looked back at the bartender. Sure, why not? That sounds like a great idea.

We both walked into the bar, Kara with a more lively step. I smiled weakly at the obvious regulars and they chuckled into their bourbon. I made a point to sit at a table in the bar, not the bar itself. I wasn't going to be there long.

The bartender smiled at my passive-aggressive defiance and walked around the bar to our table. He greeted Kara first and then turned to look at me.

Hello there.

I took in his hair, dark as pitch, hiding underneath a gray Kangol hat. Two eyes the color of money stared right through me, and for the first time in my life I blinked first.

Hello there yourself, Mister.