Okay, I am the first to admit that I’ve gotten into a few scary situations… and pretty much all of them involved drinking. But I never thought I’d find myself startled out of a tequila stupor, to see a man standing at the foot of the bed, with a knife in his hand, wearing a stocking mask, and holding his finger up to his lips in silent “shhhhhhhh…”
My work friend Helen was 45 going on 16 and the kind of wild child that never actually grows up — the type with the wealthy, but disapproving parents, who bailed her out of every difficult situation, in exchange for trying to control everything she did. I had always been a wannabe wild child, and Helen brought out something in me that made me lust for tequila, throw off my good girl persona, and let down my hair.
It was a beautiful Vancouver summer Friday evening; perfect for sitting outside long after dark without getting a chill. Helen had invited me over for a drink after work. There may have been talk of going to a club. I had planned to have a couple of margaritas with her, eat some nachos, have a few laughs, and go home sober. But the margaritas were exceptionally good, Helen was an excellent hostess; she kept my glass filled, and I kept drinking. Before I knew it, I was way over the limit, and going nowhere.
Even though I was very drunk, part of me was still aware that it was up to me to take care of myself. Helen wasn’t someone that I could depend on; she was the girl at the party who didn’t stop when she’d had too much. She was the girl that I looked after, holding her head as she vomited into the toilet, and then guarded as she lay passed out, so that the boys (who weren’t interested in me) would leave her alone. By the time the evening chill finally did hit, and the tequila bottle was empty, she was only standing because she’d been there many times.
We went into the house, Helen showed me where I would be sleeping, then lurched off to her room. I went back outside, brought in the dishes and set them on the counter, and made sure the cat was inside. I wrestled with the patio door, but was unable to get it to latch. I finally gave up because there was no rousing Helen, who had somehow ended up under the covers, naked, in the bed I was supposed to be sleeping in. With nothing to change into, and suddenly needing to lie down so that the world would stop spinning, I lay, fully clothed, beside her.
What seemed like moments passed, when I felt something touch my foot. Thinking it was the cat, I opened my eyes. A thin, Asian man holding a chef’s knife in his right hand, was standing at the foot of the bed. He was wearing a stocking that flattened his face into a horror-story mask and holding his finger up to his lips in silent “shhhhhhhh…”
I remember the way my brain slowed down, and wondering how I knew he was Asian even under a stocking. Then, the flight or fight response kicked in.
With adrenaline exploding through my veins, I flailed my arms, gasping for breath, trying to reach Helen, who was out cold beside me. I finally choked her name out, “Helen, Helen!” I gurgled, panic-stricken.
And, suddenly he was gone. Much later I remembered hearing his thunderous footsteps as he ran out the patio door. I blinked slowly, and opened my eyes, but he really wasn't there. Shaking and nauseous with fear and tequila, I turned over and started pushing on Helen, loudly calling her name, trying to wake her up. It seemed to take forever for her to finally come to.
“What? What’s wrong?” Helen asked in a stupor.
“There was a man with a stocking over his face, holding a knife in here, just a moment ago!”
That roused her. She got up out of bed, in her naked glory, weaving. “Where?! Where?!” she demanded loudly.
I was so completely dumbfounded by what I had just experienced I seriously questioned my sanity. But I could still feel his touch on the arch of my foot. It felt so real.
By this time, naked Helen was up, looking through the house. She turned on lights, yelling drunkenly, “Where, where? I don’t see anyone.” Then she went outside through the opened sliding door, weaving drunkenly through the grass below the deck, yelling, “Where?! Where?! I don’t see anyone!”
It was very late, and the last thing I wanted was for the neighbours to see a naked, drunken Helen screaming in the backyard, so I sotto voce pleaded, “Helen, Helen, get in here! Please come inside.”
After another lap, she finally came in, and by this time was slightly sober. Even though she had gone through an open patio door to get outside, I could tell she didn’t believe me. It didn’t seem possible to me either. I turned around to sit down.
And then I saw them — the light pink-tinted pair of pantyhose he had intended to tie me up with so he could get to Helen — were lying on the stove.
Suddenly completely sober, I asked shakily, “Helen, did you put those there?”
She slowly turned her eyes in the direction I was pointing.
“Noooo… oh my God!” she exclaimed. “There was someone in here!”
She quickly went into her room to put on a robe, and started to question me. After telling her what had happened several times, I said, we should call the police, because it wasn’t safe to be there alone.
Shaking, I picked up the phone, dialled 911, and told the dispatcher that an intruder had been in the house. Within minutes a squad car arrived and two very big, and very imposing Vancouver City Police officers came to the door.
Authority-fearing, good girl Kathy was back and deeply ashamed. I was intoxicated, reeking of tequila, with an even more drunken Helen in her shorty silk bathrobe beside me, telling the officer what had happened. Knowing that we were finally safe, the adrenaline stopped flowing and I began shaking from shock as I described a young, tall, and thin Asian man wearing a stocking mask, t-shirt and jeans. The officer asked me how long it had been since the intruder had been in the house. When I told him over an hour before, he asked me why it took so long to call 911. Not wanting to embarrass Helen by retelling her naked backyard stroll, I told the cop that I just couldn’t believe it had happened until I noticed the pantyhose on the stove.
He seemed to believe me, and set about going through the house, the yard, even trying to lift fingerprints off the patio door, which was too full of other prints to manage. The other officer, who had written down my description, went to their vehicle to call into dispatch with the details. He came back several moments later and told us that about an hour earlier a young Asian man, wearing a t-shirt was seen sitting in a car by police officers a block away. As soon as the cruiser passed, the young man started his car and left.
There was nothing else they could do, but one of the officers firmly locked the patio door, told Helen to get it fixed, or leave a stick in the rails to prevent anyone from being able to open the patio door from the outside.
By now it was at least three in the morning, and Helen and I were exhausted, jumpy, and simply could not take any more excitement. She went off to her room, and I to mine. Keeping my clothes on, I drifted into a wakeful, dream-filled sleep.
At about nine o’clock the next morning, I felt a light bounce on the bed. I immediately felt that same choking fear grip me, gasped and sat up, wide awake. The poor cat, whose bed I inhabited, startled, screeched, and scrabbled out of the room.
There was no more sleep for me that morning, and even when I went home I did not sleep soundly for at least a week. Despite the heat, I kept my bedroom window (a short jump from the porch) closed, and awoke to every sound. But eventually, I realized that I was okay, I needn’t be afraid in my safe little Kitsilano rooming house. Life returned to normal.
Shortly after that fateful Friday, Helen was fired from the agency we worked in for showing up to work still drunk from the night before. A few weeks later, she called me at work to say her 16-year-old giant of a son (who slept in the basement of the house) heard footsteps and the television turn on late one night. Thinking it was his mother coming home, he went upstairs to the living room to check on her. Instead he found a tall, thin Asian man sitting on their couch, watching Saturday Night Live.
Without thinking, Helen’s son bellowed, “What the hell are you doing in my house?!” The man ran out the back sliding door he had let himself in through. Police were called in once again.
Helen and her son left the house the next day and went to stay with her parents until her father could find a safer house in a better part of town for them to live in.
We never spoke again.