Suzi Rowe submits the last entry in our essay contest on courage, with her telling of a close encounter with a mystery robber. After reading it, add your comments to be entered for a chance to win a free iPod nano.

Suzi Rowe


It’s 8:30 p.m., and I’m sitting at the computer adjusting the rice-filled neck wrap I had just heated up in the microwave. My neck is killing me. My stomach has felt a little sick all night like I’m worried about something. I’m hoping for some relief as I look at the clock. Where is Hunter? I think he said he’d be home by now since it was a school night and he still has homework to do. It’s so unlike him to go out on a school night and especially to not have his homework done. Since my husband, Randy, is in San Diego all week at a conference and Sam, our oldest, is away at college in California, I really don’t like that Hunter is out so late. I keep checking emails and looking at the clock. Why is he out so late? I really want him home soon, so I can stop worrying and go to bed. I check the clock again; now it’s 9 p.m. Ugh!

Finally at 9:06 p.m. Hunter drives into our garage that I had left open to remind him to park inside since Randy’s car isn’t there this week. I am relieved to see him, say good night, and decide to head to bed since I’m not feeling great. After watching a few minutes of Rock Center, the telephone rings. I look at the clock; it’s about 9:25 p.m. Hmmm….who could that be? We usually let the answering machine get the phone especially during the last few months of the election since we don’t feel like talking to Mitt or Barack or Susan Sarandon anymore, but since it is kind of late, I decide to pick up.

“Suzi! My car got broken into, my garage door opener is gone, Mattie’s home alone and there’s someone in the house, I told her to get into her closet, get over there, get over there!” I know right away that it’s Jayme, my good friend and neighbor, who always seems to know what to do. “Okay, okay,” I reply and snap into emergency mom mode. My heart is racing as I jump out of bed and run toward the door. Hunter, who picked up the phone getting the tail-end of our good neighbor friend’s frantic plea, is two steps ahead of me. I stop to put on a jacket and shoes thinking about not wanting to injure myself, but he didn’t and is already across the street and heading into their corner house. Hunter is inside before I have even gotten across the street. Now I really have to go inside and fast! All I can think about is that Mattie is scared and needs my help and that my son is in there too. I don’t know what to expect. I’m not thinking; I’m reacting. I have tunnel vision, and I’m not really noticing much around me.

I finally get to the door and go inside. Evidently, Hunter had rung the front doorbell several times before trying the door that ended up being unlocked! I find Hunter in the kitchen looking for a knife (he is thinking), but all of the knives in the block are gone for some reason. I frantically fly up the stairs (I’m not thinking), and he follows me with the knife sharpener. I’m shouting over and over again, “Mattie, Mattie, where are you? Mattie! Mattie!”

Mattie waits until she knows it’s me and without a word comes out of her closet and meets me at her bedroom door. Her bedroom light is on, the hall light is on, and her parents’ bedroom light is on. Everything seems bright and safe and fine; in fact, Mattie is really calm. I ask her if she’s okay, and all she says is “yes”. Relief passes through my body. I breathe out thinking how maybe there wasn’t really anybody in the house; maybe she just “thought” she had heard someone. Maybe the garage door opener really hadn’t been taken. Kids, who are home alone, often think they hear stuff….

Suddenly, my calm is shattered. Something is happening behind me. My breath stops. My heart starts pumping uncontrollably. I turn around. Hunter is looking down the stairs, so I look too. I see it, the backside of a dark figure. My back had been to the top of the stairs; I hadn’t seen the robber explode out of the bedroom at the top of the stairs RIGHT behind me like a rat darting out of a corner. Hunter had thrown the knife sharpener down at the robber and was screaming and cussing at the robber. I scream like I have never screamed, “Get out of here of here! Get out of here! What are you doing in here?” For a split second, I stop to think about whether I should chase after him or not. I’m so scared and shocked, but really, really mad…I’m so, so angry! My adrenalin kicks in again. He is running away from me, so I decide to maneuver around the banister and down the stairs. By the time I turn the corner toward the front door, the “rat” is already out the door. For some reason I think a car is coming from right to left in front of the house, but when I get outside to the street, the small, dark car is way down the street on the left already past at least three houses. It is so, so dark. Our neighborhood doesn’t have street lights which I usually really like since we sleep better and can see the beautiful stars so, so much better, but tonight I want more light! How could I not see the license plate number? How could I not have even been able to see what color or what kind of car it is? Everything had happened so, so fast. Did all of this really just happen? Why could I not remember hardly anything? How did the car get so far down the street so, so fast?

My heart starts racing again. Could there be another robber still in the house? I quickly go back into the house to join Mattie and Hunter as my thoughts start racing out of control. I’m relieved to see Mattie on the phone with her mom and Hunter looking around. Evidently, Mattie had been on the phone with her mom the whole time while she hid in her bedroom closet. Jayme, thinking all of the time, tells Mattie to have us taker her over to our house. Mattie calmly talks to her mom and dad on the phone. Hunter talks to them too. We are in shock. We try to piece together what just happened. The police still haven’t arrived. I watch their house from my front bedroom window in case another robber comes out. I keep watching and watching. Hunter tells me that he had seen a car parked across the side street from their house with their lights on when he had come home at 9:06 p.m. I get on the phone and tell Kurt, Mattie’s dad who is thousands of miles away in Washington, DC, about the car. He astutely concludes that there probably was a second robber in the car who was the driver. That explains how the car had gotten down the street and away so quickly.

Minutes go by and the police STILL haven’t arrived! Suddenly, I see Jayme’s car drive up into their driveway. Finally, a couple more cars come too. I’m assuming they are the police. Hunter, Mattie, and I decide to head back over. They might want to ask us questions. Plus, I want to talk to Jayme. We all need to process this. We all are shaken. Everything we knew to be true about our safety has been uprooted by fear and disbelief. Things like this happen to “other” people, not to us!

The story gets scarier and more unbelievably as we piece together the night’s events. Jayme tells me how she had gone to her son’s football game on the south side of town that night and how Mattie hadn’t wanted to stay home alone but didn’t want to sit at the cold game. Jayme tells me how at the end of the game that she had a sinking feeling she hadn’t locked the car because of the strange circumstances of having to take lots of blankets out of the back and how she had had to disengage the automatic back hatch closure that must have thrown off her routine of locking the car. When she and another mom got back to the car, they found her purse gone, the contents of the glove compartment gone, and Mattie’s expensive tennis racquet missing. Her son, Hank, was riding the team bus home, so they quickly headed home. As soon as they got onto the Interstate, Mattie called, “Mom, when are you coming home?” Mattie was bored and tired and didn’t like staying home alone. She was sitting on the couch on the main floor watching t.v. “We’re on our way right now; I’ll be home in about fifteen minutes.”

Mattie and she were still talking, when Mattie says, “Mom, I just heard the garage door go up. Mom, I just heard the garage door go down.” Jayme looks up to where the garage door opener resides in her car, and it’s gone! Mattie asks if she should go lock the door from garage to the house. Jayme quickly instructs Mattie to go up into her bedroom closet and to be quiet. She says her mind was thinking of a hundred possibilities at once. No, don’t go and lock that door; you’ll run into the robber. Don’t go to the master closet; they’ll be looking to steal things from the master bedroom. No, don’t run out the front or back door; they might see you. She tells Mattie to not worry because they just want “stuff”, they don’t want to hurt her, and they probably don’t even know she’s there; however, it is so strange that they even had the gall to come into the house with so many lights on and the t.v. on! Jayme has her friend call 911. They report what’s happening and stay on the phone with them. Jayme speeds north on I-25 thinking the police won’t get there soon enough. That’s when she thinks to use the On Star system that she used to think was a waste of money but came free for a few months with her new car and call me. She knew I’d be home; she knew I could get over there right then!

I’ve told my story to people. One person calls me “the brave one” now, but I don’t feel brave. I don’t really think what I did was brave. Hunter and I were just thinking of Mattie….of scared Mattie home alone in the house. As we tell our stories to those whom we trust, we are able to lean into our shock and into our fear. We tell our “story” first to those whom we trust—to those who won’t judge us or reprimand us for doing it the way we did. I never would have guessed, but telling our stories seemed to take much more courage than going into that house that night. It’s so easy to feel guilt and shame and feel that what we did was “stupid”. Maybe we should have waited for back-up. Maybe we shouldn’t have gone into the house unarmed, but we felt it was the right thing to do at the time. Now, we must be brave enough to accept that the outcome of the night’s events was exactly what should have been, and that if anything had happened differently, that perhaps one of us may have gotten hurt or even killed. In the end, the robber left one of Jayme’s big black bags filled with contents from their office on the main floor and left another one of her bags filled with expensive jewelry on her master bedroom floor. Everything happened just right. Hunter’s ringing the doorbell kept us from surprising the robber and allowed the thief to move from the master bedroom to the bedroom at the top of the stairs for a fast getaway. Hunter’s back was to the top of the stairs while he looked down toward the front door and my back was to the top of the stairs as I talked to Mattie. It was all meant to be. Because our backs were turned, the robber was able to quickly escape without us seeing his face or hearing his voice. We didn’t see him, so there was no reason for him to hurt us. No, we didn’t catch him, we didn’t hurt him, but he didn’t hurt any of us. Our mission was to be there for Mattie; not to catch, hurt, or kill the robber. Mission accomplished. Amen.

The complete list of courage contest entries are here.

Suzi suggests that telling the story takes more courage than living it. Is that how courage works? Is acting in the moment easier than reflecting and talking about it?

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