Tallulah had been whining, she was running from one window to the next and I heard my roosters stirring. It’s a sound that I hear a lot when something is trying to eat them. The scuttle of feathers and wings slapping together… it was nothing new. The hair on Tallulah’s back stood up, but no alarm bells rang in my head because we live among bears. So I let the dogs out to make noise, to sound threatening. If I had decided not to let them out, Tallulah would have pestered me until I caved. She would run to me, then to the door, then back to me again like always.
Nikolai and I did our usual routines. We were in bed by 7:30 PM because it was a school night, but I couldn’t sleep for some reason. I stayed up laughing at videos posted on Facebook and browsed the headlines. It was around 11:30 pm by the time I had decided to let the dogs out and it was as dark outside as it normally is. No lights flashing through the darkness, just the wind slapping gently on tree branches. I was finally feeling the full effects of exhaustion and my chest had been aching but I planned on letting the dogs back in again before going to sleep, so I closed the the door but I left it unlocked. I- left-the-door-unlocked.
I had dozed off in the middle of a TikTok video and woke sleepily when I heard Tallulah and Moose barking like crazy. I smirked before tucking my phone underneath my pillow and drifting back to sleep again. I figured they had something cornered out there and were on the brink of annihilation. The last peaceful thought that I had that night was that my chickens were safe due to the watchful eye of my amazing dogs. When I woke up again, it was to the sound of Tallulah’s feet pounding on the floor throughout my house. Down the hallway she galloped and right into my bedroom. I felt disoriented and I was trying to connect the conscious thoughts together that were swirling around in my head as she launched her body on top of mine.
I was lecturing Tallulah on her etiquette while loving on one of her ears with one hand and simultaneously fumbling to grab my glasses and locate my cell phone with the other. I wanted to see what time it was. That’s the moment I realized… I wasn’t the one who let the dogs in. It took a second to grasp the weight of it, but the feeling that something was horribly wrong crept over my body like ice. I tried to rationalize with myself that perhaps Tallulah had gotten the door open on her own somehow but I knew that just wasn’t possible. I had to get up and I HAD to get to my firearm as quickly as possible.
After mashing my glasses onto my face, I sat up in bed and hit the button on the side of my phone that illuminated the room. I glanced over at Nikolai (who always sleeps on daddy’s side of the bed when my husband isn’t home) to check on him. To my horror there stood a man wearing a dark blue hoodie pulled down over his face who was looming over my sleeping son. My ability to scream was tangled in my throat. I tried to adjust my eyes to the light and reason with my brain that the man had to be my husband. Who else would let themselves into a house that wasn’t their own? Who else would stand over a sleeping child and his mother in the middle of the night? I was forced to face a sickening reality when I discovered that this man’s skin color and my husband’s were not the same.
Shock and terror overtook my limbs as they shook with what felt like chills running though me. My body pumped adrenaline into my chest with every thundering heart beat. This was real. This was happening and it was happening to me. Every mother’s worst nightmare was my waking reality, my child was between me and this man rather than the other way around.
My ability to safely retrieve my firearm had been cut off. It was too late because it sat in the safe on my husband’s side of the bed between my son and the intruder. I had forgotten to move it over to my nightstand after my husband left and if I managed to get to it, there was a good chance that my son would have been in the way or it could have been taken from me. I was sitting in bed wearing only my T-shirt and a pair of panties while gawking at this man who was standing in my bedroom over my child.
Did he want to kill us? Was he here to take my son from me? Rape me? Steal from us? I didn’t know but I felt like I had to cover myself and I had to save my sleeping son who was waking up. My number one priority was to position myself between him and Nikolai, and then fight my way out of it to protect us. There was no other option. My husband was taking a call for a helicopter that was down in a city on the other side of Atlanta, there was nobody else here to save us. I had to save us. “I HAVE TO SAVE US!” was the thought that I was screaming in my brain even though I had yet to find my voice to speak.
I leapt from my bed and shrieked “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! GET OUT NOW! GET OUT!”
I searched in the dark for something to cover my bare legs with while the figure made his way down the hallway. Tallulah who was sitting on my bed, came to realize that all of her service dog training that I had drilled into her head to be accepting of strangers was now void. As I wrestled to put pajama bottoms on and race down the hallway after the stranger, she was hot on my heels. We made our way into the living room where the man stood. I had hoped I scared him off but I was wrong. He wasn’t leaving and I could smell the heat of alcohol on his breath.
“I crashed my car into your creek.” his words slurred together so that I barely made out what he was saying.
“There is absolutely nothing you can say that would excuse the fact that I woke up to you standing in my bedroom over MY son. GET OUT!”
“I got lost. I crashed my car.”
“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!”
He walked onto the porch and stood there, the glass door some-what between him and myself but largely agape.
I clutched my cell phone like a weapon and tried to call my neighbor with the volume on low so the man couldn’t hear and then sent her an SOS in text:
“Send your husband.”
“Get a gun. help.”
I once saw an ambulance search for a man who needed medical attention off of my dirt road. They never found him and he died of a heart attack. I knew that my neighbor was a lot closer than any police officer would be so she was my first call and my first text while I occupied the man in the blue hoodie with conversation. Talking my way out of it was the only option I had, he was twice my size and I had to protect my son at all cost.
“You know your dogs allowed me to let them inside your house right?” he slurred some more.
“They let me let them in… you can trust me. I can come in.”
“I would never trust someone that I caught leaning over my son in my bedroom in the middle of the night. I have no idea who you are but you’re not coming back into my house.”
“Your dogs wont bite. I pet them earlier.”
“You want to make a bet?” I taunted, I could hear Tallulah snarling at my side a deep growl rattled her chest.
“I need a phone. Give me your phone.” he demanded as he reached in to grab my phone from out of my fingers. Thankfully Tallulah took this opportunity to lunge forward placing herself between him and I while biting towards the hand grasping the other end of my cell phone. Her warning made him recoil from taking my phone from me and also stopped his attempt to get back inside my house.
If he had gotten a hold of my phone and taken it from me and if my neighbor hadn’t gotten my message due to a lack of cell reception… then no one would have been available to help us. My cell phone was the only lifeline I had to protect my son and I. By this time Nikolai was awake and sobbing in the bedroom because he heard everything, right down to Tallulah snapping at the stranger within our walls. I had yelled at him to stay put, to hide and to not come out no matter what.
The man still stood there on my porch in a stand-off with Tallulah and I.
“Where is YOUR phone?” I asked shakily.
“I lost it in your creek.”
“What’s your number? I’ll call it for you so you can find it.” I had no intention of sitting around to help him find his phone. I knew that he was drunk and that a ringing phone may draw him away from the house so I could close the door and lock it without being overpowered. He rattled off the numbers and I was pretty sure I got them wrong because I couldn’t understand him but I called it anyway.
He left my porch to look for his phone and the moment his feet touched earth my front door was slammed and locked behind him. I hung up my call and dialed 911. As suspected the 911 dispatcher as well as the police couldn’t locate our road. I grabbed my son from my bedroom and forced him to lock himself in the bathroom while I pulled my firearm and loaded a round into the chamber.
I can’t tell you how many times I practiced shooting scenarios in the woods at home. I had drills on pulling my firearm from my holster with the prayer that I would never have to use it on animals or people. The last time I shot at something other then a target was last summer when I saw a snake messing with one of our cats. I couldn’t tell if it was poisonous or not at the distance I was positioned, but once my cat ran off I aimed for it’s head anyway because it was coiled up where my son liked to play. My husband is rarely home to help me with these things so I’ve learned how to take care of myself.
I got my conceal carry license a couple of years ago. I woke up one morning and I decided that my safety was my own responsibility. Especially when you live way back in the woods like I do and you’re on your own a lot with a baby who relies on you. It was important to learn how to protect us and I practiced this skill weekly on our little farm (and still do). I know my Glock as if it were an extension of my limbs. Other than petty crimes and random drug users… my town has 750 people in it and is far safer than most. It’s easy to get complacent, to feel like this kind of thing will never happen to you. Suddenly you realize too late that you’ve made a mistake or two. Like not having your bedside safe in it’s usual place, and not locking the door because you dozed off.
Yet once that round was loaded and I was on the phone with 911, I felt safer than I had since I found the blue hooded man standing over my son at 1 AM. In the middle of trying and failing to give directions to the police, the man came back and was standing on my porch. My neighbor had texted me that she too was on the phone with 911. Her husband had tried to keep eyes on the guy in the hood but the stranger took off. Nikolai was screaming and hyperventilating in the bathroom. I could hear him sobbing while begging to be let out and praying I was okay.
The man was pounding his fist on my front door. I held my gun where he couldn’t see it below the glass window and kept it pointed directly at him. I told the dispatcher that I was armed and I knew that if he broke through my front door, I intended to fire. My mind was made up and it was the most terrifying moment of life. I’m a vegetarian. I love all living things. I believe in second chances and equality for all. I believe in kindness, but I would end my life if it meant allowing my son to live his.
I told the operator that the hooded man was trying to get back in. Through more slurred words behind my front door he didn’t ask but rather demanded to be allowed in from the cold.
“Is your husband home? Where is your husband at?”
“That’s none of your business! GO SIT IN YOUR CAR.”
“It’s cold out here! You’re going to let me in RIGHT NOW to warm up.”
“I’m not opening this door. I’m not an idiot. Go wait in your car for the police.”
“You called the cops?! OH SHIT!!” Down my steps, across the lawn and into the darkness he ran.
It took a while for the police to find us, my nerves were shot by the time they arrived and arrested the stranger who broke into my house. Four or five cop cars lined my dirt road and some officers arrived on foot. The hooded man didn’t live in my town, in fact he lived almost an hour away. I had never meet him before. Police corroborated his story through his text messages that he had intended on hooking up with a woman he meet online at her place on the other side of my little town.
His cell phone fell between his drivers seat and the center console while he was driving. It was Valentines Day night and he later told one of the detectives that he had stopped drinking at 6 pm. A whole 7 hours prior to him being arrested with the smell of alcohol on his breath outside of my home. A bottle of booze rolled out of his car and landed in my creek while his vehicle was being searched by officers. In the week that followed, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the bottle. A storm rolled in and the flood of rain water in my creek washed the bottle away. The only thing I felt about it was relief.
He told detectives several lies, the first being that he wasn’t drunk by the time he arrived to my house. The second lie being that when I asked him to leave my house that he did so immediately (my call to 911 thankfully backed me up). When I went out to speak with the officers, the man’s car had run over the culvert to my creek but was in no way submerged. His drivers side was easily accessible. The blowers in his car were still running and were blowing out warm air. I could feel and hear them as I walked by and I remembered him trying to convince me to let him into my house to get warm.
One detective felt that perhaps the man was mentally off. The hooded man claimed to have knocked on my door before entering. He meet Tallulah and Moose who seemed friendly and upon not getting a response… he let himself in. He admitted to that much while being interviewed. He walked through the entire length of my house to get into my bedroom. Not once did I hear a knock or hear someone cry out. I had been teaching Tallulah to be more accepting of strangers and she did exactly as she had been taught to do, up until she realized that the situation was all wrong. My pounding heart beat and the smell of fear flipped a switch in her that gave him a reason to think twice about re-entering my house. If she hadn’t stepped in, I wouldn’t have been able to call for help since he grabbed my phone and tried to take it from me with force.
It’s possible that he was mentally off and for that reason, I’m thankful my firearm was out of reach and we all walked away alive. Yet the little things he lied about ate away at me all week long. My son was traumatized. He had a panic attack after the incident because I was going to look for his jacket for school without him and he was afraid to be left alone. He hid when Izzy came to the door later in the week to see us, and he ask me to hold his hand while we walked to lock the door together. He struggled with some nightmares, but most of it seems like it’s finally beginning to ease up. I had to notify the school about what happened in case he tried to talk about it (which he did). He told a little friend about the bad man in our house, was called a liar by his friend, and came home in tears. I tried to reassure him that to most people… the event sounds unbelievable.
I felt like I was living someone else’s life. I sobbed in front of more strangers than I care to admit. I drove myself to see a therapist and broke down in the car before making it to her office door. I’ve had more panic attacks the past two weeks than I’ve ever had in all the years I’ve been struggling with my health. I had a panic attack when a man wearing a hoodie crossed in front of my car at a stop sign. I had a panic attack when I parked away from all the other cars in a parking lot and a stranger darted by my car and ran into the woods on a walking path. I’ve dreamt vivid and violent dreams which is unusual for me.
It took me a long time to be able to sit down and write about what happened to us two weeks ago. Upon typing the first few paragraphs I was shaking so hard that I slammed my computer shut and left the draft unfinished. On week one I couldn’t stop talking about it because it was all I could think about. On week two I was having a hard thinking about it after anyone talked about it. The flip in how I felt was bizarre. I’m still flinching over unexpected visitors. I don’t sleep until I’m too exhausted to stay awake or force myself to sleep by taking a sleep aid. Every sound has my eyelids flying open and I relive it again and again while triple checking that the door I know I locked is truly… locked.
Last night I dreamt that instead of a hooded figure, it was a bear looming over my son. I had to chase him out of my house, it ripped someone to pieces, and I was forced to shoot it to death. I woke up drenched in my own sweat this morning. I have gone over the story with friends and family members as well as police and detectives multiple times. I was victim shamed on Facebook in both public and private messages with lists of things people would have done differently or better. I was told by multiple people to “just teach my son not to touch guns and leave the weapon sitting out.” Which is some of the most ignorant parenting advice I’ve ever read. I will never feel guilty about locking up my firearm because kids are kids and they make mistakes too.
Someone also said something along the lines of “Well, at least he didn’t steal anything.” Except that he did. He took my peace of mind, my sense of security, and my ability to feel safe. I don’t know when I’ll ever feel normal again. The messages have died down, I’m still consulting with the DA and the state is working on filing charges. I’m not thrilled with how some things have been handled there either. As far as I’m aware, no breathalyzer was done. No drug testing, no DUI is being filed. They never got his license and car insurance information, they never made any kind of an accident report so that I could get the property damage fixed. The man made bail the next day and I’m left wondering… if he can lie, what else is he hiding?
Meanwhile I’m seeing a therapist and trying to find my way back to happiness. Some days I just don’t feel like myself at all. What I know for certain, is that I still love where I live. My home in the woods is still my haven, I’d have to be dead for him to have taken that away from me and thankfully Nikolai feels that way too. I’m not okay today… but maybe I’ll be okay tomorrow.
*100% True story, took place on 2/15/22 at around 1:00 AM