Light Sleeper

There was a knock on the door and the next thing I knew two men were storming through the tiny living room, waving guns and telling everyone to get on the floor. There were four or five of us there and we all did, pressing our faces into the rough Persian rug as they ransacked the house.


I was the only child there, a few months this side of thirteen, but that didn’t stop them. When they couldn’t find what they were looking for, they got more agitated and turned their attention to the bodies lined up on the floor.


‘You’ve got a pretty daughter,’ one said to my father, and then told me that was a very nice gold chain I was wearing as he stuck his fingers through it, grazing the back of my neck. Through tears and a fear so all-compassing that it seemed to make my whole body vibrate, I told him to take it….anything, anything to get him away from me.


He didn’t take the chain, but he cocked his gun with the tiniest click and put it against the back of my head and told my father to tell him where the money was or he’d kill me, and then the fear turned ragged and whole and I seemed to be falling down the rabbit hole right into its red embrace. I heard him counting backwards from three and I was screaming, ‘Daddy, tell him, Daddy!’ and I was thirteen years old and had not called my father Daddy in many years. And when he reached ‘one,’ and he was going to do what he said he would and I heard a sound like an ocean wave rise up from somewhere inside and this thought came through me, not from me but through me, and it said, ‘I am not going to die without a fight,’ thirteen years old and I’m lying on the floor of my house in Berkeley, California, thinking I’m not going to let someone just take my life and something somewhere pushed my hand and I reached up and grabbed at his wrist.


He jumped back from me like I was on fire and then he and the other one left as quickly as they had come. I began crying inconsolably and screamed that I wasn’t going to stay there that night and what I didn’t know is that I’d never sleep deeply ever again. From that night on I became a light sleeper.


My father was pretty sure he knew who set him up; a woman (isn’t it always, sounds the jailhouse chorus) associate. Two weeks later she tried it again, this time with three other guys as she stood on the porch in the shadows. Thankfully the women of the house were out and when we came back from dinner in Emeryville and rounded the corner the street was full of squad cars and flashing red and blue lights and there was my father coming out of the front door, hands up, in a police spotlight, and the snarling neighbor who always hated us because of the booming bass, screaming, ‘That’s the man! That’s him!’ like out of a movie.


One had died in the driveway two doors down. The other died on the operating table after the ambulance collected him, and the third was paralyzed. Fibers from the woman’s coat were found in a bullet hole in the doorway. She escaped with her life by a few inches and I heard, years later, she’d cleaned her act up. None of them knew my Dad was a marksman in the Army, and to this day I’d like to tell her that every time I hear the doorbell unexpectedly I still jump out of my skin.