I’ve called 911 exactly four times in my life. The first was when I was eighteen and driving home from a late college class. I passed an accident that had just happened, literally minutes before. People had been flung from their cars and were laying on the pavement. Other vehicles had stopped and blocked the road so the injured didn’t get run over by the traffic. The 911 dispatch officer assured me that medics were already on the way. I wasn’t the first to call.
The second time was also at night. Things were getting serious with the man I had been dating and he wanted me to meet his parents. This entailed a 10 hour drive deep into the heart of middle America. An hour out, he passed a small pickup truck. The driver took it personally. He chased us for miles, attempting to rear end us and push us off the road. Mobile phone coverage back then wasn’t what it is today and at that point in the drive neither of us could get a signal. When the emergency call finally went through I passed the phone to him and listened as he described our pursuer and detailed our location. In minutes blue lights flashed on the horizon and the pickup truck braked and u-turned.
The third time was just over a year ago when I witnessed an act of deliberate road rage. A large pickup truck must have thought the minivan driver in front of him was driving too slow. He whipped around her, almost taking out the back corner panel of an adjacent SUV in the process, pulled in front of the van and then slammed on his brakes. There was no time for her to stop and the nose of her van met the tail of his truck with a sickening crunch of metal and squeal of tires. Like the first time, I wasn’t the first person to call and report the incident.
This last time (and hopefully it will be the last) I was not driving or in a car. I was in my house. With someone I thought was one way, but come to find out, is another… at least when alcohol is involved. What I did was naive. I see that now. It has taken me some time to get my head around what happened and to decide how much I should write about it. So I will tell you what I feel I can.
I know this man through work. He’s someone I would have readily called a friend, but looking back now I see he was really just an acquaintance I had with whom I had frequent interaction. There hasn’t been any romantic chemistry between us. Ever. Last week was a difficult one for him. A series of events led to him having to reschedule a project he was contracted on and when he called to explain the reason for the delay I found out about his woes. In listening, what seemed an easy fix was for him to get a good night’s rest free from worry. Nathan was staying me, so with the awkwardness of being alone in my home with him removed, I offered up my spare bedroom. He accepted the offer.
I texted him my address, but to keep him from getting lost, I met him about halfway and he asked if he could just ride with me. That seemed odd, but he appeared to be a little unsteady on his feet, which he blamed on a sedative. I told him riding with me would be just fine. In the car he began to talk. A lot. More than I’ve ever heard him talk. About personal things. I didn’t listen to warning bells ringing in my head. Instead, I just thought… wow, that must have been some sedative he took.
At my house he met Nathan and then I showed him to the guest room. He looked around the homey space and teared up. Then he crossed the room and threw his arms around me.
“Thank you so much,” he whispered in my ear.
A shiver ran down my spine before I could step away from his embrace.
Shortly thereafter, with me thinking my feel-good project of helping another was going as planned, Nathan and I went to bed. But I was restless during the night. I kept thinking I was hearing things, but then would convince myself I was being silly, and would doze off again. But the loud crash of pictures and sculpture falling off a shelf that startled Nathan and I awake in the early morning hours was not my imagination.
“What was that?” Nathan asked.
“I think it was my houseguest,” I said.
“What the hell?”
“We better get dressed.”
What waited for us was not a pretty sight. The man was stumbling, trying to make sense of the crash, of the broken fragments on the ground. He reeked of alcohol. Nathan stepped in.
“What’s going on man?” he asked.
“I dunno,” came the slurred response.
Nathan pointed to the open door of my liquor cabinet, “Been busy?”
“Yeah… I found your booze.”
“How long have you been drinking?” Nathan calmly asked.
“Mmmm,” the man’s eyes dilated as he tried to process an answer to the question, “Seven days.”
“Let’s go outside and get some fresh air,” I suggested. But my brain was shouting: Seven days?!!! Who drinks for seven days!??!!!! How is that possible!??? WHAT DID YOU BRING HOME?!!!!
Then the man lunged at me, and, even still, I tell myself it was for another hug. But Nathan stepped between us, catching him by the shoulders, turning him around and steering him towards my back patio. In moments he was passed out on my chaise lounge.
Back inside Nathan and I looked at each other solemnly.
“He’s an alcoholic,” Nathan said quietly.
“Yes,” I agreed, “I’m not sure what to do about him. Maybe I can find a place to take him?”
Nathan nodded and I pulled out my phone, doing a quick search for rehab facilities in the area. I called the first one on the list and explained the situation. The woman I spoke with, while very nice, couldn’t do a thing to help me until insurance companies opened… in two hours.
“What do I between now and then?” I asked, my voice starting to shake.
“Don’t let him go through withdrawals in your house. He could have a seizure and die.”
“Oh… good to know. Thank you.”
I hung up feeling even worse about the situation.
About that time, the man came to and stumbled back in the house. Over the next hour he became more and more combative. He said things. Troubling, threatening things. Things I will not write. And then he would switch and say “thank you” over and over and over. I felt trapped. I had nowhere I could take him. And even if I could, I didn’t want to be in an enclosed space with him to get there.
Repeatedly he attempted to get close to me and again and again Nathan calmly blocked his path. But the man’s frustration was rising. He flung a fist at my wall. And then another.
“No,” Nathan said, pulling him away and pushing him to his knees, “You aren’t going to wreck her house.”
Once down the man didn’t get up. Instead, he began to writhe on the floor like a child throwing a tantrum. At this point I was truly scared.
“I’m calling 911,” I said.
I did. They came. And none too quickly. The man’s mouth had begun to bleed minutes before the police and medics were in my driveway. It took six men to remove him from my house and as I watched them pull away, with the man I had attempted to help held with restraints in the back of the ambulance, I felt nothing but relief. And fear. My reality had been shaken. And that terrified me. I’m still afraid. I’ve been blind for many years to the dangers that lurk beneath the surface. Like a child, covering my eyes with the thought that, if I can’t see it, it can’t see me. But that is my reality no longer.
The man called me from the hospital to ask what had happened. He didn’t remember. And I can understand why. He had downed a full bottle of tequila and half a fifth of vodka in a period of six hours. When he passed the phone to the nurse she told me he was still going through withdrawals and that had he not received medical help, he would have died.
He’s been in a recovery hospital for people with substance abuse problems since then, but is expected to be released today.