When the Matron was a Wee Miss, say 10 years old, she and her family lived in the tiniest shack imaginable, a two story tool shed, really, masquerading as government-subsidized low income housing.
Once, the Matron went back as an adult and could not believe human beings lived there. Still.
But the tiny shack was home, even if they were so poor that a bath towel was the cover for their only table-- table that served as desk and dining room/kitchen fare.
Young Miss lived with her mother, and younger sister and brother. Now, weather has always been an exciting theme in the Matron's life, and winter in the frigid north is no exception. She remembers one night in particular, when the television warned of dangerous, sub-zero temperatures ahead. Wind chill! Danger! Possible school closings!
Oh boy! Thought Young Miss. Bring that deep freeze on!
While she slept, the temperature did indeed drop, drop, drop. Her corner of the earth crackled with cold and black. But that deep night opened up into something more dangerous than she had ever imagined -- because at 2:30 a.m., the doorbell rang.
And rang and rang. Someone was pounding and screaming for Mary, which would be Young Miss's mother's name (and her own of course).
Young Miss, logically, got up to answer the door. Her mother stopped her, wrapping a robe around herself.
Mother: "I'll get this. You stay here."
The Matron's heart races when she remembers, still.
Because when the door opened, the pounding and yelling ended only to introduce a terrible thud and crash. A loud voice, angry. Furniture flew across the room as her mother went flying, screaming: "Mary! Mary! Run, run, run! Get help!" Young Miss heard her mother suddenly choking and screaming, being batted about and a man's dark terrible yell: I am going to kill you. I am going to kill you.
Above all the fighting, Young Miss heard her mother, begging her daughter for help.
Both brother and sister were now awake and weeping at the top of the stairs. Young Miss forced them into the bathroom, shaking. They did NOT want to go.
Young Miss: "Lock the door! Don't let anyone in!"
Sister: "I hate you. I hate you! Don't leave me, don't leave me!"
The last thing Young Miss remembers of them was their outstretched arms, begging their big sister not to leave them in that house with the man hell bent on killing their mother. And maybe them.
But she did. This is all happening within minutes--seconds--from the doorbell ringing to the crashing thunderous sounds of pain and broken glass and her terrified siblings--and Young Miss ran downstairs and into the room.
Her mother was on the floor, on her side, flailing, as a man had her pinned down, his arm raised higher to hit her again and again and again -- with more force, to do more damage, more blood and bruises.
Poised at the edge of the room, ablaze with a rocketship adrenaline, Young Miss understood one thing: she was destined to kill this man. The desire to kill, the need, shot through her veins and altered her chemistry, forever. She looked around for the right tool, fast.
Her mother caught a glimpse of her daughter's face: "NO! NO! Run! Get help! RUN!"
And the man turned to see Young Miss. He held down her mother and took one calculated look at the child and grinned. Evil shifted his grip on the earth. He moved toward her.
"RUN!" Her mother grabbed his leg and bit, hard.
He screamed and turned his rage back again and Young Miss RAN.
In a pink sleeveless nightgown and bare feet, she raced into the brittle night and threw herself against door after door of those low-income housing units, ringing bells and screaming for help. This was a dubious neighborhood. Marginal. People who wore their own trouble on their beaten faces. They didn't want somebody's else's.
Her mother kept screaming and screaming and screaming, yelling for help as Young Miss made a decision and ran across rocks, pavement, snow and sticks to a family's house a block away. Running, running, running on the tilt and axis, the new universe, of her mother's voice . . . until the voice ended.
Young Miss stopped running for one split second and listened. Nothing. It's possible to think that you are as scared and panicked as you possibly can be, and find more of the chaos within you.
She threw herself onto the final door, ringing the bell and screaming. Within seconds, Kenny Jay was pulling on his pants, his wife Cora was dialing the police while wrapping Young Miss in blankets and grabbing her hands with an "oh my god", while their children filed out of bedrooms and wiped their eyes.
Kenny Jay walked out the door with his rifle.
Cora cried: "Don't!"
But he did.
Now, Young Miss has no idea what happened next because she fainted.
When she woke up, she was on their flowered couch. Cora had warm towels wrapped around frostbitten toes and fingers. She was rubbing the Young Miss's head. Young Miss realized that this other mother was holding her in her arms, and rocking a little bit. She wasn't going to die that night, after all.
But her mother?
Young Miss shot straight up, as a terrible fear, red and razor-sharp and all encompassing, descended upon her body and set up camp. Such fear might start in your belly or chest, but its tendrils instantly take hold so you vibrate and quake.
There is nothing other than than fear, waiting for nearly an hour, back in the land before cell phones. The sweet steady drone of sirens and voices. One block away, the night sounded alive, like a movie set.
Young Miss knew her mother was dead. She just knew it. She remembered the look in that man's eyes when he stepped toward her, and the thought of her brother and sister rendered her unable to speak. She sat with Cora for nearly an hour without saying a word.
So when the door opened and her mother, brother and sister walked through it!! Well, the Matron wishes everyone could experience the purity of such joy (under different circumstances). That avalanche of joy and relief threw the Young Miss into their arms where they all four huddled and wept for a while, survivors. If the Matron lives a very very long time (and she plans to), she imagines she will never again experience such an all encompassing and complex myriad of emotion.
Her mother was battered and bruised, beaten badly.
The Matron knows she never got the real story. Mistaken identity, is what her mother told her. Turns out that he was very drunk, which allowed Young Miss's mother to wrangle out from under him and grab a kitchen knife. That's when he ran, right before Kenny Jay arrived with the gun. Of course, Kenny Jay being Kenny Jay, he tried running after the rat but it took a couple of days for the police to catch him.
Young Miss accepted the mistaken identity story. But. There are other possibilities and that's a different, more delicate blog post. After all, he was indeed looking for a Mary.
They all survived that night. But she locks her doors and windows now, religiously. And, she vividly, viscerally, remembers the feeling -- that she could kill someone to save a life! She has a healthy respect for that piece of self-knowledge. May she never have to use it.