I was the second born in a family of six children. My sister was 14 months my elder and generally stood head and shoulders above me all my life. I was thankful for my four younger brothers, who were my slaves, audience, congregation, students, depending on my mood and theirs. At times I must wonder what my parents were thinking, leaving my sister “in charge” of us beginning at a very early age. As they went out the door to whatever important thing took them from the bedlam they had created in their bedroom, my father would always say,
“What Jeannie says, goes. If you don’t like it, do it and complain about it later.”
Well, as I have mentioned earlier, Jeannie was not fond of me, nor I of her in those days, so, having to comply with her “rules” did not always suit me very well. One day, however, we were all on the same page. Nobody complained about Jeannie’s instructions that day. For as Mom and Dad headed out the door, Dad cautioned us to stay inside on this bright sunny Saturday, and to keep the doors locked. The Boston Strangler was on the loose and he wanted to take no chances.
OK, we did not live in Boston, we lived in Bowie, MD. The Boston Strangler wasn’t strangling kids, he was strangling women…but WE didn’t know that! As Mom and Dad rolled down the driveway in the 1958 Chevy Station Wagon, Jeannie was taking command. The house became our fortress. Every door was barricaded with furniture and each kid had a “weapon” with which to gauge the counterattack on the Boston Strangler, should he happen in on our humble abode.
We were tense, but we were committed. OK, we were petrified! We did not stand down from our posts until we heard the wheels of the 1958 rolling up the drive. In a flurry we moved the furniture back and relaxed our bodies. Mom and Dad strolled in the front door, pleased with the house looking exactly as they had left it…no kidding…we had spent the entire three hours on guard!!
Now, I figure that was just a little experiment my Dad was trying to see whether his flock could be scared into obedience by the threat of an external boogy man, but it cemented in my mind a fear of these types of notorious killers, that stayed with me.
Later, as a student at Florida State University, I experienced the real magnitude of this terror as I heard the news that a crazed man had murdered some girls at the Chi Omega house and then traveled several blocks to a duplex on Dunwoody Street, where he attempted to murder another student. My apartment was only blocks away.
This killer had no name in those early days, but my “roommate” Dee, who was really only that according to the apartment lease that her parents agreed to pay, decided to spend the night at the apartment, instead of at her boyfriend’s, as was the norm. In the middle of the night, she awakened me, certain that the killer was at our door. She told me to look at the living room window and see if I agreed that there was someone out there. I looked, without my glasses, albeit, and I determined there were two “killers” out there. We were really scared.
About that time, we heard a noise…he/they were peeing on our front door! Dee decided we had to get out of there and into action she went. Dee, grabbed a tennis racket and gave me a butcher knife and told me to follow her. She flung the door open and out we ran, with our weapons, never looking back, never closing the door, running was fast as we could on that freezing night in late January 1978. We got to her little car, and jumped in. She started the motor and off we drove to her boyfriend’s apartment. We never even waited for the defrost to clear the windshield…just hung our heads out the window and drove.
Once we arrived at Jake’s place, we ran to his door. Dee knocked.
“Who is it?” came the question from inside.
“It’s DEE!!!” she yelled, and he cracked the door…just a tiny bit and there we were, staring at the barrel of a shot gun!
"GEEZ , Jake!! It’s Fletch and me!"
Well, he let us in and we told him our story about the killers who peed on our door, and how scared we were and we couldn’t quit shaking. He made us some tea and we all sat up…nobody got any sleep. Similar scenarios were happening all over town.
The next night I slept alone in my apartment, happy that Dee was once again at Jake’s and I was not afraid. For in that night of demented terror, I saw that it was not my own fear that had driven me to the insane actions of the night before, but those of another. How easy it was to be swept into the mode of terror. I thought about the Boston Strangler and the irrational fear my father’s caution had instilled in me, and I looked at my actions with just the slightest suggestion from Dee the night before. In all the months I had lived there alone, I’m certain other drunks has passed by my living room window, and probably a few had peed on my door. But, because there was a killer on the loose, my brain was swayed to believe he was after us.
I slept well that night. Partially due to exhaustion, I’m certain, but also because I had reached a certain serenity, knowing that the fear had to be my own before it could be justified, and, if I continued to be held hostage by the fears of others, my life would be unbearable. They did eventually detain Ted Bundy and those still living in Tallahassee were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. But the fact of the matter is, none of us know what dangerous person is lurking in the quiet town or the busy city in which we make our home. I must use common sense to secure myself and my welfare against those unknowns, but I cannot be imprisoned by fear of these unknowns.