It’s been more than a decade since this Good Friday situation, the day Baby Tyler locked Toddler Tucker and me in a second story bedroom for an hour and a half, and our rescue involved three strangers, three firemen, a fire truck, three police officers, several calls to 9-1-1, and a very brave neighbor.
An oldie, but a goodie.
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Please. Have a seat. Pour a drink. Settle in. I have a story you will not believe. I promise that every single thing in the following paragraphs really, honestly, truly happened. You may question as you read, and if you’re not sure, just return to this statement: it’s all true.
It was Good Friday. We were in the final stretch of six days without Robb. So, you know, that right there is a recipe for freshness and success all the way around. We had just finished baths. I had finished lotioning and dressing Tyler, and he was running free while I gave Tucker the same post-bath treatment. Tyler is in a door-closing frenzy these days, since he has just learned how to successfully operate the doorknobs entirely. He was opening and closing all the doors in our upstairs, and he casually closed the door to Tucker’s bedroom.
I’m not a huge fan of closed doors with small children on the other side, so I asked Tuck to open the door while I picked out his clean clothes. And then I heard him say, “Uh-oh. Locked. Tyler locked it.”
Ahem. What? Surely he’s gotten it wrong. “No way. He didn’t lock it. Try again.”
“Nope. It’s locked, Mommy. Tyler locked the door.”
I tried. He was right. The door was locked. Tyler was on the outside, and Tuck and I were trapped inside. (I’d like to take this moment to give a special nod to the previous owners of this house, who thought it was indeed brilliant to put a lock on the outside of a child’s bedroom. Brilliant.)
My cell phone was about eight feet away, on the shelf at the top of the stairs. Far too far away, on the other side of the door. Robb was in Texas. My parents were out of town for the day. Nobody was likely to drop by our home, unannounced, for a very long, long time. I was aware of these realities, but I didn’t panic. Yet.
I lay down on the floor, with my face smashed against the carpet. I could see Tyler’s little socked feet. I called for him, and he lay down on the floor, inches away from me… only a securely locked door stood between us.
“Hi, buddy. Can you unlock the door? Turn the little knob? Please?”
He stood up. He fiddled with the doorknob. I thought it would perhaps be this easy. But then he lay back down, and I could see 1/4 of his sweet little face, pressed against the carpet.
“Hi, Mommy.” So, no luck on the lock, then.
“Hi, Ty. Can you get mommy’s phone? It’s on shelf by the steps. Please, baby. Please.”
“Phone? Get Mommy’s phone?”
I watched his sweet little feet walk down the hallway, stopping just short of the said shelf. But then he took the calendar off the wall and sat down to look at the newest animals born at the zoo. Oh, dear. I could feel panic settling in.
I called for him. Repeatedly. I needed his attention. Right now. This precious second child of mine needed to learn to follow multiple step directions immediately. He was our only hope. But he gave us no hope. He came back to my smashed face calling from the inch crack underneath the door, and he slid his fingers through and smiled at me.
Now Tucker chimed in. “Tyler, please. Mommy’s phone. On the shelf. Go get it.”
We tried this again and again. For a long stretch. I sent Tyler to retrieve the phone, and he found other things to do for a few moments, only to come back and say hi to me. Finally, after many of these rounds, he stopped coming back. The only thing worse than the hopelessness of a child who cannot follow directions is the fear that settles in when he stops answering. I could not see him or hear him, and I began to imagine the worst.
In the meantime, Tucker was pacing. He was walking the length of his bed, again and again, saying, “We’ll never get out, Mommy. Never. We’ll never get out. Ever.”
That’s not so helpful. I encouraged him to pray instead. So he folded his hands and paced, saying, “Please, God. Please. Please save us. Or we’ll never get out. Ever.”
Still, no Tyler. Clearly, he would not be our means of escape. But I needed a plan: fast.
The doorknob was the kind with a hole in the middle of the side opposite the lock, so all I needed was one of those handy little rods to stick in there, designed to unlock the door. (If only.) I dove into Tucker’s closet, and I found one wire hanger among hoards of plastic ones. (As a rule, I don’t keep the wire ones, since a friend of mine told me her childhood story of being rushed to the ER with a wire hanger protruding from her eyeball. So, we stick to plastics. But I was singing the praises of the one wire hanger I hadn’t purged.) I unwound it, and I poked it through the hole. I tinkered and jammed. No luck.
New plan. I looked out the second-story window. I tried to gauge it… could I jump? I happen to store all the family’s sheets in Tucker’s closet, so I could tie them together and lower myself until I felt safe enough to jump. (I can’t imagine feeling safe enough to jump. I’m not your stereotypical risk taker.) I measured the distance and the risk.
A definite option, but just not yet.
Instead, I took the screen out of the window, and I started screaming my head off. Our home backs up to a busy road, and I bellowed to all the passing traffic: “Help! Please help! Anyone!! Anyone?? Help me!” I gathered a white sheet from the closet collection, and I added a flying flag to my SOS calls. Please. Please. Please.
(Still no word from Tyler, but plenty from Tuck. He was pacing and praying and yelling, repeating every single thing I said. Good thing I’m not a cusser. Typically.)
I was pretty confident that a few drivers looked our way, and one passenger even turned her head to look closely as they drove by. But nobody stopped. Come on. Somebody. Please.)
I spotted an older woman walking up the sidewalk. I upped the volume and the frenzy. “Ma’am! Ma’am! Help us! Please!” Thank you, Lord, she heard my voice. She walked up the sidewalk and stood on the other side of our backyard fence. I told her what happened. I asked for her help. I shouted directions to our home (since she would need to turn around, walk the entire length of the fencing to the intersection, turn left, then left again, then up the hill… and she didn’t seem confident to jump the fence to rescue us in a shorter route). I told her our house number. I told her our garage code. I screamed the numbers, and I signed them with my hands. Please. Please.
She didn’t seem entirely confident, and she also couldn’t hear me very well over the din of the traffic. But she was our best hope, thus far. I gave her all my best strategies, and I watched her walk away. In the right direction, but still, away. And that’s when it occurred to me: who am I kidding? Why should she help us? She is this little old woman out for a walk to keep her arthritis from acting up, and I have launched her into a rescue mission. And even if she does take the extra hike to our front door, and even if she does find the right house and then remember the garage code, is she actually going to enter the home of someone she doesn’t know, only to have so search for us once she’s inside??
I’m toast, I thought. Better keep screaming.
Moments later I spotted two teenagers strolling by, this time on the far side of the four-lane busy road. I waved, screamed, and flailed until they looked our way. Pretty sure I had all the signs of a woman in distress, they crossed the street to see what I needed.
“Please call 9-1-1! I need help!” Enough with the lengthy directions. I needed rescuers who were willing and able to break into my home, and you can count on the ones with badges. This sweet girl listened to my pleas, and she called 9-1-1 from her cell phone. She relayed my address twice, withstood four transfers of her call (?!?), and stayed on the line until someone assured her that help was on the way. And even better, she promised to stay within my line of vision until this help arrived.
And that’s when I started to cry. Because that’s what I do when the crisis is nearly over and it looks like maybe we will be okay. But we weren’t yet. And I had a three-year-old in the room who was watching my every move to determine if he should cry as well. So I shut down the waterworks, with promises to do that later. Once I knew Tyler was okay too.
(Still no word from him, by the way. The hallway was s-i-l-e-n-t.)
Fifteen minutes crawled by. I made conversation with the darling girl on the other side of the fence, whom I believe is named Victoria. We waited, and we were all thankful the house wasn’t truly on fire as we waited for the fire trucks. (And I didn’t let myself really think for even one second about this house on fire with us locked inside and Tyler nowhere to be found… even now, let’s change the subject.)
And in that forever of waiting, the bedroom door flew open. In a heroic measure of great fortitude, my neighbor had come to rescue us. And hers was perhaps the most beautiful face I had ever seen. Sweet relief… we were free.
Also, to my greater relief, she was carrying Tyler in her arms. He was covered in mascara. Homeboy had spent the entire hour hanging out in my makeup drawer, painting himself. No wonder he didn’t answer me. I was so relieved to see him that I didn’t even care about anything else. (But I also didn’t laugh. It wasn’t funny yet.)
(It’s been ten years. It’s funny now.)
That’s when Bean (our neighbor, nicknamed for Sabrina) told me her side of the story. After all my doubts, the sweet old woman really did follow through. She found my house, and she even entered the garage code. The door opened at her command, but she didn’t want to go any further, not without someone who at least knew me. So, she went next door.
But from Bean’s perspective, this apparently crazy old woman showed up on her front porch. She was insistent that there was a woman next door who was locked in her house, and she needed help. Bean was suspicious. What? Why on earth would Tricia be locked in her house? Who gets locked in their own house? Tricia, smart girl that she is, would open the door and let herself out. Bean was not so apt to help this person, who clearly spoke nonsense.
She called my cell phone: no response. She called Robb’s cell phone (in Texas). She told Robb about the crazy woman, to which my husband replied: “You’re right. She is crazy. Call the police. I’m sure Tricia is just fine. I haven’t heard from her in a while, but I’m sure she’s fine. That lady is probably an Alzheimer’s patient who has escaped. Don’t worry about Tricia, but please take care of yourself.”
Oh, sure. This woman is my saving grace, and Robb tells Bean: please ignore and continue on with your day. (To his very loving credit, he had no idea that I was in such great distress.)
Thankfully, the woman persisted. And after Bean was unsuccessful in getting me to answer my phone, she decided she could at least check things out. She came inside our house, to find everything in working order: only the people were missing. Dishes out, iPod playing, laundry half-folded: evidence of daily routines. But no people.
And, bless her heart, that’s when she started to feel afraid. She called out for me, but she got no response. (I was too busy yelling for my life and the lives of my children… I couldn’t hear her.) She came up the stairs to find all the doors closed (thanks to our masterful door-closer). She didn’t know which one to open, and she didn’t know what she would find on the other side. She started with our bedroom, and there she found Tyler. Mr. Mascara. My little boy, in drag.
She scooped him up, and she came in search of us. And she found us. I hugged her and hugged her, and I would have for longer…except just then we heard blaring sirens. The firemen had arrived.
Bean took Tyler to the kitchen sink, and she began cleaning him up. I went outside to greet our team of rescuers. Tucker was on my hip, and he was mightily mesmerized by this real, live fire truck, close enough to touch. The firemen listened to my story, and they asked if I felt that my children or our home needed any further care. I promised them that we were okay. I thanked them for their services to my family and our community, and I sent them off to rescue someone else.
I headed back inside, where Tyler was nearly cleaned up. I snapped his picture. It doesn’t quite capture the magnitude of the moment, when it was all caked across his nose, cheeks, eyelids, and eyebrows, but it gives you an idea. And at least it is proof.
I called Robb, needing to fill him in on the crisis, alert him of our status, and just listen to his voice. But just then, my doorbell rang. Ferociously. If doorbells can ring as such. Someone wanted in.
I came do the door to find three police officers. To Robb, I said, “Just a minute, honey. The police are here…. Hello, gentlemen.”
(Music to his out-of-town ears, I am sure.)
“Hello, ma’am. Was there an emergency here?”
“Well, yes. Yes, there was. We’re okay now. You see, my younger son, that one right there? He locked my older son and me into a bedroom. We couldn’t get out.”
“And were you waving a flag out the window?”
“Then that explains it. We received multiple 9-1-1 calls from the neighborhood. People told us a woman was hanging out her window, screaming for help. We didn’t all come together – we arrived separately. The dispatcher received numerous calls, and we all came rushing to the scene.”
(They did see me! All those people who seemed to casually glance or even look closely as they drove by – they followed through too. They called 9-1-1 for my rescue.)
“Are you okay now, Ma’am?”
“I really am. I’m a little shaken, but I think we’ll be okay.”
They looked at Tyler. “Ma’am, can you tell us why his eyes are black?”
“Yes. I sure can. You see…” And I told them the story. It had little to do with domestic abuse of any kind. I assured them.
I apologized for the false alarm, but they very quickly and gently assured me: this was no false alarm. I needed help, fast, and I did the right thing. (I can’t tell you how much I really needed to hear that.)
They asked if they could do anything before they left. I said, “Could I take your picture? Please? I just have to prove that this really happened. All of it.” Without a second’s hesitation, they each scooped up my boys, and they smiled for my ever-ready camera.
And with that, they were on their way. Bean stuck around long enough to make sure I was indeed okay, in the real mom-to-mom sense. And she offered to have her husband swing by the liquor store on his way home, if that would help me. I thanked her profusely… but I was pretty sure the adrenaline crash would pacify me.
I put the boys down for their naps, and I crashed into bed. For two hours. I slept hard. The kind of hard sleep that caused me to wake up feeling disoriented… where am I? What time is it? Is the door locked?
Tucker woke me up after his nap, but he didn’t really want me to get out of bed. He just wanted to lay beside me. After all, this was his trauma, too. We merely survived the rest of the day, until Robb got home. We were in a dazed stupor, Tucker and me. Tyler was just fine, except for the mascara with lasting power. (Apparently, I buy the best stuff WalMart has. As we can now tell, on Tyler’s forever darkened lashes.)
There are many heroes in the story: the firemen, the police officers, and Bean, whom I thanked with everything I had in me. But there are also the other heroes whom I never met, or who disappeared off the scene just as the officials arrived: Victoria and her friend behind my fence, the old woman who took the longest hike of her life, and the many anonymous drive-by callers. If, by chance, you read my blog: Thank you. I wish I could tell you myself.
Tucker has polished the retelling, which is complete with prayers, shouting, and wild arm movements. And he’s pretty accurate. He had a hard time going to sleep in the bedroom we had been locked in, and he reminded me that he was very sad… “because Tyler turned the knob.” The experience has come with some bad dreams, but he is on the mend.
Tyler is, well, becoming aware of this story in which he is a central character. If you ask him what happened, he says, “I yock a door.” He will never, ever live this down, and his wife will hear all about this. With time, it will collect humor, and it already carries grace. But it will stick with him. Every year on Good Friday, as we remember what Jesus did for us, we’ll also recall what Tyler did to us.
Robb finally came home. He replaced the doorknob with one that doesn’t lock, and I finally had that cry I promised myself. This story isn’t quite funny to me yet. But you can laugh if you want to. I will someday.
I promise. It’s all true.