Sunday, November 21, 2010

Locked Out.

I locked my baby inside my house last night.
And, as if it were a meal of dense red meat, I am still digesting that fact.

But I should probably start from the beginning.

Opal and I had just returned from an afternoon outing to Grammy and Grandpa's in Boulder. Six o'clock in the evening after daylight-savings makes it feel like it's passed your bedtime even before dinner's been served. I balanced Opal on one hip, car-to-house, along with two mammoth bags in an attempt to get it all in one trip.

I unloaded Opal and the bags onto the floor and greeted the animals, feeling that certain warmth that comes only in the winter months upon fleeing the cold for a toasty dwelling. A warmth that is compounded exponentially when it's been discovered that the dog hasn't torn open, consumed or scattered any food-like undesirables to clean up. I removed my coat and as I reached down to take off Opal's, I saw that she had my keys.

"Keys!" She said, pleased in the special category of knowing and naming an object successfully. And the cumulative moments that followed came from a single solitary thought-response to those very keys.

The thought was this: It's time for Opal's bath and I'll need to take those keys from her to get her into the bathtub. Things will go much smoother if I have something to replace them with, preferably something that can go with her into the bath. Her little (safe) plastic ring of keys are in the car. Perfect.

I said "be right back, honey!" left the door open a small crack, and dashed to the car and back in an estimated 10 or 15 seconds, no coat, crunching leaves, and face red with chill even from that short stint. As I opened the storm door with baby-keys in hand, a slight suction pulled the front door completely closed. The sound of shut was so secure and complete that it nearly made me gag. I knew without having to check that the door was locked from the inside.

I ran around to the back door in the off-chance that I'd forgotten to lock it before our afternoon outing, but no luck. My sweet house suddenly felt oppositional, resistant. Like a teenager who'd locked herself in her room, sulking and punishing. There was no give whatsoever, no crack in the mortar. Glass windows down for winter, heavy as a vault. And everything was inside: my purse, my phones, my contact numbers.
My child.
Our neighbors that have the spare key just happened to be in Mexico. The others just moved to Texas.

My airways shrunk with adrenaline. I ran to the next-door neighbor's house and pounded on the door, unafraid of my openly maniacal tone. Had the fleeting thought that it may make them respond faster. No answer. I bolted back to the front window to look in on Opal. Luckily, she'd found a thick folder of papers by the door and was scattering and crinkling them one-by-one, having a gay ole' time in her world of uninterrupted destruction, unaware of the goings-on in her midst.

I ran to the other next-door neighbor's house. Same maniacal knocking. Again, no answer. I ran back to see Opal pulling the contents from my work bag one at a time, examining one thing in the light and then casting it aside for the next item to appraise.

After two more empty houses and two more shifts of running back to peek in, I was tempted to take a more drastic approach and stand in the middle of the road and scream thinking someone would definitely be inspired to call the police. Opal was doing fine at the moment, but the idea of running from house to house until I found someone was staggering, and the further down the road I got, the further from my daughter I was. A car drove by and I waved and hollered like a fool, but my brown hair and dark clothing worked as camouflage in the dark.

I took a deep breath and noticed I couldn't feel the cold, or at least it wasn't bothersome. Rather, it felt welcomed, like continuously stepping out of a stuffy room, or having two hands on my shoulders shaking me into alertness.

House number five.

The house across the street and to the right, just barely visible from our front porch, is a burnt orange color, two stories, with white curtains in the front window that are always drawn. There resides a little white dog that's about the same size as the wind-up chihuahua some Canadian friends got for Opal. It yaps at each and every passer-by, living out it's own little fantasy of being all-mighty protector of it's Master's lair.

In the 3.5 years we've lived in this house, we've made a point of greeting most of our neighbors, and have made great friends with some of them. But these particular neighbors have always been an enigma— I've even used that specific word while in conversation with Jesse about them over grilled chicken and greens. There have been dozens of times when the guy who lives there has been exiting his car and walking into his house at the same time as I am, and I am determined to say hello. But he has never once looked up, always on his blue-tooth or distracted by something, or maybe I'm just far enough away to not even make it into his field of view. It's a regular occurrence and I've felt a strange obsession with meeting this person so as to end this obscure ritual of not saying hello (something that is ware-some on me, but doubtlessly irrelevant to his life). I've also seen a small child, a boy, floundering in the front yard and bouncing on the trampoline in back. And a woman with a Kate Gosselin hairdo climbing into the car in the driveway.

As I tore across the street and through their front yard, there was not a doubt in my mind that he would be the one to finally answer the door.

The little dog screeched. Good dog, I thought. His ranting along with the FBI-knocking will surely call anyone to attention. The neighbor answered.

I dumped a pile of words in front of him as if they'd gathered in my mouth in a disorganized mass. I haven't met you yet but I'm your neighbor and I locked my baby daughter in my house along with everything and I need to use your phone to call the police to come help. And I'm Heather.

He was alone in the house, said his name was Dave as he reached in his bag for his cellphone. He handed it to me, but it was a Blackberry and too complicated to figure out where the numbers were, so I handed it back right back to him. He called 9-1-1 for me. (Nobody else had a spare key and my plan was to get a cop to help me break the glass in one of the windows.)

The 9-1-1 operator very politely said they don't relate to lock-out incidents until I mentioned there was a one-year-old baby inside. He said he'd send someone out right away.

I'm coming with you, Dave said, as he slipped on well-warn tennis shoes. He didn't politely ask if I needed anything else or tell me to call if there was anything more he could do. He was definitive and concerned. And the brotherly tone made me want to cry.

I ran over first, deeply pleased to find that Opal was doing fine, having a heyday as a matter of fact. So busy unpacking everything in her midst that she didn't seem to miss Mommy a bit. There was even a strange sense of peace held in that moment. I didn't need to run away from her again. Help was on the way. She looked so warm and cozy and content—entertained, even—without even being aware that I was watching from outside. And the animals were both sound asleep, thus completing the strikingly ironic Rockwellian picture.

Until Dave caught up with me. His presence jarred Olive from her slumber and she exploded into a litany of murderous barking. (Understandably—what a strange scene that must have been from her perspective.) Her reaction startled Opal, who looked up to see us and began to sob. The dog continued to bark and Opal's cries increased in level of volume and hysteria. My entire body wanted to take one of the folded chairs that was still pointlessly perched in the front yard and throw it through the floor-to-ceiling window pane.

As I was attempting to calm both dog and baby from the outside, clearly to no avail, Dave noticed the small, sliding portion of one of the front windows was unlocked. Not until then did I realize I'd been clutching the plastic toy-keys through the entire saga. I threw them down and went after the screen window frame with a destructive fervor.

You only need to pull out the screen, he said. You don't want to bend the frame. Helpful, yes. Especially now, the next day, that the adrenaline buzz has long since washed away. But in the moment, I would've gladly gnawed through a sandwich of metal, glass and mesh to get to my baby girl. By that point, I'd estimate 10 or so minutes had passed since I was locked apart from my daughter. My patience was running thin.

Dave pulled the screen from the frame like a large, unwanted scab, and slid the window pane open. A deluge of warm air and volume escaped as I dove face-first through the opening.

Opal was a bit shaken and confused, but ultimately just fine. With her warm, heavenly little body on my hip, I thanked Dave for his incredible assistance—for saving my ass, I believe is how I put it—and we returned to our cherished home, this time sealing it up with us both on the inside. Opal wanted to be carried for a good half an hour before she was ready for bed, and I was more than happy to oblige. We sat on the couch and snuggled and swayed. I carried her in the sling and she rested her precious little head on my shoulder as the blood slowly returned to my extremities.

This morning, I baked a loaf of banana bread for our exceptional neighbor and walked over with Opal to drop it off as a proper thank you for exhibiting such outstanding acts of awesomeness. The little white dog howled her predatory tune. But this time, no one answered.

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