Today I pressed Play on the iPod and the first song, Michael Jackson's Thriller, brought me memories of December '83, the night the video premiered on MTV. I'm pretty sure AJ was camping out for Duran Duran tickets that night, something my mother never would have let me do, so she did the dirty work for us that evening while I ended up babysitting for one of the two families I regularly sat for. Soon John Lennon's posthumously released Nobody Told Me began to play and it took me to the following month when it had its own MTV premiere, and I happened to be sitting for the same family. That memory led to a few thoughts of those two boys who loved Dr. Who, Fraggle Rock, and were just really lovely kids. After harassing myself for not remembering their names, the memory branched off again, and I eventually landed on the other family I sat for - the one with the 2 girls. This is where my time traveling Delorean crashes into The Night I Vowed I'd Never Babysit Again. Oh yes, I had such a babysitter's night. The kind of night that could have turned into Urban Legend if it weren't for the fact that the destiny which rules my life has a strange and fucked up sense of humor.
I got along with this family. I not only sat for the girls, but I had a part time job at the father's dental practice. That man gave me a much needed set of braces for the price of the hardware alone. One hundred bucks for braces. If it weren't for him, I'd have teeth growing out of my eyes. I need to find him on the internet and thank the fuck out of him. My family certainly could not have afforded it otherwise.
On the night in question, the girls and I were in the playroom, which happened to be in the basement, when the parents said their goodbyes and left for the concert they were seeing that evening. An hour later, we moved upstairs for dinner. Up one short flight of steps was the TV room with the Easy to Break Sliding Glass Door that you couldn't see out of when it got dark outside. It led to the Very Dark Yard that didn't have lights. A Homicidal Killer with a Sharp, Bloody Axe could stand at that glass sliding door and stare right at his victim inside innocently watching Friday Night Videos, and she would never be able to see him staring at her because a glance at the glass would only reveal her own reflection. She would never know he was there until the glass broke, and by that time it would be too late.
Up another short flight of stairs was the main floor with everything but the bedrooms which were another flight up. Kitchen, living room, entryway, and front door. But tonight, it wasn't just a front door. It was an Open Front Door. A Halfway Open Fucking Door. What parents leave their two little girls home with a babysitter down two flights of stairs and don't close the front door? No parents do, that's who. At least no New Yorkers do. None that have the common sense to hire a babysitter. So why was the door open on a Dark, Dark Night? Because, clearly, a Homicidal Killer had let himself in, that's why. And he left the door open just to let me know that it was already time to start worrying. Which I did.
Not wanting to alarm the little ones, I heated up their kosher dinner while trying to Take Care of It. I didn't want to call the police from another room, because then the killer would have easy access to hack the poor things while I was gone. I also didn't want them to hear me asking the police to come or why, so I picked up the phone to call my mother and ask her, in Spanish, to call the police for me. Except the line was dead. Dead. Like in the movies Dead. I tapped the thingy where the receiver rests a few times, and finally on the third tap, I got a dial tone. I shit you not. I made the call to Mom, fed the kids, put them to bed, and sat on the stairs that led to the bedrooms while clutching the baseball bat I found in the coat closet, and waited for either the police to show or The Killer to strike. A policeman showed up first. He very kindly checked every corner of the house, found no killer, and suggested that the parents neglected to shut the door all the way causing it to blow open with a little gust of wind.
I think any teen who has ever babysat has experienced that fear of What If. Up till now, if you were one of the lucky ones, there has been some adult in your life protecting you, and now, just for a few hours, you are learning to be the adult, and you are learning to protect someone else, at night, and it is scary. Especially if you like horror movies and you've seen When a Stranger Calls.
The officer's Clean Bill of No Killers in the House left me with an overwhelming sensation of relief and safety. It's the same high you're left with when the doctor tells you your tests came back negative. For the first and last time as a babysitter, I awaited the parents' return with No Fear and a cocky attitude of invincibility. I sat in the TV room watching Friday Night Videos, casually flipping the bird at the sliding glass door. If there was a crazy killer out there tonight, I had already defeated him. Just having the police come by left a force field that blocked the killer's ability to break the glass. Fuck you, Killer. I Win!
That's when the lights in the living room up those stairs turned off.
It wasn't a blown fuse. All the lights would have gone out and the TV would have turned off. The TV was still on, and the entryway light was still on. I could see it from the couch. Just up those few stairs, 2 lights had shut off, and I did not do it.
"DEE!?... RAE!?... Are you out of bed?" I wouldn't have yelled, but I thought they might not hear me from the spot on the couch I was now fused to, paralyzed with fear. No response. Killers don't respond. They wait for you to inspect, and then they tear your face off.
I finally got myself up the stairs and stared at the living room where the two lamps that should still be on were now off. That's when I realized for the first time that the couch they bookended was now pushed away from the wall. The Killer was clearly hiding behind the couch. He knew that if he turned off those lights, I would come upstairs to inspect. His axe was ready for my face.
I grabbed the baseball bat again and retreated to the girls' bedroom. I could tell you I was doing the honorable thing by checking that they were still alive before confronting The Killer, but honestly I was just postponing the confrontation. I don't mind confrontations as long as the other person isn't carrying an axe. After confirming that they were alive and not just swapped with The Killer's own demented spawn I made my way back down the steps. I could phone the cops again, but I knew if I lifted the receiver, the line would be dead, and this time, no clicking would bring it back to life. That's when he'd come out from behind the couch and tear off my face. I walked slowly to the couch, baseball bat raised high above my head, ready to strike down and get one good hit before we became the Evening News. On the count of three I jumped into the open spot by the couch's end and struck down at The Killer. I will never forget what he looked like.
He looked just like a light timer you plug into an outlet so that a specific set of lights will turn on and off tricking Would Be Robbers and Killers into thinking you're home. Roughly 2"x4", white round face with black numbers, a dial... Seems the Mr. and Mrs. decided to install it that day, forgetting to tell me about it, or that they were testing it out tonight. They also forgot to push the couch back to the wall and didn't close the front door.
When they came home the mother ran into the house having sensed all night long that something was wrong. There were no cell phones then. "What's wrong? I know something's wrong!" Then she saw my face. My very pissed off face. And she started to laugh and laugh and laugh. "We forgot to tell you about the timer on the lights, didn't we?"
I have always had an attitude, but I wouldn't have dared be disrespectful. I had balls, but they hadn't fully dropped yet. I told them about the front door, they said they left it open because it was still light out when they left. I said the phone was fucked up, they said it was a coincidence. I told them I called the police, they thanked me for being cautious, but I could still see their smirks. And in my first true epiphany about who I really was up to that point in my life, I looked at them and said into their smiling faces, "You know you left your Precious Cargo with a kid who follows Duran Duran around the tri-state area, right?" And for just a moment, I believe I saw a little bit of What If fear in their own faces. As adults, I imagine they were able to quickly brush it off with a What Are We Gonna Do, Never Live Our Lives?, and I do hope it was that easy for them. But I made my point. And I still think it was pretty insightful for someone who still wasn't old enough to drive.
All that from a song. Thriller, no less.