My alarm went of at 3:00 in the morning. I jumped out of bed and smacked Tweety on the head to shut him up. I crawled to the bathroom and stepped on the scale. 152 pounds. Almost there. It was December 11, 2003. I had five days to loose those last two pounds. I was going on a cruise to Mexico with my boyfriend, Nick and his family for Christmas. I’d never been on a cruise or to Mexico and it would be my first Christmas that I wasn’t spending with my parents, but it had motivated me to get off my butt and into the gym. I was certainly not bikini ready in December. I’d gained about 30 pounds since college and had lost 28 of it in the last several months by prying myself out of bed at the butt crack of dawn and limiting myself to an insanely restrictive diet—but it was working. I ate 1000 calories a day and burned 1000 calories on the elliptical every morning. My apartment complex had a 24-hour gym and I usually had it to myself in the mornings. Sometimes I’d run into a European soccer fan who was hogging the TV in the early morning, but generally, I was alone.
My mornings started by dragging myself down to the gym and heading for the tanning bed. That was 20 more minutes of sleep, and that’s how I convinced myself to do it. Just make it down there and you can go back to sleep. I rarely slept, but I usually made it down.
As I was pumping away on the machine, I heard the door open behind me.
“Hey,” a girl said, walking over to me. “you might want to lock this door. My sister was down here a few hours ago and she was almost raped.”
“Oh my gosh!” I said. “Is she ok?”
“Yeah, she’s fine, but they guy lives here. He has one of those things on his neck—you know, those voice box things.”
‘A tracheal implant,’ I thought.
“Just be careful, ok, hon?”
“Ok. Thanks.” Wow. A rapist, right her in my apartment complex! I hopped down off of my machine and locked the door behind her. Now I was on alert! Every sound got my full attention, but I was back in the workout zone. I kept my headphones and the TV off, and relied on my magazine for entertainment. I was only about 15 minutes into my workout—a long way to go. I started formulating a plan. If something happened, if he came in here, I’d just pick up my things and walk out. I wouldn’t give him the chance to catch me off guard. I’d just leave. No way was I going to let some psycho with a voice box get to me.
As time went by, I started to relax. Nothing was going to happen. It was just after 4:00 when I heard a knock on the door. As I said, I wasn’t always the only person at this time of day and I didn’t feel right keeping people out. It was a 24-hour gym, open to all residents. ‘I’d open the door,’ I told myself, ‘and if it’s him, I’ll just grab my stuff and leave.’
I got back down off the elliptical and went to the door. It was a solid door, but the walls on either side had windows. I tried to peak through the blinds, but couldn’t see who was at the door. I unlocked it and opened it. It was him. Standing in front of me was a nearly naked man, dressed only in boxers, with a tracheal implant. His face was young, younger that mine; his features were soft—like an oversized twelve-year-old.
I just stood staring at him for a moment. He starred right back, meeting my eyes. He was at least a foot taller than me and bulky—fat, I’d say. I snapped back to reality, telling myself to just pick up my things and go. I walked right back to my machine and picked up my keys and my gym bag. Turning around to leave, I nearly walked into him. He’d followed me and was standing inches from me. His hand reached out to grab my arm.
“Don’t you touch me!” I screamed and punched him in the chest. My fist hit him with a thud, but didn’t seem to do much. He barely flinched, his hand continuing to reach for me. It seemed to move almost in slow motion—isn’t that what everyone says?
“Don’t come near me!” I yelled at him, punching him harder with my fist, first the right, and then I dropped my things and swung at him with my left. It was a wild punch, but not without purpose. I hit him square in the jaw. His face turned and he staggered, but his expression never changed and he never uttered a sound.
I stood firm, my fists balled, and my eyes on fire. He backed off slightly, but that arm came after me again. This time, I took advantage of his bare feet. I stamped hard on his toe and brought my knee to his gut when he hunched over. One last blow to the face, and he was on the floor.
I stood over him, pointed to the door and yelled “GET OUT!” Surprisingly, he obeyed. Once out, I ran to the door and slammed it behind him, locking myself in. I was shaking, though with fear or adrenaline, I don’t know. I waited, looking out the windows to see if he was still out there, cursing myself for not bringing my cell phone. I was trapped in that room, until he decided to leave. I couldn’t see anyone outside, and if he was out there, he wasn’t making any noise.
Finally, I heard a door close—the door to the stairs that led up to the third floor where I lived. The apartment complex was one big building that wound around like a maze. When I first moved in, I needed a map to find my way down to the mailboxes and leasing office. I lived at the far east end, about a five minute walk from the lobby.
I reasoned that it was unlikely he would know where I lived. If he’d already attacked one woman before me, this was random. I could stay on the first floor, run down to the east end, leave the building and go up the stairs to my apartment from the outside. Gathering my things, I decided to try it. If I opened the door and he was still there, I’d lock it again and wait. If he was faster than me, well, I had a few more punches and kicks in me.
I opened the door a crack and looked around, I didn’t see him. Opening it further, I saw that the hallway was clear, and took off for the east end. I ran the whole way, not stopping until I got back to my front door. Once safely inside, I locked and bolted my door. My knees were shaking, but I couldn’t sit down. I had to keep moving to calm myself down. What should I do? Should I call the police? He didn’t hurt me. I did more damage to him. What about the other girl? What if he was still down there waiting for someone else. Yes, I should call the police. I reached for my phone.
“911—what city is your emergency in?”
“How can I help you?”
“I was just attacked in the gym at my apartment complex.”
“Are you alright?”
“Yes.” I gave her my address and phone number.
“An officer will be by in a few minutes.”
“They’re coming here?” Of course they were! They’d need to take a statement or something. Isn’t that how it works? When I hung up with the operator, I looked around my apartment. It was a mess! I couldn’t have the police coming here and seeing things like this! I started picking up the clutter. Living alone had made me a slob. Rushing to shove dirty clothes in the laundry, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was still in my gym clothes, sweaty and smelly. This would never do. I smoothed out my hair and put on some deodorant and a t-shirt. That was better. I’d barely had ten minutes when the police arrived.
Three officers stood outside my door. I let them in and told them what had happened, punches and all.
“So, you hit him?”
I nodded. “Three or four times, I think.”
“Wow. Ok. Well, I’ll need you to write all of this down.” He gave me a few pieces of paper and a pencil and I started writing the incident out. Two of the officers left after receiving garbled, static messages from their radios. When I’d finished, the third looked it over.
“Ok. We picked up someone downstairs. You’ll need to come down and identify him—make sure he’s the right guy. You ok with that?”
“Sure.” I was surprised at how cheery and pleasant I was. Shouldn’t I be a blubbering girly mess by now? I hadn’t shed a single tear. We walked back down to the lobby.
“Boy, this is a long walk!” he said.
“Yep. But it wakes me up.”
“What were you doing down there at this time of day?”
“Just working out. That’s when I normally go.”
We reached the front stairs and I was astonished to see teams of K-9 units. Huge German shepards were walking around on leashes, sniffing everything.
“Wow!” I said. “Those are big dogs.”
“Yeah, they smelled him right away.” The officer and I walked out the front door. A police car was parked in front of the lobby. He was sitting in the back seat with his hands behind his back, looking at me through the window.
“Is that him?”
“Yeah,” I said nodding. “That’s him.”
“Ok. We’ll have someone drive you back up to your apartment.” He signaled for another man who was the only one not dressed in uniform. “This is Captain Brady. He’ll take you home.”
“You must be freezing!” he said. “Here, get in the car where it’s warm. It will just be a few minutes before we get going.”
It was much warmer in the car and I was glad to stop shivering.
“So, you must be a morning person,” he said.
“Yeah, I’ve always gotten up early.”
“So, what happened?” I gave him my version of the story. “Yeah, we got that call from the other girl around midnight. Thing is, there was nothing we could do at that point. When you called, well, we figured we’d better get down here. The dogs smelled him right away. Came right in the front door and took off for the bathroom. He’d been hiding in there. We’ll get the security camera footage when everyone opens up in the morning.”
Security footage? I didn’t know there were cameras in the lobby. That made me feel better. I wondered if there were any inside the gym, capturing me throwing punches.
Safely back in my apartment, I looked at the clock. It was 6:45—I was going to be late for work. I called in and left a message.
“Hey girls, it’s Robin. I’m going to be in a little late this morning. I’ve been entertaining the entire Mission Police Department. Don’t worry, I’ll give you all the details when I’m in. See you later.” That ought to get their curiosity up. I hurried through my morning routine and made it to work by 8:30.
Our office was far too large for just the four of us. I worked at a small advertising agency in North Kansas City. We’d rented out one large room and just set up our desks along one wall. We were preparing for growth!
“Oh my gosh! What is going on?” Crystal, whose desk was next to mine, was practically bursting with curiosity.
“You’ll never believe it. I was attacked.”
“What? Oh my GOSH!” By now, everyone else was crowding around, digging for details. I told them the gruesome story right down to the last detail.
“Wow. You really hit him?”
“Yep. My hand is seriously sore. I saw a news van sitting at the end of the driveway this morning on my way in. I wonder if it will be on tonight.”
“So, what’s gonna happen to him?”
“I dunno. They said they would call me and let me know where he was going to be. I can’t imagine that they’ll release him. At least not today. If they do, I’m not going home.”
We chatted for a while about the whole thing, but when the phones started ringing, we got back to work. Around noon, the police called.
“He’s going to be held over for his arraignment, but we’ve also put in a restraining order against you and the apartment complex, so he won’t be allowed back there.”
“Would you like someone to call you if and when he’s released?”
“Oh, yes. Thank you.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“What were you doing down there at that time of day?”
I sighed. I was getting tired of this question. “I’m down there every day at that time. It’s my normal time to workout.”
“Hmmm. Well, you need to be more careful.”
That set me off. “No! Don’t tell me I need to be more careful. You tell him he needs to think twice before trying to put his hands on me. I think I took care of myself pretty well. I WAS careful. I locked the door, I was aware of my surroundings and I hit him before he could hit me, so don’t tell me I need to be more careful!”
“Ok, you’re right. I’m sorry. We’ll call you if anything changes.”
“Thank you.” I hung up. I was more upset now that I was after the incident. How dare he! I was proud of myself for the way I handled things and I was not about to let someone tell me that I was in the wrong for being up and about at early hours. It was a 24-hour gym. Three o’clock in the morning is one of those 24 hours. I had every right to be down there. He had no right to come after me. Yell at him! Don’t lecture me. I’m not the one who needs moral guidance.
Throughout the day, I got calls from friends and family who’d seen my apartment on the news and called to tell me that there was a rapist living right next door to me.
‘Yes, I know. I’m the one who beat the crap out of the guy.’
‘That was you?! What were you doing working out at 3am?’
‘I’ve always thought you were nuts to get up so early. I guess you won’t be doing that anymore.’
‘Says who? Why shouldn’t I? They caught the guy.’
‘Well, still. It’s too dangerous to be doing that.’
I gave up arguing after my mom, dad, grandmother and brother all called to ease their minds about my workout schedule.
I went to bed angry at everyone. The psycho (who’s name, I learned, was Marcus Bell), the person who called to tell me that he’d be staying in jail for at least a few weeks, and every one of my concerned family members for lecturing me about when it was appropriate to work out. Had I been asking for it? Had I done something wrong? No, I didn’t think so. But should I be trying to avoid trouble and nut jobs who attack women in the early morning hours?
The next morning, Tweety awoke me with his shrill buzz. I gave him a smack and rolled out of bed. I threw on my gym clothes and headed down to the tanning bed. It was 3:45 am.