Death doesn’t give a fuck if it’s your third birthday. I found that out on March 02, 1988, when I woke up ready for the chocolate chip pancakes Mom had promised me. I ran down the stairs with my green, polka dot blanket in hand, and pranced into the kitchen. Mom wasn’t there. I saw several presents sitting on the kitchen table, but even being an eager toddler, I didn’t touch them. I wanted Mom to watch me open them. Dad was overseas in the military, but he’d called me the day before, since he didn’t know if he’d be able to call me on my actual birthday.
I skipped from the kitchen to the living room with a big birthday smile on my face. “Mommy,” I’d called out, “Mommy! I’m up! It’s my birt-day!” My smile faded when I realized Mom wasn’t in the living room, either. I’d seen my doll sitting propped up on the couch, so I eagerly gave her a morning greeting. “Hi, Dolly! It’s my birt-day! I’m tree years old now! Mommy’s gonna make us some pancakes when her gets up and then I could open my presents! I bet you gots a sister, now!” I giggled with excitement as I bounced back up the stairs.
At the top of the hallway, I noticed Mom’s door was slightly cracked open. I peered in, and saw Mom laying on her back in the bed. She looked like she was sleeping, but I could hear the shower going through the bathroom door. “Mommy,” I whispered, “it’s my birt-day. Wake up!” I shook her with my tiny hands, but she didn’t wake. When I heard the shower stop, and footsteps smacking against the bathroom floor, I scurried to Mom’s closet and closed the door. Laying down on the floor gave me a small line of vision through the crack under the door. I could see Mom in her bed, and I could see the bathroom door. I didn’t know what was going on, but I did know that no one else was supposed to be in our house. Dad had been away for a year, and Mom never had guests that early.
The bathroom door creaked open, and a man stepped out. He was rubbing a towel over his shaggy, black hair, and he was naked. He threw the towel on the ground and grabbed some jeans and a shirt off the floor. After dressing himself, he picked up a gun from the bedside table, and turned to leave the room. I saw the look on the man’s face right before he decided to turn around. It was as if as an idea had exploded in his mind. He turned toward Mom and slowly walked to her side, where he caressed her cheek. Taking a few steps back, he pointed the gun at Mom’s chest.
The gun shot made my eardrums scream with pain, and I saw Mom’s body bounce up from the bed, and then back down. With speckles of red clouding my vision, I started crying from inside the closet. As the man started walking toward my hiding place, I sank back into the corner. He saw me as soon as he swung the door open. “Mother fucker!” He grabbed my wrist and yanked me to my feet. “Come here, brat!” I kicked and screamed as he carried me out of the room over his shoulder. When my eyes discovered Mom, covered in blood, my little body went numb and I screamed. I screamed so loud that the man threw me on the ground and kicked me in my side, knocking every breath from my body.
We had a door in our hallway that led up a small set of stairs, to a secret room. Mom had a padlock on the door, so I couldn’t open it. It’s where she kept presents and valuables that my tiny eyes weren’t allowed to see. On March 02, the padlock was in place, but it wasn’t locked. Mom had gone up into the room to get my gifts.
The man dragged me by my feet up the stairs, my head bouncing off each step. When we reached the top, he swung me by my feet and I flew across the room, landing on my back, once again leaving me breathless. I felt myself crying, but I couldn’t make any sound come out. He walked up to my little body laying on the floor and kicked my ribs once more. This time my world turned black.
When I woke up, the man was gone. My sides and my head hurt, but I got up and tip toed down the small set of stairs and turned the door knob. It was locked. I banged on the door, screaming and crying. Mom didn’t come. No one came. I didn’t have my doll, or my blanket. It was cold in that room, and dark. The only light shining through was peeking through the crack under the door. I couldn’t reach the light switch. I was hungry, and I was still wishing for my birthday pancakes. I stayed in that room for five days, alone and hungry. God, I was so hungry. When I think about it, my stomach twists as though it’s empty. I’d cried a lot and screamed, and no longer had a voice.
At three years old, it felt like I was in that room for years. Luckily, Mom was a water hoarder, and on one of the shelves sat a case of water bottles. The room developed a horrendous odor as I was forced to urinate and defecate in the far corner. I was freshly potty-trained, and I was a big girl at three years old. I wanted Mom to be proud of me for not using it in my underwear. I stayed on the couch in the corner and sang to myself for the duration of my stay in the black room.
On the fifth day, I was huddled up on the couch, sleeping, when a jiggle on the door woke me, and I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I crawled behind the old couch.“Drew?” A man’s voice called my name. “You in here, sweetie? It’s okay. I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m a police officer. My name’s Lieutenant Edwards.”
I didn’t believe him, though his voice was soft and warming. He called out once more. “Drew? Honey? It’s okay, I promise. Your daddy’ll be here soon. I talked to him a bit ago. He said to tell you he loves you and he’ll see you soon. Drew? I need to know if you’re in here. I need to keep you safe, sweetie.” When I heard the word “daddy”, I almost instantly stood from behind the couch, rubbing my eyes. My lips trembled when I saw a man with a badge, holding my doll and my blanket. The man squatted down to my level as I ran at him and jumped into his arms. I didn’t know him, but Daddy had taught me that the badge would protect me.
The man stood with me in his arms. He handed me my doll and wrapped me in my blanket. I thought I was going to choke him, I was grasping his neck so tightly. “You’re okay now, sweetheart.”
As the officer carried me out of the house, my eyes bounced around, noticing all the people walking around with cameras and little dusters and notepads. “Where’s my mommy? I’m hungry, and she promised me pancakes for my birt-day.”
“Is today your birthday, angel?”
“No. Rusty came on my birt-day and mommy didn’t wake up.”
The officer’s eyes perked up, and he placed me on the ground, kneeling in front of me. “Rusty?”
“Him’s the man who cuts our grass. Him hurt my mommy and locked me in the black room.”
“Do you know how long you were in there, honey?”
“Mm-hm.” My little voice shook with exhaustion. “I’m tree now and I could count. It was four sleep times.” I swear I saw a tear drip to the officer’s cheek as he picked me up and handed me off to one of the EMT’s standing in the back of an ambulance. “You’re gonna go for a little ride, now, Drew. You’re daddy’ll be at the hospital soon, and I’ll come visit you later.”
I waved at my new officer friend as the EMT buckled me to the stretcher.
Dad got to the hospital that afternoon, and after a long embrace, he told me Mom was in Heaven, and that Rusty was a bad man, but we needed to forgive him because he’d given Mom back to God, and she was happy.
That event changed my life forever and I’ll never forget it. The detective that saved my life never forgot it, either. He became close friends with Dad, and he came to all my Martial Arts tournaments, soft ball games, and school plays. Every year on March 02, he knocked on the door with a beautifully wrapped gift. These days I call him Captain. He’s my mentor, my second father, and my boss. My name’s Sgt. Drew Mason, Homicide Detective.