I'll never forget my brief discussion with a trespassing stranger. The incident was scary, but nobody got hurt and the end result for me was enormously positive. If it hadn't happened, I might not be here to tell the story.
It all started late one night in April of 2006. Our bedroom window faces the
back yard, and we always keep it slightly open to get fresh air. I had not
yet fallen asleep when I heard the sound of footsteps crunching through
twigs and gravel.
My neighbors on either side have minimal fencing so it's possible to walk
almost the entire block by cutting through the back yards, and as the
crunching got louder I realized someone was taking the shortcut.
"Do you hear that?" my wife asked, and I said, "Yes." What happened next
may not have been the most sensible response but I decided to make verbal contact. It wasn't meant as a warning or threat, but just an inquiry.
"Who's out there?" I called through the window screen. The crunching
stopped immediately and then, with a note of trepidation, a voice said,
"Me." It sounded like a teenage boy. In my mind, the danger level dropped
substantially. Was I supposed to know this person? From his tone, the kid
was probably more nervous than I was.
"What are you doing?" was my next question.
"Going to see my friend."
I had mixed emotions by this point. I was mad that someone had scared me by
walking through my back yard without permission, but I was also hugely
relieved that it wasn't some sociopathic home invader looking for a target.
And I definitely did NOT want to prolong the encounter.
"Well," I said, trying to sound forceful but not aggressive, "keep going!"
There was more crunching of shoes on twigs as the stranger hurried along and
then everything went silent. And this is where I did the dumbest thing of
all, but it turned out for the best.
I got out of bed, threw on a bathrobe, and went outside to
make sure everything was okay. There are probably many police officers
reading this who have written "victim decided to make sure everything was
okay" in their official reports to the local district attorney or the
In my case the 'prowler' had moved on. But as I stood in the darkness
assessing the situation, a new feeling of anxiety came over me. There was a
definite, sharp pain in the middle of my chest.
I had noticed the same pain a few weeks earlier during a walk around the
neighborhood. It wasn't severe but it hurt enough to make me stop walking.
Perhaps, I thought, it was something muscular and would heal if I backed off
on the exercise. But then I noticed it happening when I walked anywhere for
more than five minutes.
In my mid-50s, not obese, with no symptoms like high cholesterol, I didn't
want to accept the fact that I might have heart trouble. My encounter with the mystery
walker made me a believer. I had been scared by the potential threat of a
strange person, the fright made my heart beat faster, and the faster
heartbeat caused chest pain. The next day I called my doctor.
Very quickly I was scheduled for a treadmill test which led to an angiogram
and it turned out my left descending coronary artery (known in the medical
field as 'The Widow Maker') was 95 percent blocked. Everyone involved in my
case said I was hugely fortunate not to have suffered a heart attack because
it would have been massive and possibly fatal.
I don't like having heart disease but living with it is far better than not
living at all. There's no telling how many months I would have delayed
seeing my doctor if that kid hadn't come strolling across my property on a
warm spring night. I've been thinking about him a lot these days. I hope
he's not taking shortcuts through backyards anymore. He helped prolong my
life. I want him to have a nice long one, too.