Back when I was younger, my siblings and I had a difficult time with our home lives. Our mother was often away with friends partying, or off somewhere else – so often that we always had a babysitter of some sort around. Some of the babysitters weren’t bad, or were our own relatives (like one of our uncles who babysat us sometimes) but some of them were downright sadistic or unconcerned with watching a handful of bratty kids.
One of these babysitters, his name was Bill. He was a pretty nice guy, actually – when he was sober. I’m not quite sure how or where my mom met him, or why she decided he’d be a good man to watch her children. He was an alcoholic, he suffered from PTSD after some time in the Vietnam war, and he was often homeless and lived in a shelter where he would bring us to eat sometimes – also a treat for our young eyes, since we’d see crackheads and heroin addicts and drunks passed out on the stairs and we’d eat food that was barely fit for human consumption.
The perfect babysitter.
As I said above, though – Bill was nice. He joked around. He took us ice skating once or twice. He made really tasty fried chicken when he cooked for us. I think overall, his troubles stemmed mostly from his PTSD – and that is really unfortunate because he had some kids of his own. Sometimes, when he’d crash at our place after a night of partying – Bill would toss and turn in his sleep. He’d cry out. He would shake his head violently.
The perfect babysitter. Thanks, mom.
So, one night – Bill is babysitting us. It’s been some time since he first showed up in our lives and so we’re used to most of his little tics and his ways. He ends up drunk, a bit faster than usual. We all begin to grow uneasy because we haven’t seen him this drunk. So we sort of stay out of his way. He lumbers around the kitchen, and he makes his signature fried chicken. I examine a piece and see that it’s still raw inside. I tell my siblings quietly not to eat it. I move with my younger brother and sister to my sister’s room and we sit in the room with the lights off, trying to be invisible. Bill starts to mutter to himself. We momentarily forget he’s there and we all do handstands against the wall and tell jokes and stories.
Suddenly, Bill is in the doorway. He looms over us, his form a shadow. He sways there. He sees me, as I’m closest to him.
“What’re you doing in your sister’s room?” He slurs this question a bit.
“We’re all just talking,” I said, trying to make myself small.
He makes a noise and moves off, muttering to himself. I look at my brother and sister. Bill comes back to the door a couple more times. He keeps asking questions. “What are you kids doing?” Those types of questions – but his tone and demeanor change slowly into something more sinister, something that doesn’t sit right with me. He almost exclusively directs the questions and mutterings toward me.
After Bill leaves, I stand up. “I’m going to go to my room for a little while,” I tell my siblings. “Bill’s being weird to me.”
I move down the hall and go to my room. I have a deep, uneasy feeling I can’t explain. I feel like I’m cornered, like I should hide. I’m only ten years old. I look to the darkness of the closet. I keep my lights off and I climb up into the top shelf and get into the fetal position. I can make out the glowing light from the hallway stretched on my floor in the shape of a door.
Eventually, I hear Bill’s voice. He asks my siblings where I am. I feel a tightness in my chest. I start to shake a little. I see his shadow stretch across my floor as he stands in the doorway to my room. He is swaying, drunk, possessed by his own demons.
“Where are you, boy?” he says.
I don’t answer, of course.
“WHERE ARE YOU? Never mind, you fuckin’ gook. I can SMELL you. I’ll tell you what. You fucking hide in here, you coward piece of shit. I’m going to the kitchen. I’m going to get myself a knife. When I get back – I’m going to fucking slit you open like a fish.”
I’m pretty close to hyperventilating. I’m trembling all over. I hear him turn himself around in the hallway and I see his shadow dropping away as he leaves. I panicked. What should I do? I glanced down at the window. I slid quickly down out of the shelf, landing on the wood floor in my bare feet. I was dressed in pajamas. I opened the window, and I jumped outside into the cold snow. Luckily, we were on the first floor. I needed to get help, I needed to find someone.
I ran down the side of the house, cutting my feet on ice shards as the icy layer under the powder gave way. I ran as fast as I could, out onto the street, prepared to shout for help to the first person I saw. Two women were approaching in large coats, so I ran toward them.
“Joey?” One of them said. It sounded like my mother’s voice.
“Mom?” It was her. I ran to her.
“Joey – what the fuck are you doing out here with no shoes?” She was drunk.
“Mom! Bill was going to kill me! He said he was going to cut me open like a fish!”
“Yeah – Monika and Gary are still in there! He’s gonna’ hurt us!”
She cautiously entered with me. I do believe that part of her is a caring mother. She opened the door and Bill was sitting on the sofa, drinking a beer and eating his raw chicken. He never looked me in the eye, and I never knew whether it was just an episode or he truly meant me harm. On top of the high-stress chase, I had also been made to apologize to Bill and also endure my mother’s anger at me running outside in the snow.
The perfect babysitter, no doubt about it.