This story is one of my most epic tales.
Not “epic” in the modern, overused sense. Epic in the valiant, classical sense.
I’m not CALLING myself a hero. I am just making sure you understand that I despise the modern, overused sense of the word because it siphons meaning from the word when one needs to use it to describe truly EPIC events.
Like this one.
This is a tale of fear…
This is the story of the time I caught a criminal.
Once upon a time, I went to Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC, or “CC” as we locals call it). I went to CC for years, but I was in my third year when this story happened. I had just turned 20 years old.
All of CC’s students have the option to pay for parking passes, which permit them to park their cars in ramps that are conveniently situated within walking distance of some of CC’s main buildings.
I was one of those students.
Though these ramps have plenty of levels, I had always preferred to park on the top or ground floors. It felt safer. The parking ramps weren’t exactly monitored by anyone, and I did have a few creepy instances of late-night walking-to-my-car-at-a-rapid-pace-because-someone-was-freaking-me-out moments.
It is important to note that I have the intuition of a highly trained guard dog.
I am ALWAYS on the lookout for potential danger. ALWAYS. Some people call me “overly protective,” whatever that means.
Just try and catch me off guard! You won’t.
Big Wheel once tried to convince me to buy a gun. And I told him I had no need for a gun because my keen sense of danger is my greatest weapon.
Keen sense of danger = I’m suspicious of everyone and everything that seems slightly out of place/off/odd. I hone in on oddities like a hornet sniper and make it KNOWN that I KNOW what the oddity is up to. Sometimes, I do this blatantly. Sometimes, people think my antics are “aggressive and unnecessary.”
For example, my wild sense of danger prevention makes me a little pugnacious when I’m out on the town with my girls. EVERY MALE IS A POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS ATTACKER, if you ask me, and I’ve got NO patience for any of their tricks and “wooing” tactics. I have used some of my most vicious rhetoric on gentlemen who are trying to get into the pants of my friends. I simply cannot help myself. The more intoxicated I am, the more wily I get. Back off! We are NOT interested in what you are selling! LIES LIES LIES! I have shouted in the faces of unsuspecting males (at the embarrassing expense of my poor friends).
It’s because I love my friends (and because I am a guard dog) that I turn into a weird, confrontational bouncer!
Back to the story.
So, the middle-level ramps at CC were darker and creepier than the ground/top floor levels, but the ground level was still pretty sketchy. So, if I chose to park there, I’d always park near the entrance/exit. This allowed for a quick getaway and a better chance of having an ear nearby to hear my screeching should I encounter an evil soul who caught me off guard.
Which would NEVER happen.
But being in screeching distance of ears is one of the many necessary precautions required to maintain such diligent levels of danger awareness.
On the morning of this particular story, the ramp was packed, and I was forced to park deep in the dark cave of the ground floor. I could see the sunlit exit from my car, but it was at least 200 yards away. Tangerine orange floodlights cast ghastly shadows under my car and behind pillars, and the air was cool and still. Very cave-like.
I had just left one of my morning classes, and I was walking through the ramp toward Black Betty, my old Alero. You know all about Black Betty because you’ve read my FREE eBook – How to Fix Anxiety, right? You should read it! If only to see pictures of my scraped and bruised 13-year-old face, you should.
I reached Black Betty and unlocked her before plopping down in the driver’s seat. I slammed my door shut and she swallowed me up. Ahh, peace, I thought.
I had a few hours to kill before my next class, and, you know me – I’d rather kill them in solitude.
So I sat there, eating my turkey sandwich and playing Brick Breaker on my Blackberry, completely engrossed in my illuminated screen and oblivious to my surroundings.
You can feel it now, can’t you? The danger seeping in through the edges of your screen?
I polished off that turkey sandwich and started to rifle blindly through my lunch box, eyes still on my lit Blackberry, when I felt something.
Or, rather, I saw something. Out of the corner of my eye.
I glanced up.
I peered through the windows of the cars on either side of me. No staring neighbors.
I checked my rearview mirror, my side mirrors.
I craned my neck to see the very end of the ramp. The orange floodlights revealed no bodies.
I searched the row of cars in front of me, separated from Black Betty by a 10′ concrete barricade. No movement.
A blue Subaru turned a corner and made its way to the exit. The driver swiped his card through his rolled down window before disappearing into blinding sunshine.
Hmm, I thought.
I did a quick mini-scan with just my eyeballs and then rested them on my lit screen again.
A few minutes later, my inner danger monitor reminded me to check my surroundings again, so I glanced up.
I saw a man.
He was kitty-corner to me, at least 150 yards away. He was standing behind one of the vehicles near the ramp exit, on the other side of the concrete divider.
My radar honed in on him.
I closed my Blackberry’s screen, silently sinking into the darkness of Black Betty.
The man started walking in my direction. Still on the opposite side of the barricade, but heading up my way.
One single hair on my neck raised up. Just one.
After all, there wasn’t anything damning about the man’s behavior. I just had this eerie, visceral feeling that I should keep an eye on him. Probably because he was wearing a black hood. And dark pants. Remember my mentioning the blinding sunshine near the exit? It was the middle of summer.
The man slowed when he reached a black Honda 70 yards away. He turned left, making his way in between the Honda and a blue Tahoe. I waited for him to open the Tahoe’s driver’s side door and get in.
Except he didn’t.
He reached for the passenger side door of the Honda and opened that, instead.
Brooke’s inner danger puppies were alert and ready, ears perked and noses forward.
Who opens the passenger side door of their own car? I wondered, my eyes narrowed in suspicion.
You might be thinking, Brooke! Let the man be!
But I can’t help myself. It’s in my nature, remember? Everyone is a potential threat!
Then, to Brooke’s inner danger puppies’ relief, the man closed the passenger side door and opened the rear passenger door of the car.
Whew, I thought. He is just looking for a book or something.
Whatever he was looking for, he found, and he shoved it into a pocket of his black zip-up hoodie as he retreated from the car’s backseat.
As he stood up, I sank lower in my seat. I peered at him through the arch of my steering wheel.
And that’s when I saw them.
His hands were black.
He was wearing black leather gloves.
Brooke’s inner danger puppies erupted into a symphony of barks and snarls.
The man closed the door of the Honda, and instead of walking toward the ramp exit, he walked further in my direction.
I watched him, fifty more hairs spiking up on the back of my neck.
Go away, I wished.
Then, 200 more hairs immediately pricked up on the back of my neck.
Because that hooded man walked in between TWO MORE large vehicles.
Maybe it’s his friend’s car, I hoped.
I could only see the top of his hooded head. He faced one car’s door, turned and faced the other’s, and then walked back out.
He walked a few cars further toward me and turned toward a green Suburban. He opened the driver’s side door and started crawling around in that one, too.
My hands were sweating and my breath quickened. Like a bolt of lightning, the dreaded realization hit me.
THIS GUY IS STEALING THINGS FROM UNLOCKED CARS.
He retreated from the Suburban and walked further up the ramp, closer to me.
He rounded the corner of the cement barricade that had once separated us.
Now, he was on the same side as me.
I slowly craned my neck to see him.
He wasn’t there.
I whipped my head around, leaning back between the driver’s and passenger’s side seats to catch him with my eyes.
He was gone.
My bulging eyeballs scanned the area for him as my heart raced. I couldn’t find him anywhere.
Then, I looked in my rear view mirror.
He was waist-deep in a Jeep directly behind me.
I could feel my pulse in my throat and hear it in my ears. Every last hair follicle on my body stood on end.
I slowly reached my hand into my purse, feeling around for my pepper spray.
I know it’s in here, I thought, breathing audibly through my nostrils. I held every muscle of my body still except for my frantically searching hand, hoping he wouldn’t see me.
I dug and dug, desperate to feel that plastic tube of spray.
The man was still in the Jeep, so I glanced down and LOOKED in my purse for the spray. It wasn’t there.
I glanced up.
The man was facing my car. Just standing there.
I almost threw up on the spot.
Then, he took a step toward my car.
He veered slightly. Now, he was heading straight toward my driver’s side door.
I abandoned my efforts to hold still and threw both of my arms into my purse, swimming them around and willing the pepper spray to appear.
He took another step.
My surroundings blurred with panic. The orange lights, my heavy purse, the charcoal gray hue of my car, his black hood.
My heart threatened to explode out of my chest.
Come on, come on, come on, I silently screamed.
I checked my side mirror, and the man was 5 feet away from my car. I could see his face, now.
He was as pale as a sheet of paper. His cheek bones stood out from his face, and he had a sharp jaw, gaunt cheeks, and black eyes.
And he was staring at me.
In that moment, I knew he was coming for me.
Not to loot my car or the car next to me. He SAW ME. I’d be a witness to any nearby looting.
He was coming for me.
And that’s when everything slowed.
And my body did something weird, which I later realized was a dance between fight or flight.
I’ve never had a succession of thoughts gush so quickly through my head.
You can’t run, I told myself, he’s too close. You could lock yourself in your car, but what if he has a weapon?
Fight it is.
Suddenly, I had an idea.
I’ll use my Blackberry! I’ll pretend to be talking on the phone. If I ignore him, then I might have some power over the situation.
But there is NO cell phone service in these ramps! What if he knows there’s no reception in here? What if he knows I’m lying?
These thoughts pounded through my head one after another. Milliseconds passed.
I’ll get out of my car.
Better yet, I thought, I’ll pretend to be talking to my dad! Dads are scary, right? They’re scarier than boyfriends or moms. That way, if he thinks about trying anything, he’ll know I’ve got my DAD on the other line hearing every word.
If he doesn’t realize I don’t have cell service, that is.
I’ll get out of my car AND pretend I’m talking to my dad. That will SURPRISE him. He won’t expect it. Maybe it will throw him off guard!
And the key thought that I had, the one that gave me the courage to do it, was this:
If he comes up to my window, HE has control of this situation. I’ll be at his mercy. The only chance I have out of this situation is if I DO something. I have to convince him that I’m not a threat. I have to convince him that I haven’t seen anything. That I have no idea what he’s been doing.
I harnessed all of my acting skills and smashed them together with the insane amount of adrenaline pumping through my limbs, and I grabbed my phone with my right hand and my door handle with my left.
In one quick move, I opened my door, stepped out, and swirled around to face the man who was now two feet away from me.
Mid-swirl, I SHOUTED (I literally yelled it), “HI DAD!”
After locking eyes with me, the man immediately did a slinky pivot on his heel and turned, walking briskly away from me and back toward the sunlit exit of the ramp.
My whole body shook. My fingers, my legs, my arms. Tremors consumed me.
Suddenly, students began to trickle into the ramp. Classes must have just ended.
Some of these people were girls. Girls walking alone.
In a ramp with a dangerous man.
So I continued my fake conversation with my father, propping my elbows on the roof of my car and staring at the nasty bastard as he walked away.
I watched him until he passed each and every woman. I watched him until he turned a ramp corner and disappeared, heading to another level.
My heart was racing. Relief flooded my blood, but I was still drenched in fear. He was still in the ramp. And more students were heading in his direction.
I stopped talking to my fake dad, grabbed my books for my next class, slammed my door shut, and sped walked until I was bathed in sunshine warmth.
Then, I headed straight for the GRCC Police Department.
Because this asshole was looting the vehicles of idiots who left their cars unlocked!
And he tried to confront me!
And there was NO WAY I was going to let him come BACK to the ramp and steal more stuff and scare the daylights out of me or anyone else ever again.
So I walked as fast as I’ve ever walked in my life to the police department, which is conveniently located right across the street from the parking ramp.
I opened the office door with an air-conditioned whoosh and glided up to the front desk. A middle-aged woman sat behind plated glass. She looked up.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Yes! I was just in the parking ramp, and there is a guy out there going through cars and stealing stuff out of them!” I shouted breathlessly, my eyes bugged out.
“Is he in there right now?” she asked.
“Can you describe him?”
“He’s around 5’10”, very skinny, gaunt-looking in the face, and he’s wearing dark jeans, black gloves, and a black zip-up hoodie with the hood over his head,” I breathed out. My description raised the clerk’s eyebrows.
“Did you see him take anything?” she asked.
“Yes, he shoved something in his pocket that he took from the backseat of a black Honda.”
“Okay, thanks. We’ll send someone over there right now. Are you willing to fill out a police report?”
Hell yes, I was willing.
I sat at a small table, dropping my backpack and retrieving a pencil from a the cup at the table’s center.
With the conviction of a woman who had just faced and warded off a potential attacker, I wrote out what is likely to be the GRCC Police Department’s longest statement on record.
You know me, I have a problem keeping things short.
The woman behind the window asked for my phone number, should they need to call for more information. I handed it over with my report, thanked her, and slipped back out into the sunshine.
I walked to class in a daze.
As I waited with my fellow students in the hallway for class to start, my phone rang.
I didn’t recognize the caller and nearly silenced it before remembering that the cops had my phone number.
So, I answered.
“Is this Brooke?”
“This is she.” (look at that beautiful grammar)
“This is Tonya from the GRCC Police Department. I’m calling regarding the report you filed thirty minutes ago regarding our parking ramp?”
“Well, I just wanted to let you know that we found the man and took him into custody. You were correct – he had an iPod in his sweatshirt pocket.”
“SERIOUSLY?!” (every eye in the hallway turned toward me)
“Yes. Your description matched him perfectly. Thank you for coming to us. We assure you he won’t be returning to these ramps again.”
“WOW. Thank you for calling me to tell me you’d caught him!”
“You’re welcome. Have a great day!”
I clicked “end” on my phone and looked up. All my classmates were staring at me. I returned my gaze to my phone as my face turned a nice cherry red hue.
Come on, you know me, I don’t make FRIENDS in my classes!
I did run home and tell my whole family about how I caught a criminal that day, though.
And now my mom asks me to tell this story to new people. Because it’s pretty crazy!
I still can’t believe they caught him!
I also can’t believe that I chose to confront him rather than cower in my car.
It was one of those life-defining moments. I had no idea I had that much courage. And I’ve carried that bravery and verve with me ever since.
So there you have it! My story about the time I caught a criminal.
I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed catching the sinister troll.
Have YOU ever been braver than you ever thought you could be? PLEASE tell me your stories of triumph in the comments!!