My First Lesson

By: Jacqueline Shandler

My front door is featured above and the color of the picture represents how I feel when I think about that dreadful day. The one place I call home was invaded by a stranger.

My front door is featured above and the color of the picture represents how I feel when I think about that dreadful day. The one place I call home was invaded by a stranger.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in the fall. I was ten years old and as the youngest child, looked forward to any possibility of staying home alone without my parents or siblings. This morning, my Mom asked if I wanted to go to church, and as I said for a few weeks in a row, “I’m too tired and my stomach hurts.” It was my excuse for everything. However, the excuse only worked to get me out of attending church some of the time. That morning, my plea was successful. My Dad was at the hardware store and my siblings had travel soccer games. My Mom said she would only be out for twenty minutes and that I can call my Grandma if I need anything. Like usual, she demanded that I couldn’t answer the front door unless it was my Grandma. Finally, I was home alone like I wanted.

I was in the basement playing with toys when I heard the doorbell ring. That was the last time my heart hasn’t dropped into my stomach when that noise has sounded. I ran upstairs and checked through the sliver of glass and saw sandals the same as my Grandmas. I could tell it was a heavier, older woman, similar to my Grandma and I swung the door open. The lady standing before me was one I had never seen before and I immediately became frightened looking up at her. She was holding a box of children’s books. She did not ask if my parents were home, instead, she immediately started talking about these colorful books she is selling that have stories from the bible featuring Jesus. I was not very attentive, more worried that I had done what my Mother said not to. I could not focus on what she was saying, I only felt beads of sweat forming on my forehead, not knowing how I would get her to leave. I debated slamming the door in her face, which would have been risky because one of her feet was planted inside the house. I couldn’t think fast enough to come up with a convincing excuse. When I told her I was not interested, she insisted I give her a small donation. I told her I don’t have any change on me, and she said she could really use the money. I became fearful of what might happen if I didn’t give her money so I ran upstairs to my piggy bank to give her a dollar. Yes, one dollar. While I was upstairs, I didn’t know if she would make her way into the house, realizing I was home alone. I was shaking and hoped that this donation would finally make her leave. Before she departed, she asked to use the bathroom. I was extremely close to saying no. However, I was not accustomed to saying no to adults, so I let her in. As she was in the bathroom, I stood outside of it keeping my eyes and ears ready for anything peculiar to happen. I contemplated running to get the house phone and calling the police or my parents. Wasn’t my family supposed to be home by now? As she walked out the bathroom, I tried to act calm and walk her out, saying thank you and being as polite as I could so I didn’t get in a sticky situation. I couldn’t believe the amount of times my parents reminded me not to talk to strangers, and I allowed this woman into my house.

As she walked out, she handed me a book. When I looked through it after she left, I enjoyed the biblical story and it increased my faith because it was easy to understand and comforting. The moment the woman was at the door, I thought she would never leave and that it was the scariest moment of my life. However, after I reflect on it years later, I realize it was more of a sign that I need to have religion in my life. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that the one time I am left home alone, a woman arrives at my door selling religious books I once regarded as unimportant.

Lastly, this story of mine reminds me of Oates’ story, “Where are you going, Where have you been?” Connie and I both learned a lesson that family and religion should not be ignored. I am lucky that my encounter was with an older woman and not Arnold Friend and that my story did not end on that sunny Sunday afternoon.

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6 thoughts on “My First Lesson

  1. I found this story very interesting, as I have struggled with religion versus science over the past few years. Your story reminds me of my friend’s story, which happened to be posted on this blog last year (see “The Breath on My Neck”). Long story short, my friend Lauren stayed in a friend’s house for various reasons, and the house was haunted by what she believes to be a demon. Lauren believed the house was haunted because her friend was not strong in her faith, and she says that she “left the door open” for evil spirits to invade. I find it very intriguing that you believe you received a sign that day to reinvest in your faith, and I think it may have been a warning sign of worse things that could follow if you didn’t reinvigorate your faith.

  2. What I find most interesting about this story, which is supposed to be one about horror, is that it ends with the realization that there is nothing to be scared of at all. The story starts and the reader expects things to take a turn for the worst. It is surprising when things run smoothly and the foreshadowing dissipates. This makes us realize that often the things we spend time fearing and the emotions that build up as result of that are irrational. While it is important to be cautious, it is also important to trust. Also, I took away from this that all experiences with fear can teach us something about ourselves-where we feel we need improvement or simply more reflection.

  3. This story made me extremely uneasy and reminded me of a similar experience I once had. When I was seven, my family went on a walk but I decided I did not want to go and instead I stood at the top of my driveway picking flowers. A white car was driving up my road and slowed as it passed me, and then drove passed again and then again. Each time it passed I would look away, as to not make eye contact with the driver. My heart was pounding and I was terrified. I never knew who was driving or why they kept driving passed me. It could have been something innocent, as your story ended up being, but the idea that my parents were gone and I was alone made me assume the worst as it did in your case as well. Parents are our protectors and had that same car driven passed when I was with my parents I would not have thought twice, and had that women come to your door when your parents were home you probably would not have though twice either.

  4. I agree with Grace that the story was unconventional in that, in hindsight, there was nothing to be scared of to begin with, and that sometimes scary experiences teach us something we need. I also wanted to add onto that and mention that this fits in with the recurring theme we have been discussing in class – that most horror stories are cautionary tales, in which those who have broken a convention or tradition will get punished. For example, the promiscuous church-avoiding Connie gets taken by Arnold Friend, unintelligent teens who frequently have sex with each other catch diseases and grow mouths on their chests or grow tails, and those who commit sins and are ungrateful for their life are punished by a crazed old man who puts his victims through torturous games and traps (Saw), etc. While you escaped this nerve-racking predicament unscathed (thankfully) and enlightened that you are missing religion in your life, I am curious to see what would happen had a horror writer/movie director taken control of the story.

  5. I agree with many of the above comments, one of the most interesting aspects of the story is that fear existed where there need not be fear at all. Many details of the story pointed towards horror; for example, Jackie being home alone, being so young, and a stranger appearing at her door. However, there are many ways to look at this story and not depict horror at all. There are several times where people just like the old lady have knocked on my door trying to sell some product or share their religious beliefs. These experiences can be scary because they are unfamiliar. Like when we see homeless people on the sidewalk and we shy away. I think society needs to make more of an effort to be open minded but more importantly open hearted. Like Grace said, its smart to be cautious, but its also smart to trust because it allows for new experiences to enter into our lives.

  6. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt just the way you describe in this story. Not necessarily with letting strangers into my home, but with being around strangers in general. We see a lot of horror that’s got straight out monsters in it–ghouls and demons, or other grotesque beings that are obviously evil. But I think the scariest thing in real life tends to the unknown aspect of other humans–of not knowing what someone will do, or of realizing that someone you do know well isn’t what you thought. Although that old woman ended up being just some sweet old lady, she also could have very well been a murderer and that unknown is truly frightening.

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