True Stories Never Satisfy
A man tells this story at a party:
A woman broke up with her boyfriend. Then she went on a few dates using a popular website but nothing worked out. Her parents encouraged her to get out of the city, spend a weekend at the family cabin upstate even though it was out of season. The woman went and the first night she heard noises in the attic, so she called her parents. “Raccoons,” they said. “Move in every winter, have to get chased out in the spring. Ignore them.” The woman slept, ignored the raccoons above her.
The second night the animals were louder, the woman got scared. She called her parents again and they said, “Well, you can try to chase them out. Or call the police, they don’t have much to do up there.” So she called 911. She apologized to the operator, said she knew it was silly, it was just that she was alone and, well, it was a silly thing to ask the police for. But the operator told her sure, not a problem, they’d send someone out in a few hours. The woman calmed down. Started making her dinner.
Then, as she was cooking, she glanced out the window and saw flashes of red and blue in the dark. Several police cars pulled up silently and then a voice called over a megaphone, “Get out of the house! Get out, now!” The woman ran straight out the door, not bothering with shoes or a jacket. Two officers were waiting with a blanket to wrap around her—they lifted her off the ground and ran with her like a swaddled baby. They didn’t let her see what happened. They got her out of there, drove into town, didn’t tell her anything until there was some distance, time and space, between what was happening to the woman and the woman herself.
When they finally did tell her, it was this: There had been a man in the attic. The operator could tell a second phone had been picked up during their call, so when the woman said she was alone, the operator knew there was an intruder. Worse, later, they told her they found the man was building a cage in the attic. Worse still, while investigating the case, they realized the woman had gone on a brief date with the man, from the website. He’d hacked into her email, traced her through her phone, etc.
Worse, later, they told her they found the man was building a cage in the attic.
The man who tells the story swears it’s true; the woman is a friend of his cousin. Another man says no, it’s all too neat. Too much like “it’s coming from inside the house.” A 911 operator can’t really tell if another line is picked up.
No, actually, says a woman who has been listening, they can tell. And, if it happened in a rural place, the operator and police were likely trained for home invasions—that’s the kind of crime you get in those areas. That and domestic violence.
The doubtful man begins to argue with her before another woman, the first woman’s girlfriend, speaks up, explains that the first woman is a cop—she would know. The doubtful man is quiet. But then the cop frowns, says, What I don’t get is how she thought the sound of a person building something was raccoons. The doubtful man nods. Everyone looks to the man who told the story.
I don’t know, he says. I guess she just believed her parents when they told her not to worry about it.
The crowd titters. Gaslighting, someone murmurs. Is it though? asks another. How could the parents have known a man was there, and not the raccoons that usually were? They were just trying to reassure their daughter.
Yes, agrees someone else, but all they accomplished was almost getting her killed. If she’d just panicked—followed her instincts—she would have left the first night and been safer.
Really? another person asks. Instinctually, she would have run away at the first strange noise?
I think I would have gone to investigate, says one man slowly.
You’re a man, says a woman.
No, says another woman, I would have gone to investigate too.
Then you both would have been like characters in a horror movie, says a man trying to lighten the mood. Running right into the killer’s trap.
Oh, stop, says the cop’s girlfriend. This really happened. It’s not something to joke about.
How is she doing, your cousin’s friend? asks a woman with a soft voice.
I don’t know, says the storyteller. I mean, when he told me, he said he’d just seen her for brunch. So, you know, capable of brunch, at least.
I don’t know if I’d ever leave my house again, says the soft-voiced woman.
The point is, the house wasn’t safe, says the man who tried to make a joke before.
Nowhere is safe! snaps a woman who hasn’t spoken yet. That’s the point of these kinds of stories. Especially if you’re a woman. Be scared, don’t go anywhere alone, don’t break up with your boyfriend, don’t go on dates.
Be scared, don’t go anywhere alone, don’t break up with your boyfriend, don’t go on dates.
But this is real, insists the storyteller. It didn’t happen to teach a lesson.
The cop nods and puts an arm around her girlfriend. Scary things happen all the time, she says, quietly enough that only half the people can hear her. Most of the time it doesn’t mean anything.
People whisper what she said to those who hadn’t heard. Everyone mumbles agreement and sips their drinks.
I’m glad the woman is okay, says the doubtful man.
Yes, that’s what matters, everyone agrees.
After the party the soft-voiced woman, the joke-making man, the cop, and her girlfriend walk toward the subway, just behind another couple from the party whom none of them know. The group overhears the man ahead of them jokingly offer to go home with the woman in order to check for demented carpenters. The woman laughs somewhat dismissively, but then admits she was disturbed by the story. She says she’d like the company.
How often do you think men get laid because women are too scared to sleep alone? the soft-voiced woman asks the other three.
You would think hearing a story like that would make you careful about inviting strangers over, says the cop’s girlfriend.
Statistically, says the cop, you’re most likely to be harmed or killed by your own partner. Not a random person, or even an acquaintance.
Yes, says the joking man, gesturing towards the soft-voiced woman, she’s always telling me that.
No, not you, says the cop’s girlfriend. Men are more likely to be murdered in general, but only women are most likely to be beaten or killed by their partners—regardless of their partner’s gender.
Huh, says the soft-voiced woman. No way to avoid it, then.
No, say the other two women.
Being murdered at all is still statistically unlikely, argues the man.
That’s true, says the cop’s girlfriend. But being attacked or abused is statistically highly likely for women.
I just don’t know what do with that kind of information, or those kinds of stories, says the soft-voiced woman.
There’s nothing to do, says the cop. It’s just how it is.