Random life stories: The day I could have died

It was an ordinary afternoon in June 1996. I was in the car with my father, coming home from school – which was almost over for the term. We were oblivious to what was going on outside – probably discussing the Euro 96 football tournament that was on the go at the time. We had no idea that the next few minutes would be life-changing.

I was at the back, in the left-hand seat – my usual place in the car.

As we pulled into the garage, we became aware that we were not alone. A man had followed us in. He stood at my father’s window, demanding that he open the door. My father froze. He refused. Out came a gun. The man called an associate, who came and stood outside my door – gun in hand.

My instinct – borne out of years of hiding from my older brother when we’d fight – was to duck down between the front passenger seat and my own seat. Having been one of the smallest in my class for most of my life, I’m grateful that I was still small enough to fit in that little space. I didn’t know if that position was going to save me from what might follow. I didn’t think at all. It just kicked in – that reaction. I curled up to hide.

At that time, my father still wasn’t co-operating. Maybe he was in complete shock – unable to act. Or maybe he was strategising in his mind – weighing up his options, and considering what would happen to us if he complied. Would they take just the car? Would they take me? Would they shoot one or both of us – to eliminate eye witnesses? (Neither wore masks.) Would they go forward into the house?

The first man tried to break my father’s window with his gun’s handle, but the gun broke – miraculously.

My father finally snapped into action, starting the car, and going forward – ramming the bookshelf in front of us – before reversing out of the garage.

Somewhere in those few seconds, the second man fired a shot at my window. I don’t know if he was aiming for me or for my father, but my window shattered – glass falling all over my head and into the back seat. The bullet ended up lodged in my door – thankfully not making it to either of us.

The men fled.

We closed the garage and ran inside, but couldn’t call the police. The house phone was locked. This was before the age of mobile phones, so there was no way to make a call. The only option was to press the alarm button, triggering the deafening siren – followed by a call from the security company. They arrived soon after, as did the police. They took our statements, and the police went searching for the perpetrators.

One was found – in a nearby park. He was nervous and sweating, with gun residue on his hands. I was asked to identify him – while he stood, restrained by the police – just a few metres away. It was terrifying – having to face this man on the spot – so physically close…just a short time after the crime. I thought it was him, and tentatively confirmed that to the police – before they took him away.

The other man got away.

The aftermath

I slept on the floor of my parents’ room that night – as had been my habit throughout childhood when I was scared. I think I feared retribution: that they – or the one that got away – would come back.

I got to stay home for a few days – which was a plus for me, given that my parents hardly ever allowed us to miss school. My headmaster came to visit, and as he left, my dog – excited by his presence, but probably frustrated that he wouldn’t play with him – jumped up and bit his backside. That’s still one of the highlights of my school days :).

A few days later, while walking outside, I thought I saw the man that got away: sitting on the pavement – across the road from our house. I was a distance away, and tried not to let him see me. But I was terrified. I just kept walking – around a few blocks, trying to buy enough time for him to leave. It may or may not have been him…I really don’t know. But I was still shook at that point, and I didn’t want to take any risks.

Later on, even though I felt OK, my mother forced me to go to a psychologist friend for trauma counselling. I answered her questions and listened to her stories – including one where her son was confronted with a home invader…her way of trying to connect with me around what, unfortunately, is too common in South Africa.

I’d done karate for years before that, and at the end of each lesson, our sensei would always remind us of the danger in our country – as a means of emphasising how important our training was. I don’t remember the stats, but he always said that one in however many of us would be a victim of crime. I never thought it would be me.

Anyway…I didn’t want any follow-up counselling. I was OK, I told myself.

My father refused to go for counselling. He didn’t believe in psychology. Still doesn’t. So the psychologist came home to speak to him. As with me, she only had one session with him.

We moved on, and that was that.

For him, it was a life-changing event. But for me, it didn’t seem to have much impact. Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time.

At the end of that year, the man who was caught was in court. We were to testify – me testifying in camera, as I was still a minor at the time. However, the facilities weren’t available. A little girl who was testifying in a separate case needed it more, and I didn’t want to wait.

I faced him again – in court. I answered the questions put to me.

He got off.

I don’t remember the details, except that there was some misunderstanding in my perception of the details and what happened afterwards. Whether that played a role in his acquittal, I don’t know.

But I just wanted this to be over. And it was.

Moving on…or not

No fear lingered over me afterwards – about whether either of them would come back for us. We still lived in the same house, and went about our normal lives – though more cautious.

It was just part of life. History.

And I never believed it had a long-term impact. But I now realise it must have. The trauma doesn’t just evaporate.

For all these years after – though less common nowadays – one of my recurring dreams would be that I’d be at home – in that same house – and the garage door would be open, or unlocked. Either that, or the yard door would be unlocked or open. We would be exposed to danger. Anyone – any criminal – could just waltz in and do harm. And I always felt that those criminals were just outside – waiting to come in.

It gave me anxiety in my dreams. I felt the fear. I felt the vulnerability.

But I would always wake up, and it would be over.

I never connected those recurring dreams to that event – until now. I always felt I was OK. But I wasn’t. I was 15 years old at the time, so this event obviously left an impact.

Saved

It would have been tragic if I’d died that day. Not just because I would have left so young, but more so because of my own state of being at the time.

I was a selfish, self-centred teenager. I believed in God, but my religion was – to me – nothing more than a set of rituals. Rituals I followed simply to get my parents off my back. I had no deeper understanding, nor any will to understand – because I simply lived for what I wanted. Did what I wanted – as far as possible. I didn’t care about where I stood in the eyes of my Creator. I didn’t care about what happens after death.

And, had I left this world in that state…I shudder to think what would have happened to me in my grave and beyond.

But my Creator saved me from that fate. He deemed me worthy of surviving – even though I cannot perceive why I deserved saving.

It would be another five years until I finally woke up. A spiritual awakening, if you will, that finally set me on a path of more consciousness. A path that’s taken me so far away from who I was back then…so much progression. So much growth.

I don’t say any of this in the arrogant belief that I’m now a saint – Paradise guaranteed and being the best version of myself. Far, far from it.

But I write this out of gratitude. Gratitude that my life was not taken in that state – where, in my view, it would have been a life wasted…one where I contributed nothing to this world.

Gratitude that I survived, and moved beyond the day I could have died.

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7 thoughts on “Random life stories: The day I could have died

  1. A chilling read 😱.

    I’m so sorry you had to experience something like that. That’s terrifying, even if it was
    a common issue where you lived.

    I’m glad you got the chance to grow and reflect on that moment later on in life, alhamdulillah.

    Thank you for sharing it with us. 👏

  2. Wow, all I can say is subhan’Allah that you survived that day. I’ve never read a blog post so chilling, to quote the previous comment, before. I’m really sorry that you had to go through this. What an awful ordeal to have to go through at such a young age. But Alhamdulillah, I’m glad that you have the perspective you do now. Death is the one equalizer we all face and we should be reminded of it often.

  3. I suppose in this country, we just become used to these kinds of things happening. Many people face far worse. It doesn’t make it OK, of course – but in a way, it gives perspective that we should always be grateful for what we go through – even if it appears to be ‘bad’. It could always be worse. And, of course, people all over the world face much harsher challenges on a daily basis.

    It doesn’t mean you disregard or downplay your own difficulties. But it just helps remind that all of us on this planet will face challenges. It’s part of life.

    The important thing is to take the positives from such events. I always say that we learn more from ‘negative’ experiences than we do from outwardly positive / happy times.

    The part with the gun breaking is also a reminder that no matter what the physical world looks like – however threatening the danger may look – there’s an unseen world always at play, and the Almighty can so easily use forces we do not see to protect us from harm which we, outwardly, would feel we are unable to escape from.

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