More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The Night Visitor
By LYNN LOVE, New York Times
June 10, 2007

AT 2 a.m. the reedy doorbell of my Upper East Side apartment sounded twice. As I woke up, my first thought was fire, but I could smell no smoke. There were no ladder trucks parked outside my walk-up, as there had been several months earlier when one of my neighbors ? a jet-lagged flight attendant ? fell asleep while roasting a chicken. By midnight her stove was in flames.

On the contrary, it was supernaturally quiet on my block on this spring night about a year ago. I was alone with my 7-year-old daughter, who was asleep. My husband was traveling on business and would not be home until the next day.

The doorbell rang again, this time in three quick bursts. Alarmed, I padded to my front door in my pajamas. Through the peephole I saw a clean-cut man I did not recognize, wearing a plain gray T-shirt. Was he a resident of the building, or maybe a stranger who had sneaked through the locked front doors downstairs with a group of legitimate late-night arrivals? I didn?t know. I peered at him for a few moments as he looked anxiously from side to side. He looked like a hybrid of the ?Friends? actor Matt LeBlanc and the baby-faced British rocker Pete Doherty.

My building, a turn-of-the-century tenement, sits rubbing rooftops with two others like it on a calm block in the East 60s. Not having a doorman like those in the upscale high-rises that surround us forces us to rely on one another ? a little. In the three years I had lived there, I?d learned that Charlie the old-timer in No. 12 will receive your U.P.S. or FedEx packages if you leave him a note. Mrs. Wang, the building manager, will let you in if you forget your key. The snow shovel and salt for the front stoop are under the first-floor staircase for any of us younger residents to use. But like the inhabitants of most New York buildings, we share walls, monthly payments, passing hellos and not much more.

The stranger at my door was a problem. He could have no business with me, but he was insistent. I considered retreating back to bed, ignoring him. Instead, when he jabbed the doorbell yet again, a combination of annoyance and curiosity took hold.

?Who are you?? I asked through the door.

?Steve,? he said gruffly.

?Who is Steve?? I asked.

?Your neighbor,? he said. He wasn?t looking into the tiny lens through which I was staring at him. He seemed distracted.

?What can I do for you, neighbor Steve?? I asked.

?I can?t get inside my place; my wife, Katrina, is there,? he said, enigmatically. I was puzzled. Had he come home late and forgotten his key? If so, why no coat in such chilly weather? Or had his wife locked him out on purpose? He didn?t look drunk or stoned, or agitated. If anything, he seemed passive. I scrutinized him again, my mind groping for an explanation.

?Where do you live?? I asked.

?No. 19,? he replied without hesitation, nodding at the apartment next to mine. Nineteen was in that spot, but one floor up.

I realized I?d be taking a risk, but I had the impulse to size him up by seeing something beyond the distorted talking head and shoulders. I yanked my door open, leaving the chain attached. Below the T-shirt, which was tucked neatly into navy boxers, I was surprised to see Steve?s bare legs and feet. A laugh formed in my head, but I squelched it. At 2 a.m., an unexplained man in the hallway wearing underwear is not reassuring.

Steve took a step away and turned to face the entrance to my next-door neighbors? two-bedroom ? ?No. 19.? I asked if he knew them. He didn?t answer. A creepy silence saturated the hallway.

?Do you want me to call Katrina?? I asked. He nodded.

I closed my door and dead-bolted it, alone again, yet conscious of the cryptic presence on the other side. What is with this guy, I wondered as Steve began reciting digits through the door. What is with me, I wondered as I dialed them.

I pressed the receiver to my ear as the ringing began. I didn?t want to get more involved with whatever circumstances had displaced him, so I reopened my door a crack and slipped the phone to him through the narrow opening. I wouldn?t have cared if he had run off with it, so relieved did I suddenly feel to be witnessing this conversation rather than participating in it.

I watched him as he described to Katrina, or someone, that he was stranded outside his apartment. Now he was making direct eye contact with me, his face knotting into distress and confusion. He told the person he was speaking to that he was in front of No. 16, verifying it by squinting and leaning toward my door. ?I don?t know,? he said into the mouthpiece a few times. ?O.K. I will, I will.?

Watching his expression change, I realized I had observed this kind of behavior before. During bouts of sleepwalking when we were children, my younger brother used to get stuck in the hallways of our big Victorian home in upstate New York like a malfunctioning robot. If he spoke, his halting speech would make only partial sense. The times I woke him and gently urged him back to bed, his face contained the same anguish I saw wash over Steve?s.

?I?m so sorry,? he said, handing the phone back, his voice barely above a whisper. ?This isn?t the first time this has happened.?

Then he turned and took the stairs two at a time to the fifth floor.

My brother rarely remembered his sleep wanderings and conversations afterward. He would blush in embarrassment if I re-enacted them. But he was only a little boy at the time. Would Steve remember, I wondered. Would we ever meet inside our building and acknowledge our strange encounter?

Still stunned by my distant recognition of the somnambulist state, I held my door open a few seconds longer. I heard the creak of hinges turning upstairs. Steve had returned home, or found one for the night.
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