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The Definition of Fear

I didn’t know what fear was until there was a man walking toward me with a gun.

Photo Courtesy of Google

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As I heard Meghan say my name, I turned around and there he was. Quickly walking toward me was a tall, slender man. I tried to study every inch of his face but couldn’t get past his piercing eyes.

Having no idea what was happening, I stood there and watched as he lifted his shirt to reveal the handgun that was tucked in his waistband. He uttered the words, “Give me the register. I have a gun, give me the register.”

Still confused by what was happening, I stood there frozen as he grabbed the drawer and ran out the back door. I looked to Meghan and saw her eyes filling with tears and her body beginning to tremble and in that moment, I learned what fear truly was.

It was a typical Tuesday night at work and we were getting ready to close. As Ashlee, Meghan and I patiently waited for 10:30 p.m. to come, we had begun our cleaning duties. There were only three of us working so we divided the work accordingly.

Since I was shift leading that night, I was responsible for counting and depositing the money we made that shift. When 10:30 p.m. finally arrived, I grabbed the drawer out of the register and headed to the back of the store to count.

According to the receipt I printed out to tell me the totals for the shift, there was roughly $600 in the drawer. My only job now was to check if the cash in the drawer matched what was printed on the receipt.

As I was counting the drawer, Ashlee was up front finishing her cleaning, while Meghan had followed me to the back to take out the trash. She propped open the back door and as she threw the bag into the Dumpster a man popped out from behind.

Our store was in a strip mall and we worked next door to a sandwich shop, so it wasn’t uncommon to see people out back. Typically the sandwich shop’s employees would sit out there on their smoke break so when Meghan saw the man she thought nothing of it.

“Oh, you scared me,” she said.

“Get me the money,” the man replied.

“What?”

“Get me the money!”

“It’s inside,” said Meghan.

The man then proceeded to show her his gun as he demanded that she go inside and get the money.

As she walked through the back door and said my name, I turned and saw her pale as a ghost and behind her an unfamiliar man. Initially, I thought he was a repairman who had come to fix the freezer that broke earlier that week, but thought it was odd that he waited until after closing time to show up.

The whole thing happened so quickly. It wasn’t until after he grabbed the register and ran that I realized we just got robbed.

My first thought was to call my manager but I remembered she was out of town, so I dialed the assistant manager’s number. In the midst of dialing, I realized I needed to call 911.

The operator answered and the words came flooding out of my mouth, “We’ve just been robbed, he had a gun but no one is hurt.” I frantically began describing the man to her as she asked me more and more questions.

While I’m on the phone, I can hear Meghan in the background crying hysterically. Hearing her cry made me begin to cry. I was trying to stay strong, fight the tears, talk to the operator and describe the man who robbed us.

All of a sudden I saw the red and blue lights flashing as the cops arrived. There was a sense of relief when the police were there but I couldn’t get the man’s face out of my mind. I kept replaying the events over and over in my head.  

The cops immediately asked if anyone was hurt and I explained that we were all fine. Then the attack began.

What did he look like? How tall was he? How old did he look? What was he wearing? What did his voice sound like? How did he act? Did he have any tattoos, scars, facial hair, glasses?

The questions kept coming one after another. It was an unbearable pressure, the weight of trying to remember every detail while also trying to hold back the tears.

I understood the police needed this information to catch the man and I was trying to give them all the information I could remember, but I was so shaken up.

I was terrified and trying to stop my hands from shaking, my voice from cracking and my eyes from crying. I tried to fight my emotions, knowing it would be easier for the cops to get the answers they needed if I remained calm. I needed to hold myself together if not for my own sake then for Meghan’s.

I kept telling myself that everything would be OK, but I knew it wouldn’t. After that night, nothing would be the same.

After answering questions at the store we were taken to the police department to do a photo lineup. We were asked to look at several different photos and answer several more questions.

Finally, after roughly two hours we were taken back to our cars and able to head home.

I called my parents earlier that night to explain to them what happened but both had work early the next morning so I assured them that I would be OK and not to wait up for me.

It wasn’t until about 2:30 a.m. that I arrived home, and since my parents were asleep I came home to what felt like an empty house.

I walked to my room, melted into my bed and cried. Never in my life have I shed as many tears as I did that night. I tried so hard all night to stay strong but in that moment all my strength had vanished.

I’m not an emotional person. I don’t like to cry and growing up I was told that crying shows weakness, so I do not allow myself to cry, but that night was the exception.

Every time I closed my eyes I replayed the events from that night. I saw his face again, the overgrown beard, his light eyes and the way he seemed so calm.

I could still feel the way my body shut down when he spoke to me with his deep voice. The way that my muscles felt so heavy, like thousands of pounds were placed on my shoulders and I could feel my knees as they began to buckle.

Everyone likes to think that in a situation such as an armed robbery that they’ll be brave. I always used to think that I was clever enough to outsmart a robber, but in reality, no one knows how they will react until they are face to face with a man ordering you to give him money.

Fear can be paralyzing, it takes over your body and consumes your mind. That night when the man approached me I was so consumed with fear that I froze. I was unable to move, to speak, to think, I was paralyzed.

It’s been almost three years since the robbery and I have yet to move on.

I still have nightmares, I fear someone watching me, someone coming up behind me. I tell myself it’s just paranoia but that is an understatement.

I am on high alert twenty-four seven and hesitate around any stranger. The police never found the man who robbed us. They searched for a few months but never got any leads.

I still replay that night in my mind over and over again. While some of the details are fuzzy the emotion that I felt that night has never been more real.

The thought that he could have pulled his gun, he could have shot one of us, I could have died still gives me chills.

That man is part of my story now, he walked into my life and changed me, and he taught me what fear truly is.

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Danielle Dirks

Danielle Dirks

Danielle Dirks is a staff journalist for MBU Timeline, majoring in public relations. She transferred to MBU in the fall of 2016, from St.Charles Community College. After graduation, Dirks hopes to pursue a career as an event coordinator.

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