I wonder how close I came to death twenty years ago at college. Thanks to a
problem with a key, I’ll never know.
One Friday, I met my sister Dianne and her friend Pete for dancing at the
pub. When I arrived, the others were already there, including a young man I
didn’t know. He was very good-looking. His name was Mark.
Mark was intelligent, witty, and a marvelous dancer. Soon I was having a
At midnight Pete agreed to walk Dianne to her dorm. Mark offered to walk me
to mine. Normally I wouldn’t, but it was late, so I agreed.
The dorm, McMahon Hall, had rooms in a large square around central elevators.
All the halls and rooms looked alike. My door was marked with a small name tag
in a brass holder. I firmly said good night to Mark. My roommate was away. Mark
somehow managed to push his way into the room. Over and over I told Mark to
leave, but he calmly sat on one of the beds, and took his shoes off. I threw my
room key down on my desk.
“Put your shoes back on,” I said. “You’re not staying.”
“Just a few more minutes,” Mark said. He grabbed my hand and pulled me
toward him, kissing me gently and caressing my hair. Finally, Mark agreed to
leave. I shut and locked my door (we had no deadbolt or chain, just a key), then
fell into a deep sleep.
In the morning I awoke to loud laughter down the hall. I looked on my desk
for my key. It wasn’t there. Strange, I thought. I searched all over. No key.
I wandered toward the laughter. “What’s going on?”
My friend Carol explained, “Some of the guys from upstairs are playing
“What kind of tricks?”
“Oh, shaving cream on the mirrors, stuff like that,” Carol said. “Last
night, they changed name tags on the doors.”
I went back to check my door. Sure enough, another set of names was now in
“Hey, Carol,” I asked, “have you seen my key?” I described it, a
white rabbit’s foot on a chain.
“Lose your key again, Dorene?” she asked, smiling.
“I guess so,” I admitted.
One of the girls from across the dorm came around the corner. “Hey, did
anybody lose a key? I found one this morning.” She held up my white rabbit’s
foot and key. It had been in her lock. I suddenly felt frightened.
“Whose name tag was on your door this morning?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. Yours.” She retrieved the tag from her room for me.
A wave of nausea overpowered me. Mark had left my room, only to palm my key
for later. Perhaps he’d stayed downstairs, biding his time for the dead of
night, returning to my room as I slept. Perhaps he had a weapon-a knife, maybe.
With my roommate gone, I was alone and defenseless. He crept up to the floor and
emerged from the elevator, confused by the symmetry of the corridors. He
searched for my name, and found it. But the key didn’t work. In between, our
blessed pranksters had switched the tags.
But Mark would not have known that. Unable to complete whatever horrors
he’d intended, he left.
I was upset with Pete for letting me think his friend was a “regular”
guy. When I next saw Pete, I said so.
“You know that friend of yours, Mark? He stole my key the other night.”
“The guy at our table on Friday at the pub,” I said. “You know,
Pete’s expression grew serious. “Dorene, he wasn’t a friend of mine.”
“He just showed up and sat at our table. I never saw him before.”
“Oh, my God!” I shouted. “And you let him walk me home?”
“Dorene, I’m sorry. You were having a good time, so I didn’t
“And I just assumed…” I said.
I don’t know why I was spared, when so many other women are victims of
violence. I consider the lesson I learned a gift from God. And I am thankful for
college boys who like to play silly tricks on college girls.
-Doreen O’Hara, Metuchen, N. J.