So Sunday morning at 8 AM, about the time we were convincing ourselves to climb out of the massive piles of covers we're using to postpone turning on the heat, we hear a tap-tap-tap at our back door. It's Marion, the 90something year old cotton farmer neighbor. The only time Marion climbs the big hill to the house is about once a week each summer to deliver the tomatoes. Otherwise, all conversations between us happen when we make the much easier downhill climb to see him. That he's at the back door in the morning in the fall, then, is strange.
The first thing he asks is, "Were you robbed?" Well, despite knowing that I had not been robbed, I felt ice water in my stomach. "What do you mean?" Andrew asked. He explains: "The cops were in my bushes last night with a high-powered flashlight, looking for the guys who were trying to break into your house." Now, if I didn't feel light-headed before, it was now necessary to sit down and shiver.
Andrew asked him to back up and slowly explain. He did: "I heard your dogs barking like crazy and then I saw a bright light and saw it was the cops in my back yard. It had to have been midnight or 1 am, so I raised the window and said, 'What're ya'll lookin' for?' And they said someone had called to say they'd just arrived home late to find someone breaking into their house, and when the homeowners caught them, the robbers escaped, running through ya'll's [that would be, our] yard and maybe mine. I asked the cops, 'Was it the house on the hill?' and they said 'Yes.'"
Hence the misunderstanding -- we're the house on the hill, to Marion, but as the property keeps slanting upward, his vague gesture could've indicated a host of other homes. And anyway, we didn't call the police, so it certainly wasn't our house being robbed. But it still could've been our backyard that was the escape route.
This changed several things for me. I no longer saw my house as protection but rather a glorified, decorated pup tent. That night, I went through each room and closed the blinds and curtains so no one could see in. Andrew taught me to use a 9-millimeter, a .38, and a shotgun, two of which are now loaded in various parts of the house. I currently sleep with a bat. I brought in the dogs, not because they've vicious -- anyone who knows Sierra would find that giggle-worthy -- but because they're loud. They now sleep in the house with us, near us. And we are permanently keeping on the brightest porch light you've ever seen in your life.
I have never felt afraid in my house before. I grew up in a town where everyone knew everyone; as an example, one of my classmates in now in jail because he held up the Country Store -- one of only 2 convenience stores in the 2,000-person town -- with a bag on his head but everyone knew his voice when he said "give me your money." The whole store stopped and said, "Mike? Is that YOU? Your dad would be so ashamed of you right now." He was pretty easy to track down after that.
So this idea of drawing the curtains close, checking and rechecking the locked doors and windows, learning to load and fire a firearm, fearing this old house's creaks is alien to me. It's not so much a sign of my neighborhood, which is OK, but a sign of the times. Who's hungry enough, withdrawn enough, desperate enough to come into your house when there's a good chance you're already in it? It's that desperation, more than the person behind it, that worries me the most.