Monday, October 15, 2012
The View from the Porch
I stepped out onto the back porch this afternoon to toss the trash in the big can, caught some movement out of the corner of my eye, and looked up to see two men in the playhouse at the bottom of the yard.
I think they were as startled as I was. I called hello, and one of them peered over the roof from the back. We stared at each other for a moment.
On the one hand, they didn't look very old -- perhaps under 20. And the one I could see clearly looked sheepish and surprised. On the other hand, there is absolutely no reason that anyone should be on my property, in the playhouse, at 2:00 PM or at any time. In the playhouse.
"You'll need to leave right now," I said clearly, "or I'll call the police."
"Just let us get our stuff," the one guy mumbled. The other guy climbed out the window at the side of the playhouse, hauling a big backpack. Why the window, when he could have walked out the door with less trouble? They weren't moving fast enough to suit me, so I stood on the back steps and watched as they shuffled off into the green belt behind our house -- platted for an alley that was never paved -- and paused behind the garage. I went in the house and counted ten, and they still lingered behind the garage. The kids were bouncing up and down under my elbows, asking, "What is it, Mom? Who are those guys? What were they doing?" I got the phone and dialed 911.
I've only called 911 once before, and that was during the boiler fire and I don't remember much about it except that we all had to leave our house in pajamas on a freezing November morning. Here's what happens. The dispatcher asks for your address, then the number of the phone from which you've called, and then what your emergency is. I explained -- maybe it wasn't an emergency, but I wanted to be sure. The guys had by this time wandered up toward the backyard of the house behind us, and it was probably nothing, but I was going to report it anyway.
I remember at the time of the fire that I heard the sirens while I was still on the phone with the dispatcher. This time there wasn't such a rush -- the officer arrived five minutes later, so we had time to straighten the entryway ("Julia! Put this Encyclopedia of Guns in the library, and shut the door!"). She arrived, checked out the playhouse and behind the garage, and came up to the back porch where the peanut gallery was hanging, agog, over the bottom half of the dutch door.
"I didn't see anything," she said, "but anyone could get on the roof of your garage from back there." This is true, but I can't do anything about that.
She surveyed the masses with mild surprise and said, "I hope these aren't all yours."
"Yes, ma'am," I said. "We're homeschoolers, and home all day, which is why I don't like to see men in my backyard."
She told me to call immediately if I saw them again, and headed off. Of course I didn't see them again. Why should I? Why would anyone come back to the spot where they were busted? But I kept watching. all afternoon. I lurked by the kitchen windows. I obsessively checked my email and Facebook just to feel that other people, people I knew, were in some sense around me. I called Darwin, but he wasn't available. By the time I found myself staring out the back door, twisting and untwisting my scarf, I had to shake myself. It's not as if anything happened. I never felt threatened at any time. I wasn't scared. But the backyard, which had always felt so sheltered and innocuous, was suddenly territory. From the windows I patrolled the playhouse (why would anyone want to be in our playhouse?), the garage, the opening in the fence that leads to the greenbelt. I was acutely aware that the garage -- never shut because the doors are so big and unwieldy -- had tools in it, and that the van is always unlocked. I checked all five exterior doors downstairs and made sure that they were all secure.
For the rest of the afternoon, the young man, who has a four-year-old's sense of humor, thought it funny to bellow that there was a man in the back yard. And every time he said it, I had to check. Because the view from the porch isn't so idyllic today.