UNRAVELING IN REAL TIME - What Will The Neighbors Think?
They came again this morning. It was early; just after eight a.m..
But I did not hear the metallic creak of the wrought iron gate that tops the steps outside our front door; that rusted yawn that signals to me the presence of friend or enemy; the sound I count on in the absence of a working doorbell.
The dogs, whose Bremen Town-substitution is unreliable, were scattered about the house and yard and failed to alert me. And so I continued to strip the sheets from our bed and to carry on my mundane ritual with the drowsy acceptance of early-morning normal.
It wasn't until I reached for a dropped pillow slip and glanced out the window of our upstairs bedroom that I noticed them. There, lining the arc of our horseshoe driveway like a convoy of mutant, navy-blue beetles, were four police squad cars.
To someone else this sight might be alarming. It might seem extraordinary or in raw juxtaposition to their experience of a sane reality. They might immediately assume there has been a horrible mistake or that a faulty address had led these misguided officers of the peace to their door.
To someone else this scene might seem surreal, and although I still have empathy for and a distinct memory of that innocent and flustered reaction, it is remote .
It has been a long time since I have been like someone else.
In the eight years that my son has been a prescription-dependent drug addict, scenes like this one have unfolded with uncanny regularity. The felony of prescription fraud is not lightly regarded among those sworn to uphold the law and to protect the righteous, nor should it be.
I don't fault them their obligation to carry out their duty. They are following orders. I just wish they would get their facts straight and perhaps exercise a little more diplomacy and tact in executing their job.
But this morning I did not make it to the door in time, and because it took me too long to notice them and to answer a doorbell that does not ring, all but two of the six officers scattered to surround the house; leaving the two who did not to the task of ringing the door of the neighbors who live directly behind us.
In the past I have dutifully accepted the attendant shame and humiliation of such public maneuvers because I had no choice. My son was guilty and plagued by felony warrants for his arrest. This was his last known address. This is where the police and probation officers, where the swat teams and detectives routinely surfaced.
Of course, the shattered irony of today comes because he has been in custody for the past ten months.
I was hoping that the days of high drama and the sweeping, public method of execution were behind us. Do they not have the same computer access that I do? Could they not attempt to uncover this fact before they rushed my home and badgered my neighbors with questions?
Although our neighbors have no doubt witnessed and wondered about the frequency with which we were graced by the local police in the past, they have had the decency not to query us about it. We maintain a friendly and polite relationship, purposely downwind of intimate.
But now they know the truth.
By the time I opened the front door of my house, the two uniformed spokesmen were returning to their vehicles. They told me they did not think anyone was at home, which is why they had gone on to question our young neighbors about what they knew.
They told our neighbors that my son was a felon with three warrants in two states. They asked them if he had been around; if we were sheltering him. They admonished them on the severity of consequence for withholding information should they think to do so.
From my drawing table as I look through the French doors of my studio, I have watched the young mother as she played with her small son and toddling daughter on the greening carpet of their front lawn, and with every observation I am taken back to that time when my son and eldest daughter were those exact ages.
In the temperate months, seduced by the dewey air and earthy pleasures outdoors, they frequent their yard with its colorful scramble of plastic balls and battered toys. I am lured by the high, pebbled laughter and my eyes follow the trail of their chatter with my heart in sound conspiracy in spite of my best efforts to shut them out. They are a window to a past I hold onto with fierce but weary pride.
It was a past that perhaps held the best of me and of what my life could ever be.
Several times the young mother and I have spoken of the age difference between her son and daughter and their dispositions bearing a striking similarity to mine so many years ago. We shared collusive chuckles at how easily smiling came to our sons and how innately protective they are of their younger sisters even at that fledgling age.
I assured her that this propensity for watching over both of his younger sisters still remains paramount for my son all these many years later.
Now that the facts of his iniquity have been made known to them, I will not mention this to her again. I would not want to face the awkwardness that will exist between us as she silently prays for an end to any such similarities between her little boy and the recollections of my own.
But they remain our neighbors, and as they exist in all their burgeoning happiness, it is with an incursive and galling shame that I am necessarily confronted by the realization that although my early walk through motherhood began with the same sure-footed and deep nurturing; that I sang to my children the same mild lullabies and blanketed the close of each day with the gentle grace of bedside prayers and soft kisses, I am sadly at this moment not able to bathe in the peace of having successfully completed that passage nor in the joy at seeing a reflection of those years in the young family next door.
Every time my eyes wander through those doors, my heart digs into the soft cache of remembering the bedtime stories and bruised knees and whiffle ball games in the summer twilight of the backyard, and I am reminded that the present end does not fit my past dreams for it and that my son is not the only one whose body and soul are now confined.
He is confined by law.
I am, by love.
This morning I told the police of their mistake; that my son is currently in prison and will be so for some time. I watched them watch me and wondered, as I always do, what were they thinking? Did they look for the cracks within my maternal countenance? Did they assume that surely I must have some radical deficit that could yield or enable such a damaged offspring? Were they suspect of my veracity based on this present circumstance?
Where did I go wrong?
Routinely, I ask myself those questions and I certainly don't fault anyone else for doing likewise.
Regretfully, I don't have any answers.
But blessedly, the neighbors need not know that, too.