This morning I made Holland wear a raincoat, and boy howdy did the tears pour down. “I hate this jacket!” she screamed, all the way down Abby Hill towards school. Juliet tried to hold her hand but Holland wouldn’t have it. Rain poured from the sky while I sighed and turned towards home, eyes peeled for the Asian man with missing teeth.
It’s been a weird start to the year over here. We were invited out to Hood Canal by my good friend Margie, to welcome in the New Year at her family’s year-round vacation home. This vast, glass-encased house sits right at the edge of the inlet, with endless views of mountains, forests, rivers, Oh My! It’s overlooked by a wooded enclave that is home to eagle nests and beaver dams, and there is a protected lagoon that fills with water when the tide comes in, and Oh My! It’s truly the kind of place that leaves one speechless.
The entire time we were there the weather was perfect. I don’t mean nice, or adequate, I mean….divine. The sun shone on a pristine world sparkling with crisp, glittery abandon. Gaggles of kids paddled up and down the Canal in kayaks; groups of humans scampered end-to-end through forests; little girls in fairy wings swung from trees with audible “Whees!”
New Year’s night we reluctantly packed our bags and boarded the ferry towards home. Suddenly I felt ill. My head hurt, my throat ached, I yearned to lie down on the plastic ferry bench and close my eyes.
Yet I kept it together, remaining upright clear across the Sound, till at last we disembarked on firm ground. While Damon sped towards home, I realized I’d received five frantic phone calls from my mom. My sister was terribly ill, and I needed to take her to the ER, stat.
That night I sat next to her bed in the Emergency Room, feeling horrible, but thanking my lucky stars I wasn’t as sick as Lorraine. No matter how poorly I felt, all I had to do was peer sideways to find someone experiencing much, much worse.
The next morning, finally home and in bed, found me wretched. My head pounded. My throat burned. I couldn’t breathe out my nose at all. My legs ached badly, as did my back. I tried to get out of bed and function, but I couldn’t.
So it was that four terrible days passed, in which I seemed more beastly than human. During that time I dragged myself around as needed, lying on the sofa in between scooping Lochlan’s ’Tractor’ board book out of the toilet; pouring yet another glass of Gatorade; frantically helping Annalise find her oboe.
Occasionally, from this fog, I’d glance at my iPhone and scan the headlines or Facebook. It seemed everyone was pointing out their New Year’s Resolutions, which, from afar, seemed grand indeed – lose twenty pounds; go vegan; release yet another instant best seller, etc…
My New Year’s resolution quickly boiled down to one thing: get dressed. If only! Day after day I woke hopeful, only to find I still could not muster the strength to change my shirt. I felt too feeble, too head-achy, too ill.
It was on one of these morings, as I lay curled on the sofa in a fetal position, that our doorbell rang. Immediately one of my girls ran and opened the door. Standing there was an Asian man with missing and rotted out teeth, telling us he had weeded our yard and needed $30.00. His accent was almost unintelligible, yet I recognized him as the same man who had appeared in our yard shortly before Christmas, begging to weed for cash. Damon had obliged, and this man promptly spent about an hour ‘weeding’ our little eden, which mostly consisted of him ripping out all the plants. Afterwards, Damon paid him $30.00 and wished him a Merry Christmas.
Now, in my robe, with my mouth hanging open due to mouth-breathing, and my eyes half swollen shut, I peered outside. Sure enough, this man had rolled our trash can around and had it sitting in our yard, as well as a rake and shovel he had retrieved from the outside shed down below our house.
I was flabbergast. I told him I was sick, to come back later when Damon was home. Instantly he was angry. “I weed your yard!” he yelled, or that’s what I think he yelled, over and over. I nodded (I think) and said again that he’d need to come back later. “What time he home?” this man kept demanding. I told him after 4 pm. When I shut the door, he was still standing there, yelling.
Inside I carefully latched the door, then asked the girls if he had earlier rung our bell, to ask if he could garden. They all shook their heads, no. I felt unsettled and disturbed, yet I curled back up on the sofa and shut my eyes. It was mere minutes later that I realized this man was peering in at me through the living room window, right above my head.
It was so creepy! I bolted upright and ran to the door. I yelled at him to go away. Slowly he sauntered toward the gate while I watched from inside. There, on the sidewalk outside our home, he paced back and forth.
I closed every curtain, locked the door again and again, then sat back down, petrified, and thought about guns. We don’t believe in guns in our house, or guns at all, really. But I had no idea if this man liked guns, or had a gun. Everyone in our little house was suddenly tense and silent. At last Katriel came and sat down next to me. After awhile she asked, “Our our lives in trouble now, Mom?” Her question stunned me with it’s accuracy, because it pinpointed exactly what I was wondering myself.
“Maybe, my love,” I coughed. “Maybe. But probably not. Any awful thing can happen anywhere, any ole’ time. But let’s keep the doors locked, ok?”
A few hours passed in which I felt like a vigilante, pacing back and forth inside our dark, curtained home, peering out the front window every two minutes.
At last I felt this man had truly gone, and I realized it was probably time to get dressed. My New Year’s Resolution suddenly seemed urgent. After all, I didn’t want to face the police or be shot to death in rabid pajamas.
So I labored up the stairs and began the arduous task of putting on a bra and clean shirt. And that was when I heard Juliet frantically yell, “He’s back, Mom! He wants to talk to you right now!”
Boy howdy, I flew down those stairs! Sure enough, this same man was standing right there in my living room. Not over by the door, but right in the middle of my house. “Get out!” I instinctively yelled, shoving my arms straight out at him.
He seemed unmoved and said, “I weed your yard. You pay me $30.00!”
I told him repeatedly that I had no money. (This was ironic, in that it was probably the one time in the last five years when I actually did have $30.00 cash in my wallet.) “I’m sick!” I yelled feebly, coughing and gasping and shoving him with grand arm gestures towards the door.
“You need to get out!” I said again, after he repeated, for the hundredth time, how I needed to pay him.
I went and opened the front door and then came back and pushed this man out onto our landing. “Please come back when my husband is here!” I begged (Which pains me to type out, because it seems so sexist and wimpy of me…).
He asked again when Damon would be home. I told him, again, then slammed the door and locked it. He stood outside while I yelled at him to go away. “You are making me nervous!” I screamed.
He then leaned right up next to the glass over the front door and yelled that he knew some people were making a lot of noise in our yard that morning, that the police had come, but it wasn’t him. He assured me it wasn’t him. His English was very poor, and I had trouble making sense of what he was saying, so panicked was I just on the other side of the glass, but the gist of his message was that he had been there that morning, someone had called the police, yet he wanted me to know there was no wrong-doing on his part.
I felt more ill than I had previously thought possible. And suddenly mad. What was this man doing? Was I supposed to pay him for doing something in my yard that I had never asked him to do? From my weakened state, the yard looked exactly as it had before. If he had weeded, it certainly didn’t show.
I unbolted and opened the front door, irate enough to feel calm, and said, “What is it you want from me?”
He looked startled, and floundered around for words for a bit. “I weed your yard. You pay me now.”
“Look,” I said, “We didn’t ask you to weed our yard. And I don’t have money to keep giving you. I have five kids too, you know, and we don’t have a lot of extra money. We don’t have enough to pay you to be our gardener.”
At this the man turned angrily and walked out my gate, right on down the street.
I stood at the door for a long, long time. I told the girls to bring me the phone, so that if he reappeared I could call the police immediately.
He didn’t reappear until after 4 pm. Damon went outside to talk to him, gave him $10.00 cash, then told him in no uncertain terms to leave and never come back, ever, or he would call the police.
And he hasn’t come back. But neither has the sunshine. We now lock the doors the moment someone comes in or out. I fret every time the postman or anyone else unexpectedly opens the front gate. And I stand at attention, eyes steely as a hawk’s, ever vigilant for an asian man with missing teeth, while the girls march down the hill towards school.
For the past few days, as I’ve huddled beneath the swirling vapors of the humidifier, I’ve wondered about him - if he has kids or a wife, if he is homeless, on drugs….and of course, most of all, does he have a gun? I’ve pondered how we can realistically help him so he doesn’t keep showing up on our doorstep; or whether it’s safe to help him at all?
Ever since we’ve been back from Hood Canal it feels like the rain has just poured down with no end in sight. It was sunny and beautiful there, but here it feels soggy and messy… just plain yucky whichever way I turn.
This morning Holland did not want to wear that rain coat. It was cold and raining heavily, so I physically shoved her arms into Annalise’s pink, plastic parka and zipped it clear to her chin. Her bottom lip quivered and she began to cry. I pulled the hood tight over her head and told her she had to wear it to school, but then she could wad it up and shove it to the bottom of her backpack.
My seven-year-old niece stomped out the front gate, crying hysterically. “I hate this coat!” she screamed, over and over. I sighed and walked behind, on the lookout for danger.
Before she reached the bottom of the hill I grabbed her hunched shoulders and turned her around to face me. “It’s my job to protect you, Holland.” I said. “In this great big world, that’s the only true job your auntie has. And I’m going to do it, whether you want me to or not, in the small ways that I can.”
She rolled her eyes and stomped away, while Juliet ran near her side, trying desperately to comfort her, saying, “Don’t worry, Holland! No one at school will even know you’ve been crying. You know why? Because no one can see tears in the rain!”