As some people know, a few weeks ago we had an unwanted visitor in our backyard in the wee hours of the morning. I was awoken to the sounds of very large dogs barking, a few distant gunshots and a grown man screaming “Oh my god! Somebody help me!”
2:31AM to be precise.
Although I did not know it at the time, it turns out that he was someone who escaped from the hospital at the end of our street, which is probably not more than a few hundred yards away. My understanding is that that hospital is where a lot of drug addicts and psychiatric patients are brought since there are no other adequate facilities nearby. My guess is that he was one of those patients.
I’ll be honest….looking out my bedroom window and seeing that man standing in our backyard, hearing him panting and screaming nonsense after he had scaled the 20 foot granite ledge and our six foot high stockade fence to hide in our backyard … it scared the crap out of me. It’s been only recently that I can tell the story without getting goosebumps on the back of my neck. And because I knew that the police were already hot on his trail and in the neighborhood and because I could hear the K-9 dogs barking in search of their prey, I wasn’t necessarily scared about what was going to happen in that moment.
It was the series of “what if’s?” that got the better of me later on. What if I had not heard him and he tried to take cover in our backyard porch? What if he was motivated enough to climb onto the roof of our porch in order to hide, leaving a mere few feet between him and M who happened to be sleeping on our bedroom floor under that window that night (he had already scaled a rock face so it’s not like he couldn’t)? What if this happens again with another patient? Or some other lunatic for that matter? And on and on.
Anyway, I’ve largely (almost) let it go as a once in a blue moon kind of thing, but I’d be lying if it did not make me wonder whether we should move to someplace less urban (our city has 90,000+ residents). The fact that I am a homebody by nature and that we haven’t found a similar convenient substitute for M’s little girl pals that lived across the street but moved away this summer wasn’t helping my state of mind. I was feeling sorry for myself and for M that we might be raising her to be isolated in a child-free neighborhood that is running rampant with psychos. OK, that might be a bit extreme, but it was where my mind was at at the time.
I thought about this the other evening as I was walking on one of the last warm weather nights we will see for many long months. Where would we move to? No place is immune from the potential for coming across jerks, people who need some kind of help, thieves or another “bad man” (as M calls him). At least so long as I cannot afford to re-locate myself and my family to some remote island that I’ve purchased in the middle of the ocean…and even then…PIRATES!
It has got me to thinking about where I grew up, a very small town in upstate New York. I think a large part of me romanticizes where I grew up, as most of us do the older we get. My memories are of a tight knit community where everyone knew each other, moms didn’t hesitate to tell kids other than their own to behave, kids played outside well past nightfall, and I was able to ride my bike alone to the drugstore to buy candy.
I was young when I lived there too, having moved there when I was about 4 (M’s age now) and leaving to come to Massachusetts when I was around 12. When I have those pangs of “maybe we should move”, the kind of place I envision is much like the town I grew up in or where my husband is from.
But then a few more small memories about my childhood town trickle in. Like the time during the gas crisis when people down the street were having gas siphoned and stolen right out of their cars. Or the man who pulled up in his car beside my friend and me right in front of my house, and asked us to come look at the toys he had in his car. Thankfully, my friend and I had the smarts to book it and run away, but I still remember that creep in the car as if it were yesterday.
If M’s present unwillingness to go alone into any room that faces our backyard or her ongoing references to that night with the “bad man” continue, I imagine that M might also have some long-term memories about this uncomfortable event too. Though I hope that over the long haul, the good memories will far outweigh the bad much like my own childhood memories.
So in my heart of hearts, I know that moving is not the answer to solving the world’s creep problem. They’re everywhere–small towns, big cities and everywhere in between. As reflect on it now, I think that it was not so much the small-town, physical environment around me in New York that made it such a great place to grow up–although it certainly was beautiful in its own right–but rather the people who made up our community and immediate neighborhood.
Indeed, while it would be nice to go back and see the house that I grew up in and find out whether it is much smaller or bigger than what I really remember it to be, what would be missing is the friends and neighbors who were part of our daily comings and goings. Without them, the visit would necessarily be quite short if only because there would be no one to reminisce with. To me, those are the take away memories of childhood. It wasn’t the backyard wooded fort that I built with my best friend, but the fact that we made that in an elementary school-aged rage against our parents who were telling us we couldn’t do something. It wasn’t the specific slope of our neighbors’ driveway that mattered, but that my pals and I perfected our “Dannon Body” (yogurt) rollerskating moves there. It wasn’t the types of trees growing in our yard or the layout of the quiet neighborhood streets but rather the bunch of us who gathered nightly to play kickball or ride bikes. It wasn’t the novelty of living off of a dirt road at the edge of the woods, but the crunching sound of gravel and sand drifting in through my bedroom window as my first real crush rode his BMX bike home on summer nights. It was the people, not the place.
As I neared the end of my walk the other night, on the way back I was feeling a little more energized and less pessimistic about our choice to set roots in this City of Presidents. Perhaps it was the fresh fall air or a much needed dose of activity-induced endorphins. But as I rounded the top of the hill on the last quarter mile home, a familiar looking little girl on her tricycle caught my eye. It was one of M’s preschool friends, living not even a two minute walk around the bend from us. I had no idea. Although I’ve only known her for a few months since she only recently started at M’s school, turns out they’ve lived there for about as long as we’ve owned our house too. And they love going to the park that is conveniently located in between both of us.
I think I just felt our roots grow a little deeper.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.