When we first moved into our house a few years ago it seemed like people were knocking on our door at least once per month asking for money. There were two people I would even call “regulars,” even though we never gave them anything. The first was a shifty-eyed older woman who was a terrible liar. She always needed money “for gas” or “for the bus.” Once she even showed up a little after 10pm holding a boom box. When I opened the door she offered to sell it to me for $10. Another time she showed up in the middle of the day with two small children, both towing rolling suitcases behind them. It was HOT outside. I saw her walking up to the door through our front window and she saw me. And then she didn’t even knock. She just waited, knowing that I had seen her and would open the door. That really irked me! (I don’t know that I can explain exactly why, though.) She gave me a sob story about having her grandchildren with her and that she needed money to put them on a bus. I turned her away, thoroughly annoyed, and watched her progress down the street. I noticed she didn’t even bother knocking on the doors of the next few houses but went straight up to one of my neighbors a few doors down who happened to be outside watering her azaleas at the time. I saw the woman say something to my neighbor and my neighbor shook her head “no.” The woman then approached my neighbor, backing her into a corner. My neighbor looked scared and started gesturing wildly with her hands, I guess insisting to the lady that she didn’t have any money. I thought, That’s it! and called the police, telling them what I saw happening, telling them about the two very young children following behind in the heat, and telling them about the times she had come up to our door before. While I was on the phone I saw the woman turn abruptly around, stomp across the lawn away from my neighbor and continue down the street. She didn’t knock on any more doors before turning the street corner. I told the person on the phone which direction she was heading before hanging up. I don’t know what happened but I haven’t seen her since.
The other regular wasn’t so bad. He would come by and offer to do small odd jobs for a little bit of cash, usually “for bus money,” but we never gave him work. Once he offered to rake our leaves and bag them. John, too proud to hire someone else to take care of the lawn, declined. Embarrassed by the implication about the state of the yard, John decided to take care of the leaves. A few days later our old neighbor, Richard, told us that he had hired a man to rake and bag his leaves, “the same guy that did yours.” It turns out that after John took care of the yard, the man knocked on our neighbor’s door and offered to rake his leaves and bag them. He told Richard that he did our yard, motioning to it and emphasizing what a good job he could do! We haven’t seen him again since.
Yesterday there was a knock on the door. I was elbow-deep in baby poo so I thought about not answering. But it was time for John to come home so I thought it might be him, unable to get in. Maybe I had double-locked. Thinking this might be the case, I hitched a diaperless Isabel over my shoulder and scampered to the door. Through the peephole I saw someone I recognized closing the gate and turning away. I opened the door and stepped outside. It wasn’t who I thought.
It was the same story as always, with only some variation. The guy needed gas money. He ran out of gas. His wife was over in the car waiting. I asked where the car was and he said it was right around the corner. Conveniently just out of sight, I thought cynically. I told him I didn’t have cash but that my husband would be home soon. The man said he’d come back. I told him, “No. We’ll drive around there when he gets home.” After I shut the door, three things occurred to me. The first was that I could have given him the container that had the gas for our lawn mower. The second was that I should have offered to let him make a call. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but shouldn’t a person ask to use your phone to call for help before they ask you for money? The third was that I should never, ever open the door when I’m home alone with the baby, whether a person sees me through the front window or not. I reminded myself that I thought this person was someone I knew when I looked through the peephole and cursed myself for being wrong. I resolved that when John came home we would take the lawn mower gas and drive around the corner to see if there really was someone stranded.
But as luck would have it, the guy got to John before John could come inside and talk to me about it. After getting Isabel’s diaper all sorted out I noticed John’s car outside but it was a while before he came in, looking angry. The guy had walked up to John as John was heading to the front door. Resigned, I asked, “Did you give him money?” He had. The only cash in his wallet, a $10 bill. John was already upset that he gave in and gave the guy money but got even more upset when I told him about my encounter with the guy. John at least gave the guy a talking-to before handing him money. John told the guy that he didn’t want to see the guy at our door ever again, that he better not tell anyone we gave him money, that he didn’t care what the money was for, that he didn’t want to get paid back, and that we didn’t appreciate being disturbed at home by people begging for money. The guy was really appreciative after John handed him the cash but that didn’t make John feel any better about giving it.
We had plans to head out to Lowe’s as soon as John got home anyway, so we went ahead and got in the car to drive around the corner. There was no car there. I’d like to think it’s possible that while John and I were talking about the whole thing that the guy could have walked to the gas station, bought gas, walked back, put gas in the car and left…but it’s not. And John and I both feel like shit because of it. I’m mad that I didn’t call John about what happened right away and John feels taken advantage of.
I also feel unsafe in my own home. Because now I’m thinking about all of the foot traffic on our street. And how people can see inside our house when I have the shutters open to let the light in. And how this complete stranger now knows which car my husband drives and that I have a baby at home.
I remember how confident I felt when I was younger. I’d walk or ride my bike as far as a mile away from my house and still feel like nothing bad would ever happen to me because I was a fast runner and a ruthless fighter, even though I knew that we lived in a really bad neighborhood. I was a little bittie nothing compared to the gangsters and drug-dealers walking around! I sometimes wonder if it’s better to be that naive and foolishly self-assured. After all, bad things will or won’t happen and no amount of worrying about what might happen could really make much of a difference, aye? But I’m not that naive. I know my limitations and there are a million different scenarios playing in my head right now of how things can go very, very wrong for me very, very fast should an even less scrupulous visitor come to call. For now I guess I’ll just have to keep a few choice weapons and escape routes handy at the forefront of my mind, just in case. And that’s a damn shame.