I’m in the family room finishing up a cruel and evil exercise video. The kids are running around and I’m late getting dinner going. Another knock. Through the window, I can see the UPS truck outside. I tell my daughter to go get the door; if it’s not the delivery man, it’s one of her friends. It’s that time of day when they run around. Knocks on the door are common.
Another knock. She calls to me it’s some man. Distracted and a little winded from the video, I tell her no, it’s not some man, it’s the delivery man. Not thinking, I pull open the door..and realize she was right. It’s some man. I’ve never seen him before, but instinctively I know he doesn’t belong. He’s thin and all sweaty, unkempt with shaggy hair and dirty baggy clothes. I take all this in, mentally bracing myself as I see the city solicitor permit clipped to his shirt. Nothing, however, prepared me for what happened next.
“Hello, ma’am…” he stutters, as my five year-old-squeezes between my legs to see what’s going on. “…I’m a two-time convicted felon.”
My mind starts to spin. I’m trying to catch up with what’s going on. I’m standing there at dusk, with a convicted felon at my front door. My husband isn’t only not home, he’s out of town. The big white dog is outside. My kids are gathered around me. All this flashes through my mind as I make eye contact with the UPS man, who tosses a package onto my porch. The man who introduced himself as a convict picks it up and hands it to me…
I don’t normally answer the door to someone I don’t know. Before my daughter was born, I was a 9-5 (or 6 or 7 or beyond) in the office kind of girl. I had no idea what happened in the neighborhood while we were gone. After I started working from home, I quickly discovered just how many people came onto our property during the day. There’s all kinds of solicitors, primarily extermination and landscaping companies. There are folks delivering coupons and other sorts of flyers, such as to wash our windows. There are folks selling frozen meat and (allegedly) homegrown vegetables. There are various religious missionaries. It’s kinda wild. But it didn’t take long for my writer’s imagination to take over, and vulnerability to set in. I’d find myself listening to news reports where the anchor would say “no apparent sign of forced entry,” and I’d think…forced entry? There’s no need for forced entry, not when some unsuspecting person (usually a woman) answers the door. One stiff arm, and boom, that stranger on the other side of the door is suddenly in your house.
That’s when I stopped answering the door.
But the other evening, I answered the door, and the man introduced himself as a convict. He told me he’s made some mistakes, but he’s trying to turn his life around. He and his wife have started making these candle/potpourri holders…
And still my mind spins. Why is he telling me this? Is he sincere? Is this some kind of penance, where he wants to atone for mistakes? Or is it more sinister than that? Is he trying to scare me into doing exactly what he wants me to do? Is he secretly casing the house, trying to figure out if he should come back under the cover of darkness?
All I can think about is winding this encounter down. I want him gone, off my property. So when he holds up the candle holder–it’s really quite primitive–I ask him how much. When he says $15, I blurt out…sure.
And that’s when everything changed, when something washed over him: surprise, relief, gratitude…they were all there, and as I closed (and locked) the door to go get the money, the hardness inside me softened, and when I opened the door and his eyes again met mine, I found myself smiling. He said something about his children. I don’t remember what. I took the candle holder and watched him walk back to his car with a bit of a spring in his step. There he opened his trunk, pulled out another candle holder, then walked to my neighbors house.
Rattled, I did what I always do: I took to Facebook, sharing what had just happened, and several friends quickly responded. All sorts of pros and cons were discussed, and soon I found myself on the phone with the police department, telling them what had happened, as well. Turns out they’re familiar with the vendor–and his penchant for telling people about his prior convictions–but his permit is legit, and they’ve never had reason to revoke it. While I was learning this, other friends chimed in, reporting that he’d been to their house before, as well. Some of them purchased from him. Some did not. (They’re all still around to talk about it.)
For the rest of the evening, I kept thinking about the encounter, conflicted about my own feelings (my automatic suspicion of this grimy looking stranger) and wondering whether I’d done the right thing (for the right reasons, to help him or to get rid of him). My husband and I have long felt like in situations like that, when someone approaches you for money or food, it’s best to help if you can. If the recipient is, instead, pulling one over on you, then that’s their bad, not yours. And I really think that’s true.
Then a friend sent me this, and even as I had the security system activated, I found peace with the whole situation. If you do yourself one favor today, watch this. But be warned, have a tissue handy.