Monday, October 03, 2005


Late last night, after the girls had gone to bed and my brother finished watching a couple of Firefly episodes for the night, I started shutting everything down. A little past midnight, I went out into the driveway, where I had several shelves that I'd stained a few hours earlier drying in the night air. As I was gathering these up and putting them in the garage, I wasn't thinking about anything other than getting the garage locked up and going to bed as quickly as possible. The privacy fence and gate to our back yard is set back about 4 feet off the corner of the garage, forming a sort of sheltered alcove. I bent down to pick up one shelf propped up against the corner of the garage, and was startled by a figure standing there in the shadows.

My immediate instinct was to swing up with the board in my hand (a 36-inch-long spruce 1x12) and wallop this perceived threat upside the head. I didn't, because I didn't want to kill anybody. Amazing how fast the brain can function in stressful instants like this. Instead, I shouted and jumped about six feet back, holding the board as a kind of shield.

The figure turned out to be a teenage boy, maybe 15 or so. Skinny, with a shock of blonde hair. Maybe freckles. "I'm sorry, did I scare you?" I told him I'd just about ruined a good pair of underwear because of him, and what was he doing lurking around my house? "I'm hiding from my mom. Can I stay here?" Again, my brain ran through a bunch of scenarios. Why was he hiding from his mom? Was he in danger of abuse? Was he a punk who deserved abuse? Was he lying? It was a school night--geeze, why was he out roaming the streets after midnight? "My mom's out looking for me. Is it okay if I hide here?" he said again. I answer that I should hope she was looking for him, because it was after midnight. Just like that, my mind had made itself up--I wasn't getting involved in this messed-up situation, no matter what the particular circumstances were. "Okay, well, I'll just go somewhere else." And like that, the kid trots off into the night.

I've been thinking about why I didn't jump to help out this kid, since I'm one who often jumps to the aid of those in need. And the more I think about it (and discuss it with Lisa) the more suspect the situation becomes. Mainly, he reminded me of a sleezebucket roommate I'd had briefly in collge named Rick Stevens. Rick was one of these skinny, freckle-face kids and he always had some tale of woe as to how he was being victimized by the known universe--eventually skipping out one afternoon owing me two months' rent and having run up a mind-bogglingly huge phone bill. This kid radiated some of that same polished "professional victim" schtick, and it set my spider-senses a-tingling. Also, until that point, the garage had been partially open, with an array of power tools clearly visible. Were he a larcenous sort, those power tools would've been mighty tempting to walk off with and pawn somewhere. He may well have been trying to sneak into our back yard. Maybe he thought to enter the house via the open garage and find more valuable items to steal. And maybe his mother was looking for him because he was--or had been--up to no good. If indeed his mother was out looking for him. I don't know. If he was a victim hiding from possible abuse (he never actually said a much, though) then I feel terrible for him. But that's not the impression I got. There was too much cockiness to him, too much confidence for someone hiding from potential abuse.

I guarantee I'll be more wary of shadowy corners around my garage from now on.

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