About ten years ago on a rainy summer night, Charles and I were jolted out of sleep by a crash. We had a finely honed routine to deal with unexpected events in the night: C would get on the phone to the police, I would jump into the sweatsuit and muck boots I kept next to the bed, grab the shotgun and a dog, and head out side. Many of you are probably thinking this is an odd role reversal, but the secret of a successful marriage is knowing what each partner's strengths and weaknesses are. Charles was good at dialing the phone for help and speaking coherently, I was good at getting dressed fast and yelling into the dark. Out into the dark I went, while C called 911.
In the moonlight and light rain, I saw a pick up truck at a forty five degree angle to a car, which had its front end smashed into the bank on the opposite side of the road. A man and a woman were struggling in the street, in silhouette, backlit by the headlights.
Remember, I am the one who is chosen to go see, because of my ability to shout into the darkness. I had just seen on Court Tv where I get all my news a story about a predator who forced women off the road in the darkness and abducted them. Well, this was NOT going to happen on my watch. So I started to channel the 80 year old Southern Woman who lives in my brain primed for just such occasions: HEY YOU ALL KNOCK THAT OFF!
The figures stop struggling, turn toward me and shout together: MIND YOUR OWN DAMN BUSINESS!
Huh. The dog stopped pulling against the leash and sat right down in the street. The shotgun slid from the ready position to my side.
Okay. Apparently, some trailer drama had spilled out of the park onto the public crossroads. He shouts: She stole my damn Camaro!
She shouts: I bought the rims for that Camaro!
Suddenly, they feel it IS my business. But I don't. I tell them to finish killing themselves and go back inside where I hear Charles on the phone: No! Don't put me on hold!
I give him the skinny, he hangs up and we go back to bed, as the truck and the damn Camaro speed loudly off into the night.
Fast forward to 2007. Charles has passed away and I am living by myself for the first time. I don't sleep well. Another summer night and I am tossing and turning in the moonlight. Softly at first, but steadily increasing in volume, a man is singing below my bedroom window.
Not in a nice way. I think it was You Shook Me All Night Long, but I can't be sure. I put on my sweatsuit and boots, grab my cellphone and take a look.
Ah, there he is, beneath the spruces, clearly not targeting my window specifically, but in general just singing to the night. The 80 year old Southern Woman who lives in my brain shows up again and I shout: What the hell are you doing?
He stops singing, looks up: Shut the F**k up!
I call 911 - Charles is gone, someone has to do it. I give the operator my address and she says: What is the nature of your emergency?
I say: I am not sure it's an emergency but there is a fella singing on my lawn. He just yelled at me.
There is a pause. The operator says: Oh, well, Shirley? I need you to do something for me. When you feel comfortable, could you go out and flag down one of the emergency vehicles in your area? The fella you are seeing dumped his motorcycle about a 1/4 mile from your house. He has a head injury and wandered away from the ambulance crew. They are out looking for him now. If you could let them know where he is, that would be great.
When I feel comfortable? So I grab my comfortable things (dog, shotgun) and head out the door.
In the misty night, the first person I see is my son, coming across the driveway. As I become more aware of what is going on in the darkness, I see four police cars, an ambulance, some men in clusters talking and laughing, and two men in silhouette struggling in the darkness, and my son. My son?
He says: Mom. Put the gun down.
I say: Well, of course. But what are you doing here?
He says: I heard your call come over the scanner. You are my mom, so I thought I should find out why there was a man singing on your lawn.
I raised that boy right. I beam with pride.
He says: You can go inside now, everything is under control. Just then, one of the struggling men shouts: Can someone give me a hand with this guy, he's going to get away again?
All attention is finally on the obnoxious, drunk, head injury guy and I go back inside and toss and turn until the morning.
Fast forward to 2008. Again, it's a dark summer night, the windows are open and I am trying to remember whether I fed the chickens. I am just about to go outside and do it again when the phone rings. It's Deneen down the street.
She says: Shirley, I am going to play you a message I just got from the State Police. Listen to this.
The Police were calling everyone with a landline and telling them a man with a brain injury, six foot three inches tall, two hundred and fifty pounds and wearing a John Deere shirt was on the loose in the township. Seems he 'escaped' while fellowshipping down at Wyebrook Baptist Church which is about a half a mile away as the crow flies over the tree farm. Now, this describes about 80% of the male population of West Cornmeal so I wasn't sure what they were excited about. Choppers began coming over the trees and the State police were driving up and down Rt. 82 with deer spotters in the trees and the bushes. I rethought the whole feeding the chickens thing and started calling girlfriends in the hood who didn't have land lines. Time and again, the first thing they said was the same: Damn, I am going to have to go out and get the keys out of the trucks. Except for one. She asked: Is he cute? It is lonely up here some nights. Later we hear that they catch him over by the fish hatchery.
With all this going on, compressed into the handy time frame in my brain which I use to collect evidence about my situation, I get a hair trigger about what appears to be an emergency. My family tries to be sensitive about this, and one night my son calls me to tell me that he has heard on the scanner that the grocery store and the Burger King have both been held up at gun point and the perps are driving around in a white mini van. He wakes me out of a sound sleep with this information and I respond (I think very appropriately): Okay, I'll get the big dog out of her crate and I have the shotgun right here. He says, Jeesh, Mom, it's not like they are heading right for you!
But, you see, when you are alone in the dark, everything is happening to you, and only you. I am going to fight this feeling and get over it. I am going to sleep right through the next middle of the night thing and leave the shotgun in the closet. Unless of course, the deer spotters and the choppers are coming right over the house, and the man is singing on the front lawn, and the chickens have not been fed.