‘Kate, do you ever think we’ll be normal?’
My husband asks me this question with such innocence that it would almost break my heart if it didn’t secretly make me a touch bit gleeful.
I am lying on our couch completely covered by a giant white comforter as though I’d somehow fallen in the wilderness and remained there, paralyzed, as a heavy snowfall blanketed my sorry limbs.
“Someday, I dunno, I think so,” I sigh, trailing my hesitation.
With that I turn my eyes toward my living room picture window and the newly printed sign I have affixed to the glass that reads: ‘Beware of DOG’ and features a rather menacing looking German Sheppard in what one would presume is attack mode. The comedy of the situation is revealed as I glance down toward my actual ‘attack dogs’ lounging on the couch below.
One has no teeth and a tongue that is ever so slightly turning a stale black as it wags about the air. Without teeth to keep it in, I spend a few minutes each day wetting her tongue and slipping it (read: shoving it) back in her mouth so that it doesn’t crack and splinter.
Curled up next to her, our other ‘child’ stares out the window and hums in his sleep. From ten feet across the room, I can smell his breath- so noxious a stench that unbeknownst to the casual observer THIS is actually the reason for the warning. The sign on the window should actually read: Beware of DOG (breath) but I decided not to make the addition as that reads far less threatening.
I have affixed stickers to all of our windows warning any prospective burglar that our house is off limits. One of the dangers of working from home means that I have plenty of time to observe my neighborhood and the surrounding areas while in between sentences and interviews.
The trouble really started when a gentleman came to my door rather late at night and suggested he come in to give me an estimate on window replacements. Though I have lived in the heart of two of our nation’s most bustling cities, I have always felt somehow ‘safe,’ and protected-even when I moved roughly four blocks from one of America’s most notorious housing projects. I never feared my neighbors, the bums, gosh even the neighborhood gang lords that loitered about- but here in the rural suburbs of Central Virginia, my head wanders with horrific possibility.
In Chicago, I’d regularly pass members that I knew belonged to this gang or that gang and somehow the fear never struck in my heart as much as it does when I see random people walking about my neighborhood and I immediately know they are a serial killer.
It’s a suburban paranoia that happens literally over night. I have tried so hard to fight it with every fiber of my being, but still the bout of anxiety and paranoia has taken root within me. The other day, our neighbor put up a Sarah Palin 2012 sign and I didn’t. even. flinch.
“My God,” I whisper to myself, “so this is how it starts.”
With little to keep me company but my own thoughts, the various crime novels I had never gotten around to read while working a crazy schedule, a husband that spends an inordinate time marching about a field somewhere and yelling orders to young lieutenants and my journalism (which inevitably involved this person or that being arrested for assault, breaking and entering and pornography) my mind began to spin out of control.
Which is how I knew, I just knew, that the man who showed up on my doorstep that chilly February night was a serial killer thus prompting me to go on an obsessive quest for self protection and spiral into a maniacal protective sign purchasing frenzy at our Home Depot.
I thought he was my neighbor whom I had lent a dog leash to the other day, and when I look out the peephole and see a young man of roughly 17-25, I figure he is my neighbor’s son. I open the door cautiously, my dog’s collar between my right hand and my body steeled behind the door…just in case.
“Hi Ma’am!! I was here in the neighborhood about to get ready to do some work on a neighbor’s house when I noticed you had old windows! Would you mind if I stepped inside and gave you an estimate.”
With that he smiles a goofy grin. Too goofy. Too lopsided. I can’t quite place my finger on it but it is too…friendly. It is also 6:30 PM and this stranger on my doorstep has no car, no identifying characteristics and well, who starts a job in the increasing black at 6:30PM?
I quickly make up a story about our high tech alarm system while my dog growls next to me and I slam the door. I hear his footsteps at first back up and I watch as his shadow tries to peer around my window blinds. The next thing I hear are his feet rushing over the crispy grass as he sprints off my porch and disappears into the woods.
And I panic.
I call the police.
It isn’t until I watch the lights of a Sheriff squad car circle my block that I finally feel relieved. Three hours later when my husband comes home he finds me pacing the living room with a kitchen knife. In the time since my unwelcome visitor, I have gone from knee-shaking fear to Steven King’s Carrie rage.
I am jacked up on Coca-Cola and stale mint chocolate candies I found in the back of my pantry (and sadly am not even sure if they are mine or the previous tenant’s). I am ready, (yes, I am ready) to go Kill Bill on the next person who has the unfortunate luck of driving down my street.
I am Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs.
I am Angelina in Tomb Raider.
I am Disney’s Mulan in a really, really messed up version of Mulan.
Once home, my very concerned husband walks back and forth through the living room running his hand through his closely cropped hair. In retrospect, I’m not so sure if he was worried about the prowler or worried about the sanity of his wife was muttering phrases in the corner and rocking back and forth expressing gratitude that she didn’t have to, “hurt anyone tonight.”
And if I thought I had lost it then, it wasn’t until the next day that the very helpful sheriff suggests I sign up for the county’s crime alerts. Of course! Of course, I do.
In three days, I know the name of every suspected shoplifter from the local WalMart. I find out that a man who lives five blocks away was seized by police for child pornography and I spend more time in my window staring at the neighbors and clucking away in my head and trying to figure out which bears the most striking resemblance to the Klopecks.
Not only have I spiraled into a full-fledged state of paranoia, but I’ve also morphed into my grandfather’s ninety five year old neighbor Judy who spends every waking moment rocking back and forth and staring out her front window.
I visit Home Depot where I purchase every sign that reads “Beware Of!” I even have one that says “Beware of CAT!” knowing that even this sign serves a purpose of protection against an allergy prone cat burglar, (pun intended).
And then it happens. I open up my daily/hourly crime alert and I see a picture of my window salesman taken in a surveillance video. He is wanted for armed robbery.
For hours I continue to click the link for any updates. I call CrimeStoppers, (YES! I was THAT person) and inform them that I think he tried to sell me windows/kill me the other night. I’m fairly certain that all I accomplished by that was putting out an APB that a complete crazy woman lived at my address.
I briefly wrestle with the idea of teaching my dog kickboxing, but since I neither know how to kickbox myself and can’t get my dog to stand on his hind legs, this activity proves fruitless.
Instead, I do the worst possible thing imaginable: I continue to inundate myself with crime television, crime novels and all things murder. I watch the First 48 and somehow assume I’m picking up tips. I bring out my Criminal Minds box set and start to profile all my neighbors and those in the area who could be potential criminals. I log on to websites on burglar proofing the home and flirt with the idea of buying security cameras.
In one corner, I actually rig up my flip camera for show.
To the outside observer, my home is so lit up it looks like I live with Clark Griswold, decorated with enough security signs on the doors and windows that one would think I’m a mafia member-or Jennifer Lopez.
Finally, two days later I get word that the assailant was captured and I breathe a sigh of relief.
I move about the next few days more lightly. My husband and I attend a wedding out of town and when we return from our trip, I feel a renewed sense of spirit which manifests itself in rearranging the furniture and going on a massive cleaning binge.
I move a couch beneath my picture window so my dog can stare out and bark frantically when anyone approaches; I don’t even stop him from barking at a squirrel but instead reward his frantic notifications with beef jerky.
All goes smoothly until my husband informs me that he would be spending a night in the field. Denial. Then fear. Then confusion: when had I become this terrified suburbanite/rural dweller?
Undeterred, I build my own ‘foxhole’ as soon as my husband leaves at the house for the field at 4:30AM. The day progresses uneventfully, but as soon as it grows dark I turn on every single light in the house, including the lights of my closets in the basement. I plaster BEWARE OF DOG stickers to every window. I shove kitchen chairs against the two house doors and turn the volume up on the television to an innocuous program about raising sextuplets. Because that makes sense.
In my bedroom, I play Army Wives on repeat, hoping that any one who got close to my house would hear the mock battle scenes and assume that my husband had forgone sleeping in the field with his lieutenants and had instead brought the entire platoon to my house to have ice cream over M-16s and mortar rounds.
I can’t quite explain the helicopter sound effects, but my brain isn’t working with that kind of logic.
I prepare myself to sleep and find that it will not come. The wind rattles against my windows and knocks them about, causing my larger dog to growl for hours on end. My head starts to pound dramatically and I began to sweat. I start to drift in and out of some sort of bizarre consciousness where visions of zombie children and dish detergents begin attacking one another.
I send my husband a few texts telling him that my head is pounding and with each hour my messages grow more frantic. I have never experienced a migraine and tonight is not the not to start…but it does.
By 3:45 the Sextuplets show has ended and I am watching infomercials about vacuum cleaners and face cleaning products. Or was it a vacuum cleaner that cleaned your face? I can’t recall.
By 5:00 my head is pounding so intensely I begin to think I’m having some sort of aneurism and I begin to understand Tom Hank’s deep relationship with a volleyball.
By 6:30AM, I am still wide-awake.
By 8:00AM, I have finally managed to fall asleep, only to wake a few minutes later to my frantic husband who had rushed home as soon as my increasingly manic texts popped up on his screen as he trudged back into civilization.
Within five minutes of being home he determines that I have somehow managed to dehydrate myself, which explains the pounding head and the bizarre and anxiety filled hallucinations.
“How has this once independent, career driven woman has been reduced to a prisoner of her own home??” I wonder to myself.
And then it hits me. I am a bonafide city girl (or at least a very close to the city cute town with side walks and quaint street fairs suburb kind of girl).
I am not meant to live far out in the country where NRA stickers and pick up trucks with the remnants of the week’s latest catch dot the landscape. I am not meant to live in a place that has three different patterns of homes, the only thing distinguishable between then being the color of their shutters. I am not meant to live in a place where Applebee’s is considered fine dining, the local watering hole is in a shady strip mall and my only connection to the outside world is constantly refreshing my Facebook newsfeed.
I am not meant to live in a place where the Walmart offers taxidermy specials.
I am not meant to live in a place where as soon as it the evening hours start to close in, the surrounding woods so block out the moon that it becomes difficult to even see a hand when placed directly in front of a face.
In efforts to calm me, my husband tells me that he’s going to clean out our fridge as I lay, finally able to rest, on our couch.
“Do you ever think we’ll be normal?” He asks me from the kitchen and I pull the white snow comforter over my head. I hear him throwing large items into a hefty bad.
“Someday, I dunno, I think so.”
Hours later, as my husband has returned to the field and I am finally able to finish up an article just on deadline, I pad into the kitchen to make a sandwich. And when I pull open the fridge, I see that it is completely empty aside from a can a coca-cola, a bottle of water and the permeating stench of bleach.
In my ensuing paranoia and my travel from the weekend before, (and even during my cleaning binge) I realize that I have completely forgotten to throw out some wayward looking vegetables that had apparently started sporting the kind of mold that could only kill or completely cure entire civilizations.
It is then that I am hit with the real meaning behind my husband’s innocent question: I don’t think he was asking if “we would ever be normal” but instead he may have been wondering if “I would ever be normal?”
I smile, maybe even chuckle a little. I grab the can of Coke and hop on my computer. As the search bar appears I enter: “available townhomes in Washington DC metro area.”
Most people would argue that crime is higher and more prevalent in the city as opposed to our rural suburban life out here. While that may be true, I can’t help but call upon the title to Wade Rouse’s outrageous funny memoir, “At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream.”
But just to be safe, in advanced search section I check a box that reads, “alarm system ready.”