Every day when I pick up Vivienne from school, we take the shortcut home. Five days a week, we go the same route, the same time of day. We stop at this one corner by an Urgent Care clinic, and nearly always catch this one cursed red stoplight. It's one of those painful, never-ending lights. We sit there for what feels like an eternity, and I try to strike up conversation with my exhausted little girl. I ask her about her day, or about what she ate, or we look around the street and discuss our surroundings.
There's a homeless shelter near this particular corner, and a cluster of homeless folks are always convened close by as we wait out the interminable light. A few months ago, one of the homeless guys waved at me as we sat, waiting for the light to change. I waved back, and he smiled. Then the light finally turned green, and I drove away.
Time went on. I continued to see the same man at the corner, and he continued to wave. Each time I waved back, his smile widened, and he was visibly happy to see me acknowledge him. I never held his gaze very long—he was a stranger, after all, albeit a seemingly harmless one.
Then, yesterday some letters came in the mailbox. Jeff brought them into the house and we glanced at them together. They were titled 'Miss Piedmont Urgent Care'. One of them had designs carefully sketched all along the borders of the envelope.
"Looks like someone delivered these to the wrong mailbox," I said. "It's so sad... someone will be really bummed they didn't reach the right person."
Later, I was working in the office upstairs when Jeff entered, holding the letters, now opened.
"You opened them?" I asked, surprised.
"Yep," he answered. "And they weren't sent to the wrong place. Looks like you have a secret admirer."
"What?" I took the letters from him. The envelopes contained two letter-sized pieces of paper that instantly assaulted my nose with the stench of musty cigarette smoke. They were intricate drawings; every bit of white space was filled with detailed geometric designs and patterns. At the bottom of each page, the sketches were carefully initialed by their creator.
There was also a card that read:
Dear Miss Piedmont Urgent Care,
My name is R and I always see you around the Urgent Care every week driving by. Thanks for waving back. Happy Valentine's Day. I would love to take you out for coffee sometime. Please respond to 555-5555 I would just like to speak with you one day.
The sender had also included some sort of Visa debit gift card in one of the envelopes.
I studied the contents of the letters in confusion. Then I remembered.
"I know who it's from," I said to Jeff. "It's the guy at the homeless shelter. He always waves to me, and I always wave back...but what is all this stuff? I don't get it. And OH MY GOD. How does he know where I live?"
"Babe, you're too nice." Jeff lectured. "You have to wear blinders. You can't be waving at strangers."
"But all I do is wave back! I always immediately turn away!" I argued. "It's not like I engage him or encourage him or bat my eyelashes...argh, why? Why can't anyone just be nice to anyone?"
"Yeah, I know it's sad, and it doesn't seem right, but it's just the way it is," Jeff replied. "And I don't like this. I think we should call the police. This guy came to our house and put a bunch of weird stuff in our mailbox and he's making you—us— feel violated. I'm telling you, I don't like it."
I sat quietly for a moment, digesting all of this. Of the two of us, Jeff is the calm parent. I'm the alarmist. He's Mr. laid-back, let-the-kids-eat-dirt guy, and I'm the neurotic, back-seat driving germophobe. His reaction was disturbing to me for this very reason.
"The cops? Really?" I said. "Isn't that a little over the top?"
"I don't think so," he answered. "You said it yourself: how the hell does he know where we live? It's totally creepy. Maybe the police can shed some sort of light on it for us. Like, maybe they'll know who he his, and they'll be like, 'oh, that guy...yeah, he's harmless'. "
"Part of me feels bad for him," I said. "But the mama bear part of me wants to barricade our house and set up a CIA level alarm system."
After further discussion, we decided Jeff should be the one to call the police. After he described the situation to them, they told us an officer would be at our house within an hour. Jeff had to get back to work, and I did my best to direct my concentration back to my work until the police came. The police. At my house. How had this normal day morphed into 911 calls and weird letters?
Forty-five minutes later, the officer was knocking on the door. I walked out to the front porch, clutching the collection of gifts—or evidence—depending on how you view it, in my hands.
He listened to me, expressionless, as I explained the story to him.
"So what do you think?" I asked him.
"Well, I think he likes you." he answered.
"Uh, right." I said. "But I guess I'm sort of looking for your thoughts about the fact that he somehow knows where I live. And maybe some insight from you about the chances of him being very delusional because he thinks a coffee date with me exists within the realm of possibility."
"Tell you what," he said. "I'll be patrolling around on your street tonight, so I'll be sure to keep a lookout for you."
"Okay," I agreed, defeated. "I really appreciate it, thanks."
So that was it. I suppose my encounter with the policeman was indirectly reassuring, in that if he wasn't freaked out, I shouldn't be either. I know my homeless suitor is probably harmless. But 'probably' isn't quite reassuring enough, is it? There's still this small, unrealistic chance that he could pose some sort of threat.
I wish there wasn't such a cynical takeaway from all of this. It's as though life has given me some sort of warning against treating people—homeless or not—like human beings.
Since this happened, I find myself triple-checking the locks on the doors and jumping at any noises from outside. I don't know whether my heightened awareness is paranoid or justified. I just know that I'm disoriented from my clashing feelings of irritation and sympathy towards this person who put the weirdo care package in my mailbox.
I'm blogging about it because it feels good to unburden myself of this story—but also, I want to know what you, dear reader, would do in my situation. Shrug it off? Drive a different direction home (which I've already started to do)? Maintain a healthy level of paranoia? Talk to me.