Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Cop in the Yard

           You never know when drama is going to find you, or where it will come from. As a writer I kind of look forward to it. As a person who’s had more than my share, I could do without.

            So, I’m pulling into the driveway on Thursday after work. I’ve got my mother on the Bluetooth and I see a package tied to the gate. Christmas deliveries have begun. I get out of the car to fetch the goods before someone comes along and snags them. As I cross behind the vehicle my neighbor walks over from his yard. 

            “Hey,” he says. “A gun was drawn on your dogs today.” Okay, so he has my attention.

            “I’ve gotta go, Mom. I’ll call you back.” I turn to the neighbor. “A gun?”

            Apparently the neighbor had gotten a ticket for running a red light. Only it turned out he hadn’t run the light, or there was something else wrong with the ticket, and the cop that gave him the ticket…a young guy about twenty four….realized he’d made a mistake. So, in an attempt to fix things, the officer drove to our cul-de-sac to come get the ticket back (what cop does that?). Only he didn’t actually know the neighbor’s address or he confused the neighbor’s address with ours. Let’s just say something went wrong.

            The cop came through the gate onto our property, and walked the driveway toward the carport where he found himself face to face with our thirteen-year-old mid-sized dog. This was Chloe, the one that’s like my baby. Chloe was taken aback by the uniform at her door and started to bark. The uniform was taken aback by the dog in front of him and did what any of us would do. He drew a gun. The gun was a Glock—police issued; ready to handle big situations. It was now pointing at my Little Miss’s head. All kinds of good vibes were swirling around.

            So Chloe bit the officer.  

            Predictably, her barking brought our other two dogs to the scene. Both of them are considerably larger than Chloe and their barks are much bigger and scarier. So they jumped into the fray. One dog had now turned into a pack of dogs and the cop was backed into a corner. His gun was aimed and he was ready to kill all three of my babies. In my own yard. Just outside the kitchen.

            The neighbor came out his front door just about then and saw the cop, the gun and the dogs. He yelled. “Whoa. Wait. What are you doing?” He hurdled the fence between our two yards and jumped between the freaked-out rookie, his gun and our dogs—the ones that sleep on the bed with us at night.

            The neighbor defused the situation. Let’s call him the hero. I’m good with that.

            Out by the gate later, I’m hearing about all this, picturing my dogs’ brains splattered and my heart broken, and I am a tad upset. My first reaction is to crucify the cop—he was on my property without any reason to be there other than his own mistake, which was brought about by his previous mistake. He drew a gun on my dogs. He was about to kill them all.

            When I told people the story, every one of them had the same reaction and asked if I was going to file a complaint. At first, that was my inclination, but then I took a different view.

            The cop wasn’t thinking about property rights, or whether he was there on official business or actually just trespassing. He was confronted by three dogs. Then he got bitten and was thrown off. He was inexperienced and he had a gun.

            Luckily, my neighbor leaped through the bushes and saved the situation. So, I don’t know if the cop would have actually pulled the trigger. If he had, one or more of my dogs would be dead. I would be more distraught than words might depict and the police department would find itself as the party defendant in a very large law suit.

            But that didn’t happen.

            The young man was confronted with a volatile situation. He might have pulled the trigger and thought about it all later. He did not. Instead, he used restraint. I called to thank him and to make sure he was okay.   

            To tell the truth our little mishap almost doesn’t seem worth telling now compared to the horrific shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. Families involved in that tragedy will be scarred for life. Our three dogs will continue to crawl onto the bed with us and we will carry on.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Colors of Change

This is my 40th post since February, when I started the blog. Every week I wake up and wonder what I’ll write about next. Sometimes an idea is waiting to jump onto the page. Sometimes not. Trying to sustain an ongoing dialogue is more challenging than I’d imagined. People mention the blog to me often, though, so I guess at least a few of you are sticking with me. I appreciate the readership!

As a side note, my son Dru has been building my website. The plan was to launch it at the same time my book, Came the Hunter, is placed with a publisher. But then storm Sandy hit New York and my agent was without power for a week. When power came back, his first email dump was 1200 messages and it went from there. So, we missed our window and now we’re going to skip the dead December season in publishing. He will circulate the manuscript in January. My website will likely wait too but, whenever it goes up, this blog will be moved over to it. I’ll keep you posted on that.

As a P.S. to my last post (In the Headlights, 11/18/12) I want to report that my encounter with the deer in the middle of a darkened road was not an isolated experience. Four days later another buck darted from the woods. This time it was during the day and the deer came from behind on the left side of my car. He was trying to outrun me so I gunned it to keep him from getting in front of my car. As our respective trajectories converged the deer suddenly disappeared. I was perplexed by this. Where’d he go? Did I hit him? 

Next thing I know I’m hearing thump, thump, thump across my roof. What was that? Surely not the deer? I looked to the right just in time to see the buck’s underbelly as he leaped from the top of my car. Really? Who was this fellow…Rudolph? How does a deer go from mid-run alongside a moving vehicle, straight up to land on his feet and run across the roof? And he did land on his feet because I have three hoof prints on top of my car that I will keep as momentos. All I can say is the guy driving behind me at the time must have a great You Tube video going around.

Anyway, on to this week’s musings. The kids are both out of the house now but they come back for the holidays. This year Kirstyn brought her boyfriend Dave for Thanksgiving weekend. Thankfully Dave loves hanging around in comfy pants like the rest of us or he’d have been in for a culture shock. For five days we got dressed only when we had to and grumbled about the inconvenience of having to shower and put it together when we did.  

Even the house gave itself over to slovenliness. None of us made our beds. The kids’ suitcases spilled out onto the floor and then all around their bedrooms. Almost instantly, our living room was unrecognizable. Three computers and their cables traipsed across the floor by extension cords to meet up with phone chargers at the outlets. Furniture was dragged from the den to the hearth. Dirty dishes piled one on top of another. Shoes, socks and sweatshirts were scattered everywhere. We had some allergy and head cold action going on so boogey rags began to collect. Every now and again they got thrown out but their replacements were immediately building a presence on tables and on the floor. Of course the dogs thought the rags were fun so I kept having to chase them down to snatch some very nasty stuff from their mouths.

You’d think I’d be beside myself, the house being on the market and all. But there’s this sick state of oblivion into which parents of grown children slip. We are so eager to have the kids come home that somehow they can do almost nothing wrong when they get here.

I remember the days when Cecil and I dared to assert ourselves, to make demands. We had expectations of the children. Now we’re just thankful they want to visit. The power shift has begun. Next they’ll be talking behind our backs about what to do with us when we can no longer take care of ourselves.

For now, though, we’re still good on our feet. So, the day after Thanksgiving we went up the mountain to cut our Christmas tree like we do every year. It felt like a knife in the heart when we discovered the farm no longer serves hot cider. Don’t they know how much a part of our tradition that was? 

We gathered ourselves from the disappointment and climbed onto the hay wagon for the ride out to the back field where the big trees grow. When we got there it was apparent the years have taken their toll on the grove. We hadn’t noticed it before. This time pickins' were slim and it was hard to find a tree that suited us. This one’s not full enough. Look at the bald spot on this other one. How could you even consider that skimpy thing over there? 

Finally, we resigned ourselves to a respectable blue spruce but there was among us the tacit understanding that we’ll likely have to find a different farm next year. Change it is a comin'.

We decorated the tree on Saturday while we sipped wine, ate delectable appetizers, and tried to look natural as a photographer for the newspaper snapped her camera all around us. It seems a columnist is doing a piece that will include a follow-up on Cecil. So, instead of PJ’s, I wore a sweater and jeans. I had to put on make-up and the hair actually had to be combed.

The photographer was as sweet and unassuming as she could be but a camera pointed at your face does things to you. I found myself holding a pose as I sensed her focusing in on it. I actually tossed my hair back so it wouldn’t obstruct her shot. Usually unaware of my expression, I self-consciously fixated on it that day. I kept trying to look pleasant. Once I caught myself furrowing my brow and shoved my face into the tree branches just as the camera went off. I just knew that would be the one shot they’d decide to use.

Most of all, the Knox clan has never been such a sweet bunch. It was ‘please’ this and ‘would you mind’ that. We worked together on those light strands like a well-oiled assembly line. And instead of snotting off that a particular branch already had five bulbs on it and maybe you should find someplace else, it was “Oh that’s an interesting placement.” 

It was all an unspoken throwback to the days we lived in the public eye at the hands of the feds. For those five years we succumbed to scrutiny and couldn’t let our guard down. Every day was filled with anger and fear. Every night was filled with anxiety and sleeplessness.

When a news camera walked in the door last weekend, we were reminded of those trying times, and we sort of reverted back to our plastic selves. But then the camera was gone, and we remembered the drama no longer dominates us. It has drained back out of our lives and we are just regular people again. Time as it passes smoothes roughened edges and brings about a softness that is much easier to live with.

So, I say to my friends and family who are going through difficult times, don’t get caught up in the moment. Any one thing is like a small piece of an intricate mosaic. All the colors have to be in place and then you have to step back and look at the big picture. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

In the Headlights

I’ve been out of pocket, as they say, for the past few weeks so haven’t posted in a while. I had a bunch of ideas for today, but then something caught my attention.
            I left my writer’s group meeting Thursday night just before nine o’clock. The ride home would be short. A couple minutes into it I came to a dark stretch. I was lost in thought about the piece I’d read at the meeting, mulling over comments my fellow writers had made.
            Suddenly, and I do mean all of a sudden, a deer stepped into my path. It was a big buck. He was just moseying out into the street, unaware that this could be a perilous situation for him. 
            We hear about this moment. “Don’t swerve,” my husband always says. “Just slam into it.” Yeah, like I’m gonna just slam into a living creature! It sounds like good advice…one doesn’t want to die trying to avoid a deer, but let’s be clear. When a deer steps in front of our car, the last thing most of us are going to do is just keep driving.
            So, I slammed on my brakes, violating every directive my husband has ever given me. When I say I slammed on my brakes, I mean my right foot was to the floor on the brake pedal and my left foot was copycatting there over on the left where there is no pedal. My butt was up off the seat (not sure why, actually, but it was). Everything that had been on any seat in the car was now on the floor. The screech of the tires sounded a´ la cartoonsville. I’m sure I left skid marks and rubber and anything else I could leave.
            The slide between me and the deer probably didn’t take more than a few seconds but it felt much longer. I watched him as the car got closer and closer. He was looking at me and I was fixed on his innocent eyes as I waited to splat him up onto my hood. To my credit, I did NOT swerve, but I wanted to…really bad. In those few seconds, I had a surprising number of thoughts.
            First, I realized what the saying “A Deer in the Headlights” means. I’ve always thought of it as depicting sort of an idiot’s stupor, like “Get off your ass, dumbo, and do something.” As I watched the deer look nonchalantly in my direction, I realized he had no idea what was coming at him behind the two circles of light. He stepped from the side of the road and these two beams caught his attention. He stopped and looked at them, having no reason to know a ton of metal moving at 50 miles an hour was barreling down on him. He just looked up out of curiosity.
            And here I came. Ready to take him out. Only I couldn’t do that. If I killed a deer, I would have nightmares for the rest of my life. So I stood on those brakes and fishtailed all over the street and came up to the inch of impact. Instead of slamming into him, I pushed him a little. Just before we made contact, I saw the realization in his eyes that there might be a threat in all this. He was processing that thought when I hit him. As we collided, he jolted and took off.
            But before he did, I had an instant with him. It was more for me than it was for the buck but, indulging myself, I’ve magnified it into a special interaction that will stay with me forever. I realize the deer is long gone and doesn’t even know I exist, but on another level we will be kindred spirits for a long time.
            So, what have I got to work with when I tell my story? A huge buck in all his grandeur, fresh out of the woods, highlighted in front of me. By now he's become a fifty-pointer...biggest darn antlers ever. He looked in my direction (I’ll tell it that our eyes met and we connected with one another in a very special way). My instinctive slamming on the brakes will convert nicely into some sort of heroic self-sacrifice. I could have killed both of us. This, of course, can be trumped up such that he was on his way out and I gave him mouth-to-mouth on the side of the road.
            More realistically, I am left with my thoughts about a lovely creature that crossed my path in a dangerous way. I was able to avoid harm to each of us but, when it was over, I felt vindicated. Not with regard to the deer, but because I like to be cautious. I consider life’s possible mishaps as something more than what always happens to the other guy. Parents of a murdered child never thought that horrible fate would find their baby. Victims of assault are usually surprised when the assailant jumps at them from the bushes. No one really ever expects a deer to walk in front of their car in the dark of night.
            Any of it can happen to any of us. So, I am reminded of my lifelong philosophy: hope it doesn’t happen, but be ready when it does.
            I am very happy I didn’t hurt the deer, but the experience has given me some things to ponder. Like, when I texted my children that “I hit a deer,” both of them wrote back “Is he OK?” Not the first concern for me. So now I realize I am less important than wildlife to my kids. Good to know. And now that I’ve had the near-death experience, I think about deer more. What do they do all day long? Do they get cold at night? Why are they out walking the streets when they should be tucked in?
            Sadly, I have now become the mother of all deer. It’s going to be a burden; I can tell.