So Much for the Neighbors

It all started with the flat tire I got a few weeks ago. I made it to the bottom of the driveway, stopped to put on the spare, and the neighbors pulled up. These are the neighbors who everyone in Tinyville refers to as “oh, those colored folks” and these are the neighbors with the dogs that want to eat me alive. They are also, however, the neighbors who I have finally begun to establish a relationship with.

Like I said, the flat tire. Shawn hopped out of the car and helped me change the tire, I shook his hand proper and thanked him, told him to hike on up anytime for a visit.

Two weeks later, I was hiking up the driveway in the dark around 9am. Just as I exited the circle of light cast across the road from Shawn’s house, I heard voices ahead of me on the road. The next moment, I saw Shawn and another young man, whom I later learned is named Terrell. Big snowflakes fell all around us as we shook hands in the driveway and Shawn introduced me to his foster brother, explaining that the two of them were “adopted” by Daisy from Raleigh and had moved in while I was away in January. They said they hiked all the way up to my house and were just on their way back down. I teased them a little, saying “Hey now, you didn’t go into the house, did you?”

“No,” Terrell said. “Everything’s too scary up there.”

“No way,” said Shawn.

We parted and I tracked their footprints all the way up to the top of the driveway. Indeed, on that trek up my driveway they did not go into the house, as indicated by their footprints in the snow.

But that same night, about 45 minutes later, there was a knock at the door.

Yes, a knock at the door of a house half a mile from any neighbors on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere on a dark, cold, snowy night. I knew right away from their voices that it was the teenagers, Shawn and Terrell. I let them in, told them to take off their shoes, and stood them in front of the fire. It was a Friday night, and a boring one at that for two foster kids used to the hustle and bustle of Raleigh.

We started to talk about school, their experiences with racism at the two local high schools, and we talked about sports and their interests. Shawn was most outspoken, while Terrell sat quietly (he looked quite stoned, actually). I sent them away with books, poetry for Shawn (who likes the Harlem Renaissance poets) and California Blue for Terrell (who likes The Outsiders).

Of course, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any voices in the back of my mind that told me not to trust these kids. They came from out of nowhere, a sudden move from a big city into a foster home, and they were clearly bored as hell and uncertain of who and how to be in their new lives in Tinyville. But I felt determined—determined not to stereotype, determined not to jump to conclusions, determined, in fact, to try and undo some of the assumptions made by locals in Tinyville by allowing these kids into my home and trusting them. My mistake was to assume that if I trusted them, they would in fact be trustworthy.

The first sign was about two weeks ago, when I was coming down the driveway and there was a tree across the driveway. I stopped the car and got out to lift the tree (small enough) and haul it off into the woods. After moving it, I went to inspect the trunk to see why/how the tree fell. What I observed was that the tree had been intentionally cut down and judging by the marks and wood chips, it was cut with an ax by someone who was not skilled in the use of such a tool.

I called Daisy and I called Paige, the other person with right of way on the road. We all thought it odd, but just thought some kids must have been playing around.

The second sign was a week ago, Monday. I was driving down the driveway when I ran into Terrell, who was hiking up. I stopped the car.

“Whatcha doin’?” I said.

“Just takin’ a walk,” said Terrell.

“Isn’t there school today?” It was, afterall, 11am on a Monday.

“Nope. Spring break.”

We said goodbye and I went on my way. What was I supposed to do? Say something like: “Well Terrell, stereotypically speaking, black teenage foster kids are charged for breaking and entering more than other people, so I’d appreciate it if you’d turn around and stay off this property.” How could I? All of our interactions had been positive. Things were on the level, almost neighborly. The boys were interested in karate, there had been talk of carpooling so they could take lessons and Daisy wouldn’t have to drive as much.

Then Friday night I noticed that a patterned sarong that covers the DVD player was moved. Not just moved, but it had clearly been taken off and replaced incorrectly. I know this about my house and my things. Every single item in this house has its place and I keep it all orderly and nearly perfect because the house could be shown at any time. It concerned me that the sarong was in the wrong place but I’d had a friend over a few days before and maybe she moved it just to take a peek and didn’t put it back the same way. Who could tell?

Saturday I was gone all day, didn’t come home until Sunday morning.

And there you have it. I walk into the house Sunday morning and the self-locking door that connects the loft to the addition is open. My brand new $400 digital camera that was the biggest gift ever from my parents for my birthday is missing. My grandmother’s jewelry is all still there, my laptop, my instruments, the binoculars, all of it. But the camera, the very item that had been sitting on the desk the night Shawn and Terrell came over (I had just gotten it then, it was splayed out with the box and manual and everything during their visit) was gone.

It didn’t take long to decipher someone had come in through the front door, fussed with the DVD cart, walked up the loft steps, snatched the camera, and exited via the self-locking door (can’t go into the house through it, only out) and went along his merry way.

I called the Sheriff first. Then I called Daisy. And where was Daisy? Daisy was, interestingly enough, in the car with Terrell in their way back from Raleigh where he had just made a court appearance for theft.

Within ten minutes, the Sheriff was at my door. He knew the boys, had already had several calls about them, and new Terrell in particular. It was difficult to figure out who, what, and when. I said if I could get the camera back undamaged or the money to replace it plus their word that they’d stay off the property, I wouldn’t press charges. Couldn’t we just handle this in house? The Sheriff called Daisy who said, “Forget that! I’ll press charges against the boy myself if she doesn’t want to do it.”

The Sheriff’s parting question:

“Doesn’t a lady get scared up here living all alone?”

“No, Sir,” I said.

The Sheriff’s parting advice:

“Best you get yourself a dead bolt on these doors here.”

“Yes, Sir,” I said, and closed the door behind him. (No, I didn’t lock the door because there are no locks. Not yet.)


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