I NEVER WAKE UP THINKING it won’t be a day just like every other day. I get up, pull on my running shorts and shoes, jet out the door by 7 a.m. sharp and hit the pavement. Between getting out of bed and locking the door behind me, I drink exactly one-half cup of coffee. Then I race around making sure last-minute tasks have been addressed: Let the dogs outside to potty; find the house key that’s attached to a stretchy band to wear around my wrist; and tuck Kleenex into the small, hidden pocket inside my shorts for cold-air nose drip. Every day had seemed an unremarkable, run-of-the-mill routine. Until it wasn’t.
I knew when I rose from bed that morning it was going to be a hot one. The sun, rising in the east, had already evaporated the dew from the bedroom windows. It was the kind of day that called for me to step it up. I raced through my morning duties, tightened my running belt, and secured my water bottle and Walkman into their proper slots. Laces double-tied and watch-timer set, I threw in a few quad stretches. Finally, I was ready. I hustled from the kitchen through the hallway—about three steps from the front door—and let out a gasp. What the hell? In just seconds my day went from hum-drum ordinary to anything but. I found myself flattened by fear against the front entrance wall, out of view of the sidelight windows on either side of the front door. A jolt of ice-cold ran through my core.
Dark eyes, outlined by someone cupping their hands around them like a pair of binoculars stopped me dead in my tracks. Peeping Tom? Clutching my chest in hopes of calming down my racing heartbeat, I tried to get my bearings while mentally pleading for help. Get ahold of yourself! I jutted my head forward to see if I could get a better look; maybe the eyes I saw were my imagination.
They weren’t. The person still looking through the blinds was no more than four feet tall. I relaxed a little thinking it must be a neighborhood kid. Brazen little shit. The thing I loved about mini-blinds is being able to see out, but no one can see in. A slow burn began replacing my fear. I stepped into the front entry and swung open the front door, ready to take on the little perp. I hoped the angry look I had planted on my face would teach the kid a good lesson. I squinted as bright sunlight flooded the entry. Looking down at my “peeping Tom” I did a double take.
The old woman weighed 75 lbs tops, and she was at least eighty-five years old. Unfazed by the summer heat, she stood on my front porch, decked out in a tattered, russet-colored winter coat buttoned up to the neck. When it was new, the coat had probably cost a pretty penny, eye-catching specks of orange and red in the fabric. Now it was covered with lint and pet hair. A bright, multi-colored wool scarf—it definitely did not match the coat—was folded carefully into a triangle and covered the woman’s curly, salt-and-pepper hair. A double knot had been carefully tied beneath her chin. I could tell she’d taken special care in dressing for her outing, right down to her thick, flesh-colored support hose and worn, black pumps. Suddenly, I knew exactly who this woman was. My neighbor Benita’s mother, visiting from Brooklyn!
“Hello!” I said jovially, stepping outside. “Marie?”
The tiny woman looked up at me, puzzled, “Do you know me?”
I resisted the urge to reach down and smooth out the deeply etched wrinkles in her face. Knowing Marie’s only child, Benita, reasonably well, I was confident those lines of wear and tear were the result of more than just eighty-five years of living.
“No, I don’t know you,” I replied. “We’ve never met.”
She crinkled her brows at me suspiciously, and retorted: “Then how do you know I’m Marie?” At that, I had to reign in the laughter that was dying to let loose. Despite the odoriferous cloud of mothballs that engulfed us, my fondness for old people made me want to wrap her up in a big hug.
Benita had talked to me at length about her mother, saying she was a hoarder. While Benita expressed frustration and disgust when she described her mom’s small, senior-living apartment back in New York—old clothes and trinkets piled floor-to-ceiling—my heart would fill with tenderness for this woman I’d never met. Somehow I’d always known the elderly required lots of patience and TLC. Benita had neither for her mother.
“Marie, Benita told me you might be visiting. I didn’t know when, but when I saw you I—.”
“Well, you shouldn’t scare me like that, hiding behind stuff so I can’t see you!” she snarled, sounding justified in her admonishment.
Going for a run no longer mattered to me. This small waif at my door tugged at my heart every bit as much if she were a stray kitten. “Marie? Would you like to come in for a cup of tea, maybe visit a little while?”
A smile spread across her face as she brushed past me, stepping into the house, already removing her coat and scarf. “Of course,” she beamed. “That’s why I’m here!”