It was after 9 o’clock on a weekday when a drunk one-legged man knocked on my door.
Let me begin by saying that my house is not in a particularly busy neighborhood. This is not any major city; it is a middle-class suburb. The kind of neighborhood, where you see the same old couple walking their dog at the same time every single night. Like clockwork. Everyone living near us is so familiar that my wife and I have given them nicknames. Nicknames I dare not mention here.
On the night of the one-legged man, my wife was out, and my son and I were watching Lord of the Rings (his recent obsession, which shows how much we are kin), my young daughter already fast asleep upstairs.
Typically, a door like ours does not get knocked on very often. I remember once during our first few weeks in the house when the knock came from some Seventh-Day Adventists. I told them that I was somewhere between atheist and agnostic. You would have thought they had won the lottery. They were so excited to meet me. Finally, I had to tell them I wasn’t interested and shut the door.
So this, in this neighborhood and at this time, was odd. The knock was loud and quick and both my son and I jumped. Even our dog, who is usually so aware of everything seemed surprised. I told my son, to go back to watching the movie, held my dog back and opened the door.
There was a white truck running in my driveway and the one-legged man was standing on my porch, hunched over like he was having trouble with his balance. There was no cane. His hair was disheveled and his clothes were filthy. His shirt was an old t-shirt, that was probably white once, but now yellow. I was never able to make out the image on it, and I did spend a few minutes squinting at it. He was wearing sweat shorts, so it was easy to see his artificial and metallic right leg going down to his tennis shoes. The man was so drunk I was not certain he could even see me.
“Is Julie in?” He asked.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know a Julie.”
He looked confused. “Julie lives here.”
Now my wife (not named Julie) and I have been in our house for almost ten years, and we did not buy it from someone named Julie. She was Cindi or Cynthia or some other kind of peepy C name. So this man was somewhere out of the distant past… Assuming, of course, a Julie even lived at my house at one time.
“No,” I said slowly, making sure everything I said was very clear and simple. “There is no Julie here. I’ve lived here for quite a few years now.”
He paused, looked a little confused. He blinked a few times and I swear I could see his mind working behind his glazed eyes. “She used to live here.” He almost looked like he was going to cry. “She used to live here… ago.”
I don’t want anyone to think I am being a jerk in the situation. Yes, there is an emotional one-legged drunk man on my porch, but I had two kids to think about in my house. And who is to say how violent this guy could be? And with the oversaturation of guns in our country and open carry laws being what they are, who knows if he had something behind his back or in his truck, loaded and waiting. In our world it is just harder to be the good guy than it once was. So my priorities were not around giving help or inspiration, it was simply shutting the door and making sure he drives away.
(Oh, and let’s not get into the whole “he should not be driving at all” argument today. I still wonder if I should’ve taken down his license number.)
The man didn’t move, and I was debating whether to just ask him to leave. I was also running through my short-term memory, wondering where I left my phone if I needed it. Was it in my daughter’s room? The kitchen? Could I signal for my son to find it without the man noticing?
“We didn’t buy the house from a Julie,” I said finally.
Whenever I think of the former owner of the house I get a little frustrated since she left us with a yard impossibly difficult to manage (multiple different plots, a lot of aggressive plants), unless you want it to be a hobby. And I have no flipping desire to have another hobby, especially one that annoys my allergies.
“She must have been gone for a while.” When I said “while” I did that thing that teachers of young children do, my voice rising as if it will break into some kind of a song.
Now it happened. Right there. He began to cry.
“She used to live here,” he said again, this time between chokes.
If life was a movie, the character of Scott would have invited this man in, maybe even gave him some headache medicine and water as I found this Julie. I might have even handed him my phone to make the call. You can’t help but assume that Julie would look like Meg Ryan. You can see the scene, can’t you? Add a sarcastic 8-year old boy making funny jokes about the man’s smell (and there was a smell), and it’s nothing if not cinematic.
But this wasn’t a movie, and I wanted him gone.
“I’m sorry I can’t help you,” I said and then shut the door.
He stood there for a minute, registering the fact in his own time-consuming way that the conversation was done. I watched him from the small window of my door as he wobbled his way slowly down our stairs. Each step, careful, one at a time.
As much as I try to be sympathetic looking back at that evening (and it is so easy for me to feel guilty and an ass about most things), I can’t help but remember that this is not a few decades ago. We have this thing called the internet, and if he really wanted to find her when he was more sober, it would not take more than a few minutes. A search on Facebook and Google and he might have an e-mail address, address, and even a phone number. Anytime after 1995, he would have an easy time finding her!
How easy is it to find her, you might ask? Well, I found her after he left and it took me ten minutes. I just looked up her first name and my address- done and done. That night, my initial feeling was that I should give her a heads up about this guy trying to find her. The truth around relationships like this is if she wanted him in her life, he probably would already be there. People lose touch typically for a very good reason. So the call was never made.
I watched as he then wobbled to the truck. He sat in the truck for about five minutes and then slowly, almost sluggishly backed up.
The strange thing is in some ways in my mind the man is still on my porch. There are just too many mysteries there for me to look away. What was his relationship with Julie? What happened to them, and why is he trying to find her decades later? I have even googled a few times the ways a person can lose a leg. Strangely, there is no website based around ways to lose a limb. You think such a page would have some good points on it.
There is nothing more frustrating than an unsolved mystery. It’s probably why so many of us believe in conspiracy theories. But we each weigh a mystery; how important is one to solve, and which you can live with. And most days, I’m okay with him just standing on the porch with his dreams of Julie and a past long gone.
I’ll live… I hope he can too.
Permanent Spring Showers was published by 5 Prince Books. You can find out more about my novel as well as my other books (including A Jane Austen Daydream and My Problem With Doors) and grab a copy via my author page on Amazon.com here.