With all the packing and unpacking we’ve been doing the past week or so, I keep thinking about the house I lived in before Ilowered my standards and moved into this devilish little duplex. It was the first real home I’d made and so of course it holds a special charm in my memories. Still, it was not without problems: the basement flooded twice, the power went out for weeks at a time when everyone else in our neighborhood had theirs up and running, and the yard was a total nightmare. I loved it though, and moving out was sort of a sad experience for me. Here of course, I am literally ripping pictures off the walls and throwing outrbelongings into boxes and bags willy-nilly.
Of all my good times and tribulations in that house, one experience comes to mind above all the others. While I was on Whidbey Island attending the final residency of my grad school program, my then-boyfriend was home alone with the dogs for 10 days. Working the busy schedule he kept because of the demands of his job, meant that he left the dogs to keep themselves entertained by patrolling the neighborhood activity from the windows of the house. A few days before my graduation ceremony, he called me in the middle of the night, with panic in his voice.
“I just got home,” he said slowly, “And I think someone’s been in the house.” A wave of nausea rolled up from my gut, and I literally felt dizzy enough to need to sit down on the bed as he spoke. We went over the details, trying to piece together what might have happened: the back door was wide open, towels in the bathroom had been used and food had been consumed and strewn about. There were no overt signs of anything having been taken or vandalized, but things were simply not as he had left them. We were spooked, to say the least. He cleaned everything up, checked on the dogs several times, and locked the doors tightly before we hung up.
The next morning at breakfast with my friends and colleagues, I sat down at the table and said, “We may or may not have had a break-in.” It was so hard to be sure–nothing was stolen or broken, and the signs that the would-be intruder left of his/her presence were so odd. My thesis advisor, David Wagoner, had the best comment on the matter. He held a forkful of scrambled eggs in midair and said as casually as could be, “These sound like the actions of a person on the run.” Leave it to the author of The Escape Artist to make such commentary.
We never really knew for sure what had happened, and whoever the intruder was, he/she never returned. But below is what I like to imagine might have happened, in verse.
A Homeless Gentleman Eats a Bowl of Cereal in My Home
Walking in my house, I see the back door
is swung-open. The night’s air invades everything—
the curtains agitated, granite countertops
cold to my touch. The night
has come in unimpeded. Things
are not as they were.
In the upstairs bathroom
the good towels have been used,
are now neatly folded, damp
around the sink. Monogram facing up
and centered. The toilet
has clearly been used.
The dogs swarm to greet me there,
they whine and paw at my legs.
They push soggy noses into my clothes,
and snort out whatever they find, the proof
of where I have been and with whom.
Seeming to be unharmed by the intruder,
they are no happier than usual to see me home.
I find the stereo, computer, and television
in their places. All the windows
are intact, shut tight. Unbroken.
I take to the bathroom, wash everything
that has been touched by the gentleman-prowler.
Scrubbing the tub, I find a single pubic hair
wrapped around the blades
of my pink Skintimate razor.
I throw it away with gloved hands
then walk the mess of rags, and bleach bottles,
and damaged razor straight to the garbage.
I see he threw away a plastic Safeway bag,
tightly shut the lid.
Making dinner, I find the cereal boxes neatly lined
atop the fridge. The empty ones,
which littered the shelves for months,
now in the recycling bin. I open a jar of peanut butter
to find an oily, finger-shaped scoop
running the length of the plastic container.
He used my best Tupperware bowl
to hold a leviathan quantity of cereal
while watching the porno he left on behind him.
I find another fingertip divot
in my hundred-dollar face cream.
I scrape away the parts he’s touched, but note
his taste for the fine.
On my way to bed I stop in the hallway.
The picture frame I left leaning
against the wall with hammer
and single nail since summer, is now hanging.
I touch the corner with my fingertip
to straighten the frame
and head downstairs.