"I See It All The Time"

The Sheriff’s came to the neighbors the other day. Came twice, in fact. First time, they asked if I had seen them recently. I had to admit not since the weekend, when there was a lot of activity in the driveway.

The second time the Sheriff’s came, it was with a pair of laborers. They emptied the house onto the street. Trash day was tomorrow.

We’d kept our eye on that house. Two young girls, sisters, lived there, with what seemed to be two young men and two toddlers. You didn’t see them often in the day, but the lights blazed all night long and were still usually on in the early morning hours when I grabbed the papers from the sidewalk. One month garbage piled up on their porch for weeks until they finally moved some of it to the street for collection and hid the rest under their deck.

Beer bottles on the lawn and no curtains. This was a house in chaos and you felt for the kids subjected to growing up in it. You heard an awful lot of yelling.

The pile of this day’s refuse drew me like a car wreck. It was the size of two cars. It spilled onto the sidewalk. Ripped sofas, garbage bags full of clothes, stacks of books. A crib, a stroller, diapers. I thumbed through a notebook that looked like a minute-by-minute account of high school classes. An ironic, soiled book titled “Parenting Your 1 to 4 Year Old” was perched on an old tire, partially hidden under a box of canned goods.

They’d been evicted. Hadn’t paid their rent in months, said the first Sheriff’s man. Seemed to have up and left, taking what they could.

I roamed the yard. Next to the porch, I saw a handwritten note, blue ballpoint on a white paper Avon bag. “Please call me. I am worried about you. I want to help. If you are mad at me please tell me why. If you don’t want to talk to me, just leave me a message that you are OK. Love, Dad.”

I thought about his state of mind in writing that note. He must have driven from a distance — he left a number with an area code far out-of-state — to check on his girls. Discovering no one, he would have searched for something to write on, shoving the note into the screen door. Did the girls see the note and discard it? Would it have made a difference?

Feeling the father’s worry, I wondered what I could have done. There was that time one of the girls came over to use the phone. Could I have offered more help? Been more polite?

I know nothing I could have done would have changed the path this household was on. But I never even tried.

The second Sheriff’s man, the one with the laborers, came over to me while they were working. “I see it all the time,” he said absently, then wandered off.

So it’s happening all the time. Maybe I can do better in the future. Futile as it may be, each house in chaos is an opportunity to reach out. That’s what people do for each other.

It’s what that father would want, writing his worried note.

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