People In Your Neighborhood, Part II: Someone’s Knockin’ at the Door

The following is a revised excerpt from “Última: Reconciling the Masculine,” the talk I presented at TEDxABQWomen on December 1, 2012. I will post a video of the talk as soon as it becomes available. 

My friend Andrea calls our house the community center. Valle Encantado, our nonprofit organization, runs an organic farm, and our house is the base of operations. I like having people around, knowing that someone is always watching out for us, having the kind of backdoor that neighbors feel comfortable approaching. I like that P. and K. can walk up and down our street and find safe harbor should trouble run into them. I like that when Isabel across the street finds processed cheese or canned peaches in heavy syrup or Otter Pops on sale, she picks up extra for us and sends it over with her granddaughter.

And I wish I could count on uninterrupted privacy and quiet when I need it, whether I am alone writing or playing with the kids or catching up with Henry after busy weeks of work and rehearsal.

Some mornings I slip out of bed while everyone else is sleeping and walk across the yard to the office to work on my book. But just as I’m getting into a scene, the door opens, and work boots step from Henry’s side of the office to mine. My back is turned, but I already know it’s Jimmy. He works on the farm.  He’s the one closest to the edge, and he has walked a long road to have a steady job and a place to live. 

“Can I throw the farm towels in the washer?” he asks. His voice is loud because he doesn’t hear well.

It’s 7:12 in the morning, and I have eighteen minutes before I have to run back in the house to pack lunches and clean faces with a wet washcloth, and I won’t have another quiet stretch to write until tonight when the kids are asleep, and by then I’ll be too tired to think, much less write about, World War II and PTSD.

He says the towels haven’t been cleaned yet this week.

“Sure,” I answer, not turning around, hoping he picks up on my nonverbal cue that I have no interest in conversation this morning, that I would rather stick needles in my eyes than expend my precious little writing time engaging in small talk.

Then he says thanks for letting him keep his stuff in our office until he moves out of that motel and into the apartment Henry helped him find and “Guess what happened? No, it’s good. The landlord brought the refrigerator right after I got home with the little one you guys let me borrow. That’s crazy, no?”

By the time he leaves the office, I can’t remember how that sentence was supposed to end, and now it’s 7:19, and what good will eleven minutes of writing do anyway?


I fear the knock on the door. Can I borrow twenty bucks? Where’s Johnny? Can I use your phone? Do you have any work? My sister got me these sweat suits, but they don’t fit right. You wanna buy them?

“Henry’s not here?”

It’s Jimmy. 

“No,” I answer. “You okay?”


He steps from the doorway into the yard. I follow him.

“Why do bad things keep happening to me?” he shouts, whipping the baseball cap from his head and flailing his arms like he’s drowning. “I hate God. I don’t even wanna try no more. My son’s in jail. He didn’t do it. Why do bad things keep happening?”

He won’t let me talk. You’re trying to get your life together, I want to say. When you do that, things feel great, and then they suck. It’s like life is asking how bad you really want it. He won’t listen. I don’t know what to do, how to tell him to feel. Just shut up and feel. So I grab him by the shoulders.

“Stop it! Look at me.”

I put one arm around his shoulders, the other across his chest. I’ve got him in a kind of choke hold. I move my hand to his heart and press against it.

“Breathe,” I say. He inhales. Exhales

For five long breaths, he is still and quiet.

“It’s okay,” I say. “It’s hard. You’re not alone.”

“Okay,” he says, wiping his eyes. “Let me go now.”



Published in: on December 4, 2012 at 12:31 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Michelle, you are such a beautiful human being!

    • Aw, thank you, friend. Takes one to know one. 🙂

      • It is a pleasure to view the world through your eyes. I anxiously await the next post.

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