Goldilocks after the game
by Nancy Nelson
From the December, 2017 issue
"Who are you?" I nervously asked the unfamiliar young man sleeping on my couch. Barely awake, he bolted straight up with a wild look in his eyes.
"What?" He looked at me frantically, as if searching for some clue to what he was doing in my living room. "Mike," he said.
"Were you at the U of M football game?" I inquired delicately, using colloquial language for "were you really drunk last night?"
"Yes," he said. "Yes. I went with friends." His story unfolded, me nodding along as though it all made complete sense. It didn't, no matter how generously I used my imagination.
I'd heard him that morning at 6 a.m., when I sat at the kitchen table with my cup of coffee and newspaper. Small rustling noises came from the living room, still dark at this time of year. Those cats, I thought. What are Jules and Vincent up to in there? When I heard a louder snuffling sound, I thought it was my husband sleeping upstairs. I can't believe I can hear that all the way down here in the kitchen, I thought. He must really be snoring.
After a bike ride and a shower, I returned to my New York Times. Now the noises were louder. I stepped into the living room to see a sleeping body buried under the couch's green throw pillows and blanket. Hunh, I wondered. Who is that?
My husband, Richard, was off sculling on Argo Pond. I could hear my son Eric upstairs, just waking up. Stepping closer, I could see the body was not my other son, Owen, a U-M student who spends his nights in his apartment on Plymouth Rd. The stranger still looked strange.
I called Eric downstairs. He didn't recognize the sleeping form, either. "Eric. I'm going to wake him up," I told him. "You go upstairs. If there's any trouble, it's your job to call the police." It wasn't much of a plan.
Once fully awake, Mike
had a story to tell. As he and his friend Amy had walked through our neighborhood--we live on Brockman, about a mile east of the stadium--Amy told him she used to live in our house and knew us. "It's OK if we go in," she assured him. "We'll be welcome here."
They walked through the back porch then entered through the unlocked back door. They chatted on the couch, dimly lit by Brockman's streetlights. At this point, Amy disappeared from the narrative--perhaps Mike "fell asleep" (another euphemism--for "passed out").
I remembered that the family we bought our house from had young daughters--maybe Amy was an older version of one of them. Why am I trying so hard to figure out ways to make this story make sense? I thought, confused. I did understand that Amy must have been pretty schnockered herself.
As far as Eric and I could piece it together, Mike had come in around midnight. We'd all been home, Richard and I asleep (very soundly, apparently) and Eric in the basement playing computer games. Eric fed the cats, locked the doors, and went to bed around 1 a.m., stepping right by our visitor on the couch.
Mike was very sweet and apologetic, once vertical. "Did you have some shoes when you got here?" I asked, noticing his stocking feet. "If we don't find them, I can give you a ride home." I don't want to be rude, I somehow thought, struggling with my mother's training on "politeness to guests," even with this uninvited one.
"Oh, no, I can walk," Mike insisted. Not sure of the answer to my question about his shoes, he joined me in a little look around. I finally found his boots neatly placed by a chair on the back porch, where, it seems, Amy had thoughtfully instructed Mike to take them off.
"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry," he repeated again and again. Just before leaving, he said, "I can't believe you're being so nice to me."
I wondered, too, why I felt no fear. Once I knew he wasn't a burglar, just a day-after-the-football-game fan, all I could feel was relief. He's harmless. Just a boy. And I have two of those myself.
"Well, if one of my sons were in this situation, this is how I'd want it to go," I told him.
"Kind of like 'pay it forward,'" he said.
"That's exactly it." Another thought crossed my mind: I was young once, too.
He was still muttering copious thank-yous when I sent him off into the morning sunshine. I don't know if I'll ever get the card he promised, but that's OK.
There's always something interesting going on in college towns--protest marches, lectures, cultural opportunities, sporting events. And you just never know who might be knocking on your door. Or maybe they'll just skip the knocking part.
[Originally published in December, 2017.]
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