Privilege

key
By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Jody Mace

The day that I returned a loaner car to an auto dealership, I didn’t know that I had become a stooge in an automobile heist.

Here’s how it went down.

A recall was issued for my car. It was a safety issue. It turned out that the airbag’s inflator, a “metal cartridge loaded with propellant wafers,” sometimes ignited, spraying metal shards throughout the passenger cabin.

Lots of cars were affected, and the replacement part was in short supply. It was going to take weeks to get it. The dealership offered me a rental car, on the manufacturer’s dime, until the replacement part could be obtained.

The rental car was a lot nicer than my car. It was a Honda CRV with just 1,500 miles on it. I’d never driven a car that new. I know there’s new car scent that they can spray in any car but this new car smell was legit. Straight from the factory new car smell. Like the sweet smell of a baby’s head. Only car.

A couple weeks later I got the call that the part came in for my car. I parked the CRV in the lot. When I went into the service area to return the key, the service advisor made a joke. He showed me the invoice for my car and said, “I hope you brought all your money, cause this is gonna cost you!” And then he pointed to the amount due, which was zero. I laughed politely.

I handed him the key to the CRV and he handed me the key to my car, along with the invoice. I went out to the lot, got into my car, which was parked across from where I had parked the CRV, and drove home.

This should have been the end of a story too boring to retell, but here’s where things got weird.

Around a week later a manager from the dealership called me. He had some questions.

“Do you remember where you parked the rental car?”

I told him.

“What color was the car?”

This surprised me. They didn’t know what color the car was? They were having a little trouble finding the car.

The next day he called me again.

“Do you remember who you gave the keys to?”

“I don’t know. A woman,” I said. Then I thought some more. “No, it was a man.”

“Do you remember his name?”

“No, I never knew his name.”

“Do you remember what he looked like?”

And it was at this point that I realized that I’m the most visually unobservant person in the world. I am not face-blind but I’m at least face-visually-impaired.

“Well, I think he was kind of tall. Maybe thin. His hair wasn’t really dark. Or maybe it was dark.”

“Did he have facial hair?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

But I had a feeling I was making that up, inventing a face. I thought of that toy where there’s a picture of a clean-shaven bald guy and you use a magnet to drag little pieces of metal around to give him hair, or a mustache or a beard. A lot of times he ends up resembling one despot or another, depending on the shape of the mustache. Then you shake it and the metal shavings fall to the bottom and you start over again with a clean slate. Mentally I gave him a mustache, a goatee, a five o’clock shadow. I had no idea. The more I thought about it, the more removed I was, mentally, from the actual face of the service adviser. He had been replaced by any number of versions of him, all created by my imagination.

“You know what I can tell you? He was a white man. He was a joke-cracking kind of guy. Does that help? Do you have a jokey white man who works there?”

A few days later there was a third call. This time he told me not to be alarmed if a police officer called me to ask some questions. They still couldn’t find the car and had to file a police report so that they could put in a claim with the insurance company.

I started to get worried. Nobody had seen me return that car. The service adviser, whoever he was, hadn’t gone out to walk around it and check for scratches. I got out the invoice he had given me and I discovered that the paperwork was just that: an invoice. It was just for the repair done on my car. There was nothing about the return of the rental car. I had no proof that I had ever returned that car.

It was crazy, right? That I could be a car thief? But I had recently watched a lot of crime dramas on TV. And I realized that I could legitimately be considered a person of interest. I was pretty sure I could not be convicted. But still. It was disconcerting to think that someone might consider me a potential criminal. I’m pretty harmless looking. People tend to trust me.

A week passed and no police officer called me so I mostly stopped worrying. Then the service manager called me again, asking the same questions as before. This time the police officer was at the dealership, taking the report.

“Do you want me to come in?” I asked. “I could show you where I parked.”

When I got to the dealership I sat in an office with two service managers and the police officer, a young, stocky guy with straight dark hair. (At this point I was making an effort to be more visually observant.)

Again, I was asked to describe the service adviser who I had talked to, and I just repeated what I said the first time. I didn’t think I could identify him, but maybe he was tall and thin, with light to medium colored hair, and with no facial hair.

I said, “He made a joke when he gave me the invoice.”

The police officer wasn’t too interested in that bit of intelligence, but one of the service managers, Jill, was playing detective.

“What was the joke?” she asked me.

“He said ‘I hope you brought all your money because this is gonna cost you!’”

The two managers looked at each other and then one said, “We only have two white guys working the service desk.”

He stuck his head out of the office and called for Matt.

“Is this him?” he asked me.

He was short with a solid build, with dark hair and a beard. Pretty much the exact opposite of my description of him. I didn’t recognize him at all.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“What joke do you make when a customer gets the recall done?” Jill asked him.

“I say ‘I hope you brought all your money because this is gonna cost you!’”

“That’s him,” I said.

“That’s my schtick.”

The working theory, I was about to learn, was that Matt had dropped the key on the rental counter and someone walked away with it. That’s why Matt had been so forthcoming with his seemingly incriminating joke. He wasn’t the prime suspect.

I went outside with Jill and the police officer to show them where I had parked the CRV.

I still had a nagging feeling that I wasn’t in the clear yet. They had their theory about how it happened, but based on my experience watching TV, it’s the most unlikely suspect who probably did it. Not the new employee at the rental counter, or a shady looking customer, but the suburban lady pushing fifty, who hasn’t even been pulled over for speeding in fifteen years. She looks like your mom, not a criminal.

I finally asked the question that had been on my mind for weeks.

“You’re not thinking I did anything, are you?”

“Oh no, sweetheart!” Jill said and laughed as if it was the silliest thing she’d ever heard.

The officer said, with mock seriousness, “I believe you’re innocent!” and then he laughed too.

We all stood in the parking lot laughing at the idea that they could have suspected me of being a car thief. Because in real life you don’t do something totally innocent like drop off a rental car and then find yourself embroiled in a criminal case that you knew nothing about. That’s something that just happens on TV.

So the story had a happy ending, just like deep down I always knew it would. Me, the service manager, and the cop, outside the car dealership, underneath the cloudless Carolina sky. Just three white people having a good laugh.

•••

JODY MACE is a freelance writer living in North Carolina. Her essays have appeared in O MagazineBrain, ChildThe Washington Post, and many other publications, as well as several anthologies. Her website is jodymace.com. She publishes the website Charlotte on the Cheap in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a regular contributor to Full Grown People.

Read more FGP essays by Jody Mace.

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Put Out

lab
By Gina Easley www.GinaEasley.com

By Amy E. Robillard

I wish I could count on both hands the number of times Annabelle had gone missing, the number of times I’d found myself standing in the middle of a street or a stranger’s yard or a cemetery yelling her name, sometimes with a hint of irritation, sometimes with raw desperation. But I can’t. It happened too often.

She was my first dog and, as is true with so many firsts, I measured all dogs that came after against her, believing that all dogs possessed this mischievous streak, that all dogs were whip-smart, devising ways to test the limits of their person’s love as they chased squirrels and cats and bunnies and the occasional opossum. Some years later now, I know that this isn’t so, that Annabelle was something special, that she was an old soul, wise beyond her years, able to love and know me in a way I’m not sure I’ll ever experience again. Annabelle was not a people-pleaser, though she loved affection and was particularly sensitive to my moods. The one or two times I made the mistake of crying in front of her, I stopped when I realized she was scared to death and shaking. She didn’t like being hugged, but she was just so huggable. When I’d get down on my knees and put my arms around her and squeeze, she was the perfect size. When Steve met us and saw the way I hugged her, he always said she looked put out. But I couldn’t help myself. I just loved her so much.

To be put out by another’s love: to acquiesce to the affection of the ones who cared for and cherished you. This, I think, is what Steve meant when he said Annabelle always looked put out when anyone tried to hug her. I did most of the hugging, of course, and he’s the one who had the best view of the look on her face. After she died and we’d gotten to the point where we could laugh at the funny things she did when she was alive, Steve and I recalled the look on Annabelle’s face when she was put out, and he uttered the line that captured Annabelle better than any I could ever come up with. “Annabelle,” he said, “made acquiescence into an art form.”

Annabelle was a black lab mix, all black with some white speckles on her chest, her toes, and her nose. She had a white tip on her tail, as though she’d dunked it in a can of white paint in order to dash off a quick letter home. Steve and I had been dating for almost two years when I called him late one weeknight, frantic, because Belly had gotten loose and I’d called her and called her and she wasn’t coming back.

He hopped in his car and came over right away to help me search for her. As I walked along the sidewalk in the dark calling her name, I nearly brushed up against the hideous opossum that was surely the cause for her darting off when I went to bring her in for the night. The house I rented had a fenced-in yard, but there were stairs and a couple feet separating the back door from the fence gate. Lately I’d become lax with her and just opened the gate to let her walk back into the house. I’d begun trusting her to come to me because she’d shown me enough times in a row that I didn’t need to lead her by the collar. This opossum sat frozen on the top of the chain-link fence and I shivered and instinctively pulled away when I recognized what it was. Ugly little thing.

•••

We were fifteen, Hillary and I, walking together to her boyfriend Gary’s house when we spotted the flowers. Hillary and I did a lot of walking together—our houses were six or seven blocks apart and, even as we got older, we had no access to our own transportation. So we walked or rode the bus. This time we walked from her house to Gary’s, though I cannot, all these years later, recall why we were going there together. Hillary’s attraction to Gary bordered on obsession, but then, that was typical for us. When we found somebody we liked, we went all in. In the days before email and texting, we wrote endless notes to our loves, even long after our loves were no longer interested, had broken up with us, had told us to please stop. Some might call what we did a mild form of stalking. We called it devotion. Dedication.

•••

Belly had gotten loose in this neighborhood before, but it had always been daytime. And more often than not, as I’d gone out searching for her, she’d found her way home and would be waiting for me on the front porch as I made my way back around to the house. But this was different. It was 11:30 at night. It was dark. She was black. We lived a block away from a street with heavy traffic.

Steve arrived and I got in the passenger seat of his car. He drove very slowly around the streets of the neighborhood, both windows open, listening carefully for her bark—she was a vocal dog—in between calling her name. The neighborhood was made up of a number of one-way streets, so our route was somewhat restricted, but we regularly made our way back to my house to see if she was waiting for me on the front porch. After fifteen grueling minutes of this, I was losing my grip on what little hope I had that she’d be okay. She was a black dog. It was nighttime. Nobody would be able to see her. I was utterly dependent in that moment on chance, banking on nobody being out driving at the very spot Belly was running. I kept waiting to turn the corner to see a big black splat in the middle of the road. My Annabelle. My Bug. The love of my life.

•••

The first object of my devotion was Gerry. I believe I ran over his mother’s foot while rushing to escape his dead-end street after spying in his basement window. I didn’t yet have my license. I’m pretty sure she was fine.

As we were walking to Gary’s house, we passed a family-owned restaurant. Flower boxes on the windows held colorful bouquets of plastic flowers. Why not bring some to Gary, we thought. We walked on over, picked some like we owned the place, and kept walking until we heard a woman yelling at us to get back here. Young ladies! Get back here! Those are not your flowers to take! Hillary and I looked at each other. We really had no choice. What were we going to do, run?

Heads down, we shuffle back to the restaurant, which we now see is only the front of what is actually a very large home. The woman calls us up to her porch and tells us to stand and wait while she calls the police. We’re not going to just get away with this, she tells us. We can’t just steal something that doesn’t belong to us and walk away. She goes inside the house to make the phone call and her children peek at us from behind the screen door. We are an example for them. What not to be.

What made us stand there? Why didn’t we run?

•••

Steve continued to hold onto hope, reassuring me that she was going to be okay, that we’d find her safe, that she was just out on one of her adventures. “You know how she is,” he said. Perversely, the part of me that endlessly worried that I was never able to give Annabelle the amount of exercise she needed felt relief that when she did come home, she’d be good and tired.

As we were driving very slowly up one of the one-way streets, we realized that a police car was behind us. We pulled over so he could pass, but we signaled to him to roll down his window. “We’re looking for our dog. She’s black,” I called over to him.

“What’s her name?”

“Annabelle.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for her,” he said, and he drove off slowly.

•••

The police officer arrives and we’re whisked away. I recall his making some remark about the silliness of the whole thing, but that could just be me looking back. But let’s say he did say something like that. We took Hillary home first—her house was closer. I stayed in the car while he escorted her up the stairs to her older sister. Her mother wasn’t home. The officer came back, asked me where I lived, and drove me home. When we got to my house, I had to wake Ma from where she was sleeping on the couch, the tissues she’d stuffed between the cushions falling to the floor. Groggy. “What is it!”

“Um, Ma, there’s someone here,” I said, gesturing to the policeman, his presence dwarfing us both in the small dark living room with its wood paneling and its console TV that seemed never to be off.

He apologized politely for having woken her, told her why he’d brought me home, and promptly left. Ma didn’t blink an eye. She barely lifted her head from the couch. I called Hillary and we went back out.

•••

Our search continued ever so slowly, up one street, down the next, calling and calling in between attempts to keep myself from completely falling apart. We drove by the house again. No Annabelle on the front porch. The streets were so quiet. My stomach felt so sick. Around the block again. Up and down the one-way streets. Back around to my street, in front of the house.

That’s when Steve heard it. The faintest sound of Belly’s bark. “Did you hear that?”

I froze. Turned my ear to my window. And that’s when we both saw Annabelle booking it down the street perpendicular to ours, slowing down just enough to take the sharp corner onto our street, and then speeding up again into my long driveway. Steve stepped on the gas. I jumped out of the car and ran up the driveway. She stood there near the back steps panting, tongue hanging down, body shaking, and I held her. I was so mad at her but I was so happy to see her that I just held her and hugged her and told her how much I loved her. Not two minutes later, the police car pulled up in front of the house, and Steve went out to talk to the officer. It turned out that the officer had seen Annabelle running the streets and, keeping his promise to us, rolled down his window and called her name. That was all it took to send her running home.

•••

To put out is also to extinguish. What had extinguished Ma’s ability or willingness to rein me in, to set boundaries? Perhaps it was just the same old story: I was the last of five children. She was tired.

Or maybe she felt put out by the love and affection her children tried to show her until they finally gave up because something had extinguished it in her.

Or maybe it had something to do with the possibility that the last time she’d seen a police officer standing in her living room, he had been trying to comfort her because she had just learned of her husband’s death. Eleven years earlier, he had left her to finish raising all five of us by herself. She’d been put out in ways I still cannot imagine.

Or maybe all of this is nonsense. Maybe this is what we do as adults. We make gross and inexact comparisons between what our mothers did with us and what we did with our beloved dead dogs and we try to find a through line, a way to make sense of it all while making ourselves seem the more ethical party, the more mature actor. But in the end what we’re really doing is grasping so desperately and so terribly transparently at a way to understand how to make sense of the things we cannot bring home because we never lost them because we never owned them in the first place.

•••

AMY E. ROBILLARD is a writer and a teacher of writing at Illinois State University. She’s a regular contributor to Full Grown People. She and her husband Steve are the guardians of two very special mutts, one named Wrigley Field, and one named Essay. They all love the Cubs.

Read more FGP essays by Amy E. Robillard.

We Know Where You Live

shadowman
By srqpix/ Flickr

By Terry Barr

The blinking red light of the phone machine, as usual, unnerves me. Why do I always think that somehow this will be the message that changes my life? It’s all I can do to walk past it, even though I’m holding my baby daughter Pari, even though I need to put her down gently to keep her warm and asleep. Still thinking of that machine, I wait a beat, two. Her breathing is normal, calm. Exhaling now, I walk back to my machine, abandoning my wife Nilly who, as usual, wants to glow in our daughter’s sleep.

There are two messages flashing at me, actually. The first is mainly silence until the very end when I hear “TERRY BARR” in a voice attempting to speak its authority. The message ends there.

The next one begins.

I am standing alone in our living room looking out of the broad picture window at our quiet, connector street. It’s getting late on this Saturday night, ten days before Christmas. Nilly hasn’t emerged yet from Pari’s bedroom, which rests at the back of the house, far from the living room where I stand, and I thank God for that now.

When I hear it, I freeze until the message runs out. I look back towards my daughter’s room. Has Nilly heard? But there is nothing stirring back there, no “Oh my God,” and no footsteps approaching with worry and fear. So it’s only me. Me and my machine.

And those words.

Before I can think this through, I do the one thing that in the light of day I’ll most regret: I hit the erase button. But I want to make this disappear. I want to throw my machine like a discus out into the night. I want to wake up again on Saturday morning for a do-over. I want never to have heard what I heard, and more than anything else, I want to be sure that neither my wife nor our daughter has heard it. Or ever will hear it.

And it’s only in this last desire that I succeed.

•••

We had been to two Christmas parties that night. The first was an Amnesty International gathering celebrating our recent success in our Holiday Card Action campaign. We’d succeeded in sending over one hundred greeting cards to prisoners of conscience all over the world that morning as we took to the main street of our downtown. Stationing ourselves at a cross street with heavy shopping traffic, we would gently accost perfect strangers who’d sometimes smile and sometimes sneer at us as we ask them to send a message of hope to a prisoner of conscience of their choice. We have twenty-five to thirty different prisoners to work for—men and women who have been bound and held in a prison in some remote part of the world for exercising their human right to speak their beliefs, wear what they want, or support some loved one who has run afoul politically of a governmental tyrant.

Mixed in, too, and usually the hardest to get people to sign for, are the death penalty cases. Amnesty unconditionally opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. Sometimes our card-signers want to debate the issue with us. These debates usually get nowhere, and I often refuse to engage because who knows what this other person has experienced? My strong beliefs are my own, and I keep telling myself that I’m not threatening or challenging anyone else’s, or if I am, I’m doing so respectfully. Beliefs can’t hurt, right? I’m aware of the irony here that if I truly think that beliefs can’t hurt, I won’t fully get what Amnesty’s prisoners are suffering.

Still, it turned out to be a good day despite these moments of doubt and conflict. Over a hundred messages of hope that we hope will reach our prisoners. Maybe it’s true that Christmas does bring out “goodwill toward men.”

At our party this night, everyone is in high spirits. We toast each other for our success; we toast those who signed our cards. We toast our prisoners and hope that next year they’ll be free. And we toast the founders of Amnesty, two British students who wanted to change the world, or at least show the hopeless that someone cares.

Our Amnesty group is a diverse lot: teachers, students, lawyers, social workers, and psychologists. Our group leader is a British astronomer, one of the smartest men I’ve ever known. A man, in his sixties, who still likes to climb a good tree.

We eat our potluck supper, raise our glasses one more time, and then the three of us—Nilly, Pari, and me thriving on all the attention—head off to our next gathering, which is a party for the staff of our weekly alternative newspaper. I’ve been writing film and local theatre reviews over the past year, trying to hone my skills and give voice to whatever arts scene our town has.

The party is held at a duplex in an older part of town. As we enter its arched doorway and I see peeling paint on the inner hall walls, I’m reminded of all those grad school parties I attended not so many years ago. Our host, a guy wearing a silken robe and an ascot over what might be flannel pajamas, leads us to a side porch where a pumped up keg awaits. Strings of mismatched Christmas lights are draped haphazardly from room to room, greeting us everywhere we turn, but saying what?

Pari is sneezing at the party’s cigarette smoke. I barely know the paper’s editor—and he’s the only person I know here—but he’s nowhere to be found at first. Soon I see him and another boy his age tumbling out of the bathroom.

“Hey Terry,” he says, before his momentum, or his friend’s weight, pushes him out the door onto the porch.

“Are we about ready to leave,” Nilly asks. She gives me that look, but it isn’t necessary. Not at all.

I love this paper and am glad it gives no restrictions on what I write about and say. No word count; no demand to simply recount the plot and give a thumbs up or down. There is a star system, though, and for my latest review, I gave Spike Lee’s X four and a half stars out of five. I thought Lee’s ability to capture the complexity of Malcolm in just under three hours was a feat itself worthy of high praise. I appreciated his courage and tenacity. His audacity. And my review said so.

As we drive home, I’m thinking that even though we stayed at this party for barely half an hour, it was worth it to mingle with people who, even in our small town, aspire to a more bohemian lifestyle. In fact, the whole evening for me has been warm and cheerful—an evening surrounded by friends and people who love each other. While I’m not a Christian any more, this time of year is still—and I know of no other word for it—so joyous.

Or so I believe until we get home. Until we walk in the front door and I see that red blinking light. Until I press the “play message” button.

Until I hear his voice.

•••

The next morning I walk across the street to my neighbor’s house. Steve’s a police detective, and he agrees to come over and talk to us. After greeting Nilly, he gets right to the point.

“Why did you erase that message?”

“I don’t know. I just reacted. I didn’t want anyone else to hear.”

“What exactly did it say again?”

“Well, it began with: ‘Terry Barr!!! We know who you are and where you live! We’re watching you!’”

That was bad enough.

“Have you had any other messages like this?”

And then I remember the other late night calls, the ones asking: “Is this Mark, the Art professor at Clinton College?” The same college that employs me.

“He doesn’t live here,” I answer, but the caller hangs up before I can ask “Why do you think he lives with me,” or more importantly, “Just who the hell are you anyway?”

“All I can tell you to do,” Steve says, “is to save any other messages you get, and put call-tracing on your phone. We need to build a case file and collect evidence.”

I must still be in shock. Will this work? Will I even want to answer the phone again? Still, we purchase call tracing, the phone calls stop.

In their place, packages begin arriving. Round, white packages unlike any I’ve ever received. They come from The Bradford Exchange and other such “collectible” outlets. Commemorative plates and coins: things you see advertised in popular magazines or on late-night TV. Places with 800-numbers that don’t ask questions and don’t demand credit cards. Places that allow the “Bill Me Later” option.

Over the next few weeks, we receive BassMaster equipment, Columbia House LPs usually containing the latest from Brooks and Dunn or Toby Keith—musicians I’d never intentionally listen to. We get subscriptions to Rolling Stone, Field and Stream.

Penthouse.

“I’ve never seen a Penthouse,” Nilly says.

When we see him, we ask the postman what we should do with this stuff.

“You didn’t order it, did you?”

“No.”

“Well, it’s all yours then. They can’t do anything to you!”

So we return what we can, refuse what we’ll never want.

And then the first Hustler arrives. We’re anxious now, and ashamed of the pornography, of the violation, of someone we don’t know imagining us holding such a magazine.

I call their 800-number to cancel any other Hustlers and strangely, miraculously, they’ve saved the order card. They mail it to me, and I see the writing for the first time. A hand not only not my own, but a form of printing that I’d characterize as coming from someone who isn’t comfortable holding a pen, someone who stopped paying attention to anything scholastic around the sixth grade.

Next comes an afternoon call from a representative trying to confirm the “escort” I’ve ordered for that evening:

“I have the request right here on my phone tape, though I have to say that the voice really doesn’t sound like yours.”

“Could you play it for me?”

He does. It’s familiar, I think, the same voice: deep, smug, satisfied with itself but in a southern dialect not even remotely close to mine.

I’m from the South, have lived in this region all my life, from Alabama to Tennessee and now here in South Carolina. When I travel to New York or Boston, people there recognize my southern accent immediately. But down here, there are people who believe I’m from New York. Maybe it’s my training in music and theatre back in high school. Maybe it’s that while my mother drawls with the best of them, my father, also a native southerner, has a different slant. A Jewish slant. An accent that seems to defy a specific region.

All I know is that the voice on that tape is truly and defiantly southern. And not “city Southern” either:

“Mah name is Turry Bawhr, an’ I’ed lahke an es Cort for toonaght at sebm.”

He gives our address, and then, in an even more smug tone, he signs off with a “Thaink yew vera much!”

I ask, and in a compliant and law-abiding way, the escort service turns the taped message over to the police. And then, the calls start coming again. Always late at night; always asking for “Mark.” We trace these, turn them over to our investigator. Months have passed since the initial disturbing call, and we have collected diecast cars and random cologne samples and Playboys and US magazines. And more BassMaster stuff. I can’t begin to describe all that we got, all that subsequently made up our massive yard sales.

The police have enough evidence now to confront our harasser. He hasn’t actually committed a crime, but they think they can at least scare him, intimidate him. Make him stop. And just as they’re ready to do so, we put it together, or at least together enough to see how this started, to understand what set him off.

I had asked Nilly before if she remembered any crank calls, anything suspicious, even anything that seemed innocent. It’s usually the thing you’ve forgotten, the thing you say to yourself, “It just couldn’t be.”

“You know,” she says, “there was this time when I got a call asking if you were the same Terry Barr who reviewed movies. I said ‘yes,’ but that he’d have to call back to speak to you. He was polite and thanked me.”

“But he never called back.”

“No, he never called back…Why did I tell him who you were?”

“It’s okay. You couldn’t have known.”

A few days later, our investigator checks in. He and another officer paid our caller a visit. They told him they knew what he was doing and that if he didn’t stop, we might press charges. He never actually denied anything, but he didn’t admit his guilt either.

“We warned him pretty good. You should know, though, that he’s in his late thirties and still lives with his parents. And, of course, he has a record.”

“For what?”

“Indecent exposure.”

They even tell me his name, and later, I look him up and find out where he lives—an area of town notorious for its less-than-progressive thinking, though of course I’m just stereotyping now. It does my soul—so committed to human rights—no good to know the truth behind every stereotype, or to be right in my stereotyping. Is it good to know who this man is, though? Can knowing bring peace?

“Well, that’s all we can do for now,” our investigator says. “Let’s hope he doesn’t bother you again.”

I understand. I’ve watched enough episodes of Law and Order in my life to get it. To get that the best we can do is to change and unlist our phone number, and so we do. The phone calls stop, but the packages still come.

A year or so later, after our second daughter is born, we move to a larger house in a different zip code. The packages stop then, and after a few months, I finally get out of the habit of looking out our window at night when random cars come driving by.

It’s obvious, too obvious to say—though I will anyway—that though I erased that tape, I can’t erase its memory, its message. I can’t erase the fear or the harassment of those many nights in our young life.

I did tell Nilly, as well as the police, what the voice on that tape said. But thankfully, neither Nilly nor Pari ever had to hear that voice, so if they have any memory of that night or that time, at least it won’t be what I remember. At least I protected them from that. And if I did put them at risk by liking Spike Lee’s X, or erasing a hate-filled tape, I’m as sorry as I can be, as I’ve ever been. We didn’t deserve this; of course we didn’t. But then, does anybody?

“Terry Barr!!! We know who you are and where you live! We’re watching you! Remember. WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE! SIEG HEIL, SIEG HEIL, SIEG HEIL!”

•••

TERRY BARR is a regular contributor to culturemass.com and has had essays published or forthcoming in such journals as The Museum of Americana, Hamilton Stone Literary Review, Fat City Review, Sport Literate, and Melange Press. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Greenville, South Carolina.