The thief left a size 13 footprint on the chair he’d used to get from our window ledge onto the carpet, taking my laptop, the sword my husband wore for our Renaissance wedding, and a pair of abalone-shaped gold earrings.
My six-month old son on my shoulder, I listened to my husband place the 911 call, visions of CSI in my head, imagining the suspect as good as caught. The Sebastopol sheriff came by long enough to reassure us we’d never see the goods again and to chuckle about the footprint. “Nah,” he said, “we can’t do nothing with that.”
Which set the tone for the landlord’s visit.
“Anything you need to feel safer,” he’d said while drinking coffee at our kitchen table as he told us how violated he felt the time his home had been robbed years ago. I asked for motion lights and a taller fence to replace the two-foot white pickets. “Well, no, see,” he said, pulling on the visor of his cap. “This is the country…fences wreck the view. You’re in the fishbowl. People drive by and see the orchard, horses, your little family. I can’t agree to a fence.” And he went on his way.
So did we, shortly, to buy our own house. My husband built a deck around one of the redwoods adjacent to the east wall and added a couple cabins. He single-handedly took a pick-axe to the hill to make a yard for our three kids, then to the perimeter of the hill, lining the trail with abalone shells. We breathed out into the quiet acre, the only voyeurs the deer browsing through to eat Spanish moss off the downed oaks, the red-hooded woodpeckers knocking holes into the firs, the rains at night on the skylights. At last, no longer renters: this acre and all we’d do to it, ours for the duration.
A stripe of sun crosses the deck once a day, so the kids plant basil in pots. Each seedling gets no more than a foot tall before molding at the stalks; the deer eat my hydrangeas, coming up near the house to strip the few rosebuds off my bushes. Our first three years we chart the course of the sun across the land, dreaming our garden dreams (on the roof? a trellis up the side of the house aligned with that stripe of sun?) for the years to come.
Or, maybe just for this one last year. No thief to blame, nor footprint, for this turn in our luck--just the spiraled out economy, an interest rate on our home loan we can’t afford, the inability to refinance, eleven months of the bank losing our letters asking for
help. When a job for my husband surfaces ten hours away in San Diego, we take it, ignoring the toll it’ll take--his paying for a home he’ll live in solely on the weekends while I’ll raise our children during the week without him. Our son begins to draw black crayon helicopters labeled “Navy”, and says, “Yes, sir,” and “Aye, Captain” so many times his Waldorf teacher makes note of his comments on her mid-year report.
I was ll ½ when I left Illinois in a wooden camper my father built by hand. He moored it to the bed of a maroon 57 Chevy, painting the words “The Piano Doctor” in an arc above the plexi-glass windows. I loved our Illinois farmhouse: the rusted red pump by the juniper bush, the way the sky tinged green before the tornado, the root cellar with its hinged doors where we’d descend to sit out the storm. I’d run my hands over the jars of beets and carrots, sprigs of dill and capers floating between pale lime spears of cucumbers. Someday I would have such a cellar, my garden waiting in winter for my family to eat. We drove off that early morning towards California, my mother fretting about a pair of tablecloths still tumbling in the dryer she wanted to set out for the next tenant.
Spring break. After five months of straddling two cities, my husband drove us the ten hours to San Diego. Half way down, our acre’s grip began to loosen, for the ocean is the ocean all the way down the coast. We stopped in Shell Beach to visit my son’s godparents and headed for the dunes. The vast blue sky against the white backdrop of the sheer sand cliffs cleared my head. The children’s bodies, clothed in primary clothes, were as visible 1000 yards away as at 250.
The next day I sat on a bench outside the Navy Lodge, North Island, Coronado. Three helicopters circled in front of us. The kids abandoned their drip castles to watch the men dropping into the ocean and ascending in pairs slowly back up on invisible cable, as the questions flitted through my mind: Who will live in our house if we leave it behind? Who might we meet here? Who will we love? Who will we lose? The helicopters hovered side by side, then made their loops, all afternoon.
Later in the hotel room, I read about Tiny Broadwick, first woman to jump with a parachute out of an airplane in this area (on the airstrip behind us on base). How Charles Lindbergh started his infamous flight from New York to Paris from this runway. Between the beds on the floor, my son drew a picture for his father.
“Dad,” he says, “Check it out.”
I stole a glance at the red and blue helicopter, the obvious sun penciled in, a rainbow streaming from the other side. I didn’t take it as the burning bush anointing San Diego over our acre in the redwoods, but I couldn’t miss the simple truth that my son needs his father. Wether he’s a homeowner or a renter. Short fence or tall. In the fishbowl or out.
Photo by Robyn Beattie: www.robynbeattie.com