In the Spring of 2002, I was the mother of 3 small children. #1 was 5, #2 was 2, and #3 was funny-haired 6 month old. I loved my husband and my children, but I was incredibly lonely.
The only real friend I had had moved to Kentucky just before #3 was born. I missed my family. I missed my friend. I had no idea where to begin looking for people to fill in these gaps in my life. I prayed halfheartedly for God to send me someone, just one someone, with whom I could laugh, talk, and just be a girl instead of always only a mom. I just couldn't picture how it would look when she showed up. What exactly was God going to do, send her to my door like a loon with a big sign? What kind of desperate would I have to be to hang out with crazy people on my doorstep? Crazy and I are old acquaintances, and I've known him long enough to know that I don't need any more in my life.
During this time of painful loneliness, I would occasionally notice the white minivan of my neighbor down the street just sitting in her driveway. I had seen her at Halloween when the kids and I went Trick-or-Treating. Her husband had opened the door and handed out candy. He seemed friendly enough, but the look she gave me when I said 'hello' and commented on her new baby were a 'go to Hell' look if ever I've seen one. She was definitely not interested in being friends and seemed as if she really would prefer it if I never spoke to her again. I would have been happy to oblige her if it hadn't been for her darn minivan.
Her white van sat in her driveway and it didn't move. She never drove it to the store on errands or loaded the baby into it to meet her friends for lunch. It just sat there. Alone. There were never any other cars at her house either. Nobody came to visit and see the baby. There was no mother or grandmother bustling in and out with presents or groceries. There was just the car in the drive and the woman and baby in the house and they never went anywhere. Ever.
I'll never forget the day that she emerged. It was a surprisingly warm day for February, and all of the neighborhood kids were riding bikes in the street as their moms chatted and gossiped in little clumps on the sidewalks. It was a typical scene in Oklahoma where neighbors know each other by name and are friendly if not actually friends.
Into this boisterous scene walked the woman from up the street pushing her baby girl in a stroller which looked as if it had never before been outside of the house. She was wearing a black t-shirt and a wary look on her face. She silently pleaded with us to allow her to slip by unseen and unmolested. 'Please don't talk to me,' her eyes begged, but who was she kidding? Her baby was gorgeous and she was a curiosity. There was no way that a gaggle of Oklahoma women could let her slip by without a word.
The baby was 5 months old we learned, and her name was A. Her husband was in the Air Force. They'd been here for almost 6 months The neighbor lady answered all of our questions politely but with no embroidery. It was obvious that she wanted to just finish her walk as quickly as humanly possible and then slip back into the quiet of her house.
After she managed to break free from the Inquisition, we stood and discussed her the way a pack of women will. It was decided, discussed, and then decided on again that she was a 'poor thing' in the condescending way that Southern women say it, but that she had brought it mostly upon herself because she could have hung out with this whole great group if only she wanted to do so. It's funny to me now that we never considered the fact that she might not want to associate with us, but I never thought about it then. I just remember staring after her as she struggled to get the stroller back up onto the porch and I couldn't get the look in her eyes out of my mind.
“I'm going to invite her to lunch,” I told my neighbors. They laughed at me. I chickened out of course. How would I ever live it down if she said “No.”? I shrugged my shoulders and changed the subject, but my eyes kept straying back up the street to that white van in the driveway.
Early the next day, as he was dressing for work, I mentioned her to the Computer Guy. I asked for his opinion about maybe inviting her to lunch after all. “In my experience,” he said, “there are just some people in this world who simply like to be left alone. Did it ever occur to you that she might be one of them?” It hadn't.
He left for work and the rest of the morning was dull and routine. Finally, around one o'clock I could take it no longer and decided to put the children in the wagon and drag them around the block. I made it to the end of my driveway when I saw her house. I made up my mind in that moment that no woman ever really wants to be a hermit, and I pulled that red wagon full of children up the sidewalk to her front porch. I had no idea what I would even say as I knocked on the door, but I do know that I almost hoped she wouldn't answer. Then she did.
Her tired gaze met mine across that open doorway. I smiled to myself in recognition. She didn't look unfriendly to me, just tired and overwhelmed. I plastered on my friendliest expression, calmed my knocking knees, and then told her that she was expected the next day for lunch at my house. I didn't even ask her, just told her to come and assumed that she would. I think my bossiness startled her so much that it didn't even occur to her to say no. She just nodded her head and gave me a funny look. I'm not sure she knew quite what to think of me. The whole exchange took about 5 minutes and then I turned to go, but not before calling out over my shoulder, “I'm making mac and cheese. Tomorrow's Ash Wednesday and we're Catholic, so if you want meat, then bring your own.”
How could she resist?
Part 2 tomorrow