by Dolley Madison
I stepped outside after another week’s end. It was Friday afternoon, and I took my coffee to sit at one of my favorite spots–the back porch. The air was warm, humid, and still, without even a hint of a refreshing breeze.
And I was feeling suffocated–but not because of the weather.
As I sat to collect my thoughts about the coming weekend, I was interrupted by a little voice–my daughter’s–asking if she could ride her bike around the cul-de-sac. She’d finished the two-page “report” we’d had her write about why she must tell her mom and dad where she’s going–that was after being grounded for the better part of a week for not doing so.
I thought it was time to let her play outside again. So I told her to go tell her dad where she was going and reminded her to stay nearby. And she left on her bike.
That’s when I saw the truck–it was driving past our house toward the cul-de-sac. Then it turned around and headed back in our direction, lingering as it reached our house. I quickly went inside and asked my husband whether he could see our daughter her through the window. He said he could–she was riding with the other kids.
Everything was fine. But a decent parent has an instinct about when to pay attention, while also learning to trust their child.
I have reason to wonder about a truck is cruising slowly by our house. My husband is on our state sex offender registry for a crime committed in 1982. Are they being nosy? Do they want to take pictures? Do they want know how we live? Do they want to hurt us?
And I think about the restrictions that keep us from easily relocating. It’s not because we don’t have the money or because we’re tied to a house, to family who live locally, or to local jobs. Exploring other options would be wonderful–my husband was recently laid off because of a slowdown in manufacturing, and the economy and the opportunities are better elsewhere.
But packing up and moving isn’t a viable option. It would mean literally hundreds of phone calls to prospective landlords. It would mean having to again overcome a negative reputation with new neighbors–after years, we’ve finally established some level of trust with our current ones.
It also would mean a new police department that could decide to target us by knocking at any hour to inspect our house. That might mean waking up my daughter late on a school night, as our current department has done. They might stop my husband in his driveway with our daughter strapped into the carseat, which they’ve also done.
My mom lives with us too, and I think of the new people that we’d meet if we moved. That should be a positive thought, but it would be a risk and burden to explain our situation to new acquaintances. We’d want to be up front so that people could respect and accept us. But there’s no guarantee they would.
And there would be even more of the nagging feeling that we’re being left out because of our situation. We never know whether one or all of us weren’t invited to something for some innocent reason or because they want nothing to do with us. I question and scrutinize other people’s intentions three times as much as I used to. I generally enjoy people and am a communicative person. But I don’t feel as relaxed in getting to know people as I once did.
The thick mid-summer air gives just a little, and I look over my shoulder to watch our beautiful, carefree child pedal down the road, her hair blowing against the wind, free to ride. A brief uninterrupted feeling of privacy, normalcy, and peace takes over.
And then I comprehend that there isn’t the slightest chance of being as free as I once was. The next strange vehicle will pass by, the next episode of police pounding at the door will begin, we’ll turn down the next job opportunity because we can’t move, and the next acquaintance or friend will pull away and we’ll wonder why.
It’s not paranoia. I’m far from paranoid. It’s life when your family’s address shows up publicly as the place where someone portrayed as a monster lives, and it’s truly suffocating. How long will this much of my own and my family’s freedom be sacrificed?
A decent society holds people accountable for poor decisions. And once they’ve paid their debt, a good society restores their freedoms