A stranger comes to the door to install a security system but ends up helping a mother reconnect with her son.
I look out the peephole and see a man with striking features, pale skin, closely shorn silver hair, and an otherworldly calm. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he’s an angel come to save me. But I do know better—I don’t need saving. I need a home security system and this guy’s the company rep.
“Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.” He extends his hand as I open my front door, “I’m Matt, ICU Security.”
After nearly losing myself in the startling blue of his eyes, I pull it together and describe our recent break-in and my resultant frayed nerves. Matt nods, “So how can I help you today?” Something about his composure compels me to admit that I live alone with my 20-year-old son and have started to feel vulnerable, angry, and outnumbered by his partying friends climbing over the gate in the middle of the night. I’m ashamed of both my boy’s disregard for my feelings and my own failure to take control.
“But he’s not like them,” I blurt. “He’s assured me he doesn’t use drugs. His dad was an addict, so I’m on heightened alert.”
“I think addiction runs in my family, too,” Matt’s eyes turn steely grey and I’m reminded of how little I really know.
The following morning, he and his crew arrive to install the cameras. By day’s end, I can log onto my iPhone or iPad and see my front and back yards. I do feel more secure. Plus, Matt calls every few weeks inquiring whether the system is performing as it should. He always concludes our brief conversations with the reminders, “I’m here if you need me. Don’t hesitate to call.” I’m not sure what to make of those kind offerings, but I’m sure I like hearing them.
One night a loud noise awakens me at 3:00am. I log onto the cameras and see—and watch—my son smoking and drinking. All night. Alone. Till dawn. With each passing night, camera footage reveals more and more hard truths. Shock yields to a sense of urgency and I know I have to act. But I’m paralyzed with fear that if I confront my son, I’ll lose him forever.
The next time Matt calls, words I’ve held close rush out like water from a burst dam, “I thought he didn’t drink alcohol—or do drugs—his father—cocaine—.” They soon tangle into sobs, “Matt!! My boy…a problem…every night…I’m scared” I confess, hoping that by telling those truths, he and his cameras will magically protect us.
Matt doesn’t interrupt as I rant about trust and betrayal and genetics. I continue talking until our family’s addiction history has been told and re-told from beginning to end.
He says he’s “truly sorry” the cameras yielded such disturbing results. He also says that he can tell from my concern that I’m a “good mom,” much like his own.
He can? That’s a laugh.
After my divorce, I’ve become so consumed with figuring out who I needed to be for my kids, that I forgot to notice who they are. Playing the roles of both good cop and bad doesn’t leave much time for their problems.
“Talk to him. Listen to what he has to say,” Matt offers.
“What? I can’t. He’ll be furious I saw what I saw. What if he runs away?”
“He won’t. Talk to him tonight. I’ll be there.”
Be here? What’s the catch? Strangers neither say, nor mean, those things.
“Tell me what time to come. I’ll park outside and hold the perimeter. If he runs, I’ll follow him and make sure he’s safe.”
“I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You don’t have to. You need help and I want to help you.” Then he guarantees me, as if he really truly knows, “Everything will be ok. Remember, you’re a loving mother. You’re doing your job. You’ll give him what he needs to start making good choices.”
And so I cry rivers of gratitude and wonder if maybe, just maybe, his being out there will allow me to lower my defenses—to blame less and listen more. To ask my son how are you doing, rather than what are you doing.
We meet in the den at 6:00 pm and almost simultaneously a silver Honda pulls up and parks. I see the crisp outline of Matt’s head in the driver’s seat, inhale this stranger’s faith in me, and exhale my own self-doubt.
“Sit down, Zach… I have some things to show you.” While I play the security videos, I check the Honda. It’s right there. Holding the perimeter. Holding my perimeter. My shoulders relax.
“I want to help you.” I repeat Matt’s words, knowing from experience how good they feel to receive, surprised by the gentle calm in my voice.
Zach stares at his hands, then fumes “You’re spying on me?! Are you kidding me?
I check on the Honda again. Still outside, somehow enlarging the safe space around me. I’m doing my job. Zach’s furious at me. It’s going to be ok.
“You’ve violated my trust,” I say.
“You’ve violated my privacy!!” he screams.
“You have no privacy in my house!” We take our respective corners, posturing for the mother of all explosions. Sparks of rage prickle my skin, and I know my words will soon fuel an inferno of fiery tirades.
“Mom! You can NOT spy on me! What’s wrong with you?!”
Me? What’s wrong with ME? Don’t You DARE turn this around…. I almost yell but stop myself, remembering that I don’t have to go there. Thoughts of Matt’s iridescent eyes bring me back into the room.
And I see the scene as if for the first time: here’s a mom who loves her son, yet who’s overwhelmed and under prepared to deal with his drug using. And there’s her son: a kid, a good kid who makes risky choices, who’s trying to find his way, who’s definitely scared and cornered and …. caught.
I speak to my boy softly, riding an outpouring of love from my heart, “Talk to me….. Please. I’ll listen. Yes, you’re in trouble, and yes I still love you.”
I watch his body relax. His face becomes less tense. We sit at the table quietly; saying nothing is like saying something.
After a while, he looks up at me.
We hug in a way that feels like a beginning.
And as we do, the Honda’s red tail lights shine through my window quickly fading off into the darkness.