Clutching the Memory of Two Abusers

I don’t know why these things always happen on the nights I think I need some extra relaxation.

I had decided to go to bed early one night this week. Marnell was working late (remotely from home) and I had a full day of work the next day, the first I had agreed to do since getting sick. (I work in home health “as needed.”) Around 8:15, I started thinking of taking my medicine and preparing for bed.

As if on cue, the doorbell rang.

It was Janice. She wanted ice cream.

In her hand she held a battered metal table knife.

“Can your husband come help me break into my house? My neighbor locked me out. She always does that.”

“Marnell is working,” I said a bit crisply. “Don’t you have a key?”

“Our landlord never gave us a key,” she said. “And my neighbor upstairs locks me out. I banged on the door and she said ‘Who’s there?’ and when I said my name she didn’t say anything and didn’t open the door.”

I stared at her. I’m a creative person with a good imagination. But I’m not sure that I would have ever imagined a scene like this.

“Jim from the back of the house is gone,” she said. “Otherwise he would do it. He does it all the time.”

Wait. What? How does a person routinely get locked out of their own house and routinely get a man named ‘Jim’ to break in? How does everyone know how to break into houses, anyway?

“Well, call your landlord,” I said.

“I don’t have a phone,” she said.

Of course. I knew this. She didn’t know his number either, but it so happens that Marnell vaguely knows the landlord. I went and got the number from him, and Janice left an angry message on the landlord’s voice mail.

“He didn’t answer,” she said.

“Well, we aren’t breaking into anyone’s house,” I assured her. “Go back and if the landlord calls, we’ll let him know what’s happened. You can get inside, right?”

It was a little chilly that night, even though she had a coat. But for some reason I assumed that the locked door was the door to her apartment, not the door into the house.

“No!” she said. “It’s the outside door she locked.”


“Well, maybe you should call the police,” I suggested. “Just wait while I go talk to Marnell. He’s working from home.”

Well, Marnell called the landlord, who called the upstairs tenant. He told her to open the door. Janice left our house.

About 7 minutes later, I heard wails coming up the sidewalk.

Seconds later, she was back on our porch, her cat trailing behind her.

“She will not let me in,” she wailed. “She’s an evil person.”

Whenever someone oversimplifies the cures for humanities ills, I want to invite them into a situation like this one.

Marnell called the landlord again. The landlord, understandably, was not happy, but promised to call the tenant back.

“I’m waiting here until he gets an answer,” Janice insisted.

“But what if she opened the door, but you weren’t there?” I asked.

“Okay,” she said, heading back down the sidewalk.

About seven minutes later, the landlord checked in with Marnell to see if all was well.

“She hasn’t come back,” Marnell said. “So I guess.”

Just as he said this, I heard the wailing.

I’m not making this up. She really comes wailing down the sidewalk, which we can hear through closed windows.

“I hear her,” I called to Marnell. “She’s back.”

The landlord was at the end of a bad day, but he said he would be out in 20 minutes. This left nothing for me but to have Janice in the house for 20 minutes. She came in, as is her wont, and sat down on the mat inside the door. With her came the oppressive odor of cigarette smoke, cats, unwashed clothes and bodies, dilapidated house. I went to get a bowl so she could break into the ice cream.

“You can sit on the couch,” I said.

“This is fine,” she said.

Marnell brought her a folding chair and put it in front of the fireplace, which was a better idea than mine. Still, she stayed on the mat. I should have offered the kitchen table, because she has agreed to sit there before.

I made her some hot chocolate – why would anyone want ice cream in the cold? In the kitchen, I took some medicine with a little food, then went over to chat with her. We talked a bit, and I asked her about her brother and ex-husband who had both died recently.

“You saw the obituary?” she said.

“Just on the internet,” I said. “But maybe I can print it out.”

I printed her the two obituaries. She stared at the obituary photos in amazement. She reverently folded the papers to tuck into her coat, since it was raining now.

After awhile, the landlord notified us that he had taken the lock off the front door, much to the dismay of the tenant upstairs, who told him that now anyone could come in.

“You should have thought of that when you locked your neighbor out,” the landlord said.

Janice went home with her precious papers commemorating the lives of two men she had known well: the brother who sexually abused her repeatedly and took much of her share of the inheritance, and her ex-husband who kicked her down a flight of stairs. Yet she treasured these papers more than the ice cream and hot chocolate.

“I wonder if that smell will be gone by morning,” I asked Marnell. The heavy stench stayed behind even after Janice left.

“Maybe you should burn a candle,” he said.

“I’m going to bed,” I said.

I call the stench and interruption an inconvenience. Janice is at home clutching the obituaries of two bad men.


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What a fun night last night at a book signing in Odon, Indiana, in Tom Kirkman’s home area! We were too busy to take many pictures. I made fudge from Mamie Eisenhower’s favorite recipe, but forgot to take any pictures. We got to hear all kinds of wonderful stories from Tom’s friends and family. It was great!

5 thoughts on “Clutching the Memory of Two Abusers”

  1. Katrina. Your neighbors! I’m sorry I so enjoy hearing about them because it means a sacrifice from you.
    God bless you.
    Those neighbors are going to love your baby! Babies soften hearts like nothing else. I’m almost ashamed to admit I can hardly wait to see what all happens. (You’re allowed to feel a little cross at me for that comment.)

  2. It is so sad when the good in life is the best of the worst experiences in life. My heart goes out to Janice. And to her cat.

  3. This line is gold: “Whenever someone oversimplifies the cures for humanities ills, I want to invite them into a situation like this one.”
    It would do us all good to experience what you experienced here.

    1. I’m with you. It’s getting chopped in my quote book, along with the tag- “for the times when anyone who doesn’t want to get their hands dirty with our inner- city work tells me how easy these problems could be fixed…”

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