When we hear footsteps on the front porch, we await the ringing of the doorbell. This past weekend, in the middle of the night, we weren't awake to hear those footsteps. The first sound of the bell made my wife and I imagine there had been some sort of power outage, and that wink of electricity had set off our mild security system. Then it rang again. This was really someone on the porch.
I rose from the bed, and my wife called after me, "Make sure you use the chain."
I assured her that I would, but first I was going to put on my robe. That would give me the warmth I needed as well as giving me the extra few seconds to clear my head for this operation. When I got to the door, however, my wife was already there.
"Who is it?" she called through the closed door. She wasn't using the chain.
I stopped and listened along with her. The voice on the other side let us know that it was the teenager from down the street. He had been on our porch a few times recently, looking for a calm place in the storm of adolescence. This was a change from years past when he was running an errand for his mother who needed to borrow a cup or sugar of a couple eggs. Or maybe he was just out walking his dog and stopped by to see if our son was home. And if our son, impossibly older by five years, wanted to play.
On this late night, he wasn't there to play. He needed a place to rest. He had been out on the streets for hours, locked out of his house. Now with the door opened to receive our neighbor my wife and I kept our concerns to ourselves, even though we had so many questions. Where was his mother? Why didn't he use his key? Was there someone we should be calling? Where had he been for all those hours that preceded midnight?
He didn't want to talk much. He looked as tired as we felt, and so my wife set about making up the bed in the back room for him. When she came back, I went and brought back a glass of grape juice that seemed like a caring gesture. That's when my wife texted his mother.
There was little more to discuss. It was time for sleep, and the details would be sorted out in the morning.
In the morning there was a note on the bed. Two actually. One was the draft of the more legible one that thanked us for the place to rest and that he didn't want to wake us. Again. He had gone out the back door to a friend's house once the sun was up.
Shortly after that, we got a call from his mother, filling in the blanks. The trouble he was in. The challenges she had been having. The challenges he had been having. The challenges of a single mother and her son. She thanked us for the safe place we gave her son.
And we wonder if that bell will ring again.