What to do when you find a man sleeping in your car…
(Or Ben’s Prayer)
This is how it went down.
Just a regular Tuesday morning. My husband, Carlos, had to go to L.A. (yeah, that day only) for business and had left crazy early in the morning. So it’s just me and my son, Ben, and the bright early morning sun. Or so I thought.
We ambled down the stairs toward our car talking about the big decision looming in his life: Does he stick with his Stormtrooper costume on Halloween or is it time to graduate to the zombie costume?
So I was not on high alert when I went to put the key in my door. Huh, I looked inside my front seat. I sure am messy—I thought. I gotta stop living out of my car.
I looked closer—hmmm, I’m not that messy. There was a little warzone in my car. The insides had been tossed everywhere. Lost makeup from 14 years ago was on the dashboard, papers from the glove compartment were all over the passenger seat, an old earring, envelopes, stamps, meditation CDs and a box of kids’ Band-Aids were strewn all over the driver seat, and a bracelet from 1988 was on the headrest.
The wheels started turning in my head. Someone has been in my car. So I looked in the backseat.
Correction. Someone is IN my car. And he just woke up.
I screamed—and then the next few minutes went by slooooowy. I called for Ben to go back up the stairs and run to the backyard. I cursed myself for not double-checking the locks the night before. Then I stood there.
Yeah. I stood there. (My best friend yelled at me about this later: Why didn’t I run—after all, he could have been a crazed, drugged-out maniac? I had no answer. Some weird instinct took over.)
The man, about 35, sort of skater-ish with a hoodie and ball cap, was in a bit of a panic. Clearly, he had not intended to be found. We had a standoff. Part of me wanted to go get him a meal (yeah, old social worker habits die hard), part of me wanted to take a picture (I think because that’s what I would do in a car accident—but I don’t fully get why I had this impulse), and part of me wondered what might happen if he became violent.
And he was still inside my car and I was still outside my car. I gave him a look like: So—whatcha gonna do my friend?
Nothing. Then I realized I had a phone in my hand, and that this would be a highly appropriate time to dial 911.
“911. What is your emergency?”
“Um, I sort of have a man in the backseat of my car.”
“You have a what in the backseat of your car?” She asked, deadpan.
“A man. An unplanned man. I mean, I don’t know him.”
And then the man began to get out of my car. Finally.
He looked at me. I looked at him.
“What… are you doing?” I asked.
He shrugged and said in an entirely unconvincing manner, “I thought it was my truck.”
Oh, you thought it was your truck, huh? Is that why you took all my papers and personal items and tossed them around like confetti? (I didn’t say this but I thought it very loud.)
Then he slowly began to make his way down the block. All the while, I was describing him to the 911 operator. Then I looked in the backseat. He’d had a good old party in the back.
He left his cell phone behind. I picked it up. Dead battery. He also had smoked a pack of cigarettes and had a Big Gulp—and it smelled. Of something. I don’t know what.
A few minutes later the police arrived. They looked for him but found nothing; they scolded me for touching the phone (it’s evidence, you know). They took the report and gave me a phone number to call if he showed up again or if I found something of significance was stolen.
I got in my car with my son and we were sort of shell-shocked. We began our drive to school knowing my son would be a half-hour late.
“So,that was weird,” he says.
“Yeah, not something that happens every day,” I say.
“That was way not right of that man, right Mom?”
I’m searching for the lesson, the silver lining.
I decided to tell him that yes, it was not right for the man to enter our car, look for things to steal and take a nap—but most likely, he was in a bad way if that’s what his life is about. Now my son is usually very quick to get philosophical, to talk about god, to think of praying and to generally torment me with a host of existential questions I can’t answer. (My latest favorite: “Mom, why don’t they have a period for praying during school and everyone can pray in their own way, or if they don’t want to pray they can go be with a tree which is sort of like praying anyway?”)
We continued the drive in silence.
“Mom, I feel like we should do something, what should we do?”
I thought. What do you do when you find a man in the back of your car? I had to admit I was at a wise-mom loss. I had nothing. Then it hit me. “Say a prayer for him?”
He nodded in the backseat. Yes, a prayer. That was a good idea.
So I began.
My prayer was this: “Dear god, I hope that the man meets the right people who will help him turn his life around and that he will be able to find a job that makes him happy and have his own home eventually. And also find people that love him.” Amen.
Ben’s prayer: “Dear god, please help my Mom get better at locking the car doors.”
Fair enough, my boy. Fair enough.