It was a glorious fall afternoon when I took my youngest son, then four, on a quick trip to the hardware store. I was preparing to paint some baseboards in the house.
He was playing his favorite video game: Banjo Kazooie.
“You’ll have to pause that,” I told him. “We have to go buy some paint supplies. You can play it when we get back.”
“Okay,” he replied with good humor, “I’ll put it on the Eyes.”
The Eyes meant the pause screen where these colorful creatures called Jinjos just sit, blinking their big eyes.
My boy loved the Eyes. Would often pause the game just to watch them.
I could not see why the Eyes were so enthralling, but… moms are busy people, and I had things to do.
He paused his game with a last loving look at the Eyes, and off we went.
The round trip took about fifty minutes.
Upon arriving home, I thought it odd that a random piece of wood was lying on the back deck. It wasn’t there when we left…
Odder still: the back door standing ajar.
And that the bottom of it had been split wide open… hence that random piece of wood, and more pieces, in the doorway.
I couldn’t quite make sense of it.
I stepped into the house.
The comforter from my little boy’s bed lay in a heap in the middle of the living room. The soft blues, green, yellows, and oranges so out of place, there…
The TV was gone.
And the Nintendo.
In those split seconds, you don’t think I am currently messing up a crime scene, here in my house.
You think, What am I seeing? What has happened here? How much more…?
You go running room to room to find out.
It took only seconds to ascertain. All the TVs, gone. Older son’s gaming system, gone. Husband’s desktop computer, too. One pillowcase from my bed gone; bedclothes rumpled and mattress shifted where…where someone must have run hands underneath (do people really hide cash under their mattresses nowadays?).
My wedding rings still lying on the dresser in plain sight (I was planning to paint, remember) but the closet door open and my husband’s jewelry box, containing some of his deceased father’s cufflinks along with the shells from the twenty-one gun salute at the military funeral…gone.
“Mama! Mama!” My son’s voice, in the living room.
I race back down the hall.
He’s standing, facing the spot where the TV used to be. He looks up at me, confused:
“Where are the Eyes?”
That’s when it all snapped into focus:
“I have to call the police, honey. Bad strangers came and took the Eyes…”
Shortly after that is when the nightmares started. They lasted long beyond the years of child night terrors. Waking up believing someone was in the room, when no one was.
He couldn’t understand it, why bad strangers would come and take the Eyes. He asked over and over: “Why?”
We eventually replaced the Nintendo, eventually got another Banjo Kazooie game.
But a young, tender psyche paid a price. It was violated, just as our home was violated.
Bad strangers haunted his dreams for years.
One might expect that he’d grow up hardened, possibly angry, understandably mistrustful.
He is none of those things. The nighttime xenophobia never diminished the brightness of his being.
In his twenties now, my son is a gentle spirit. Kind, quiet and deliberate, with a quick, razor-sharp wit. He’s our musician, listening over and over to rhythms and patterns and chords that he can replicate on a number of instruments. A singer, a natural harmonizer; I know he hears things many of us do not, or maybe it’s just that he hears them differently and more beautifully. At seventeen, he achieved a childhood dream: He got a position as a church music director.
He’s recently left it for another calling. A full-time job, see.
Part of it involves going into people’s homes to take away something precious.
I don’t imagine many young people dream of going into the funeral home business but that is what my youngest has chosen. He refers to it as “a ministry.” He now encounters strangers in their time of greatest need, speaks words of comfort to them, enters their homes, and helps to carry their loved ones away for final arrangements. On these “death calls” he leaves our house wearing a tie, dressed in his best, out of respect for the strangers he will encounter and their dead.
He is at peace with himself and with others. A calming presence.
It occurs to me that the opposite of xenophobia is philoxenia, “friend to strangers.” It is the basis of the Biblical word translated as hospitality.
A good stranger, then, to the people he encounters. Once he saw an elderly lady with a walker eating alone in a restaurant; he paid for her meal along with his own, and left without telling her.
My precious boy, overcoming the darkness, being a light in so many ways… has it ever occurred to you that you are the Eyes.
To this day, the boy loves “the Eyes” – he even has a stuffed collection of Jinjos.
In the video game Banjo Kazooie, the player must find where the witch has hidden the Jinjos, and rescue them.
The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 24, I am writing around a word beginning with letter x.