I remember the morning he rang the doorbell sometime after one, waking me and the dog and everyone else. Your bell rings that time of night, you know it’s either trouble or bad news.
The kid was no more than seventeen, short and thin and scraggly-looking. I cracked the door and he said, “You seen my dog, Sir?”
I told him I hadn’t and neither did anyone else, whole neighborhood asleep and most of the woods, and a kid who goes around knocking at doors this time of night is looking to get killed, dog or no. Especially a kid stoned out of his mind. He said yessir and sorry sir and went on his way.
I knew where he lived, down the next block in the big red house most of the people around here know to be cursed and maybe is. The family who last moved out of there did so out of necessity. The father gone to jail and the mother gone to rehab, their kids scattered. Even here drugs are plentiful, their pull just as strong as in any fancy city. I knew the father well, watched him turn from aspiring businessman to addict and watched his money disappear right along with his hair and weight and teeth. He told me after he moved in that the builder, a preacher in town, stamped the heads of all his nails with scripture verses. Said it felt good to live in such a house. Might bring luck, he said. It didn’t.
The boy was shooting hoops in the road when I walked by with the dog that next day. He never said a word to me and I never said a word back. My dog growled, but that was all. The boy didn’t know who I was and never had a clue he’d stood on my porch the night before, rousing us all and nearly getting himself shot. His eyes were wide as moons and bloodshot. For every two steps he took, one was a stumble. A man down the street paused in his mowing to say hello. He shook his head at the boy and said, “House got a curse.” I told him about the heads of those nails, how they’d all been stamped with Jn 3:16 and Phil 4:12. The man just chuckled and went back to cutting his grass.
The big news here is the high schooler who got himself killed in a wreck a couple weeks back. Ran his car off the road. There may have been a telephone pole or an old oak involved. No one knows for sure. It was early when it happened, after midnight.
The red house filled up with cars and people, neighbors paying their respects. It’s a tragedy when life stops so short and cuts down someone so young. What went unsaid was how inevitable it all felt. Kid like that, always stoned or high or drunk, the sort who goes out knocking on doors at night. Something horrible was bound to happen. I think maybe so.
I’ve noticed the neighborhood kids giving the red house a wide berth now. They’ll scooch their bikes and skateboards to the other side of the road until that pass that house, won’t use the basketball goal. Word of the curse is getting around. If I allow my backwoods nature to get the better of me, I will admit the whole place does carry a heavy feeling. Like that house is full now but it’ll get hungry again soon enough.
I know that’s not true. Not to say there aren’t such things as curses, because there are. That young man, he was cursed. I watched hundreds of cursed people in Baltimore lately, looting and setting buildings on fire. Saw pictures of cursed cops, too. It’s not limited to place or race or economic standing. That curse is everywhere. It’s even you. Even in me. The more I watch the news and look down my quiet little street, the more I see it. Feel and know it. All it selfishness or apathy or sin, we’re all infected. We see the symptoms, but the curse is something I’ve missed only until recently.
That’s how people and neighborhoods and societies act when they have lost their hope. When they look into the mirror or peer into their tomorrows and see nothing looking back. And you know what? Such a thing can’t be fixed with money or policy. Can’t be fixed in Washington.
It has to be fixed in us.