For Almost 22 Years of My Life, I Didn't Answer the Door


Growing up, an unexpected knock at our front door was received differently by parents. My dad hated it while my mom loved it. This caused a confusing divide in our family. Do we greet or retreat?

My mom loved when people came knocking so much that she would occasionally hear phantom knocking at the door. “Do you hear someone at the door,” she’d ask. To which I’d remind her, “No mom, we’re in the car.” Whether invited or not she relished in the opportunity to welcome guests into our home. I think this was in large part because entertaining gave her a reason to light the many candles that adorned our home. My mom had only one rule when it came to her candles. They were only to be lit for guests. Those of us living in the house, weren’t candle-worthy. “I don’t wanna waste a wick,” she liked to remind us.

My dad, on the other hand, chose to flee any time someone came knocking. Sometimes even when we invited them over. As my mom ran to the door like a kid on Christmas morning, my dad would jump up from his Lazy Boy recliner, hurry past her and say, “Don’t open it until I get downstairs, Eileen.” My dad treated an unexpected knock at our door like he had just heard tornado sirens. He hid in the basement (his man cave) to protect himself from being swooped up by a funnel cloud of socializing.

Although we were a house divided, when my mom wasn’t there, my brother and I didn’t answer the door. Instead we stuck to my dad’s plan of acting like no one was home. “Close those curtains,” he’d insist upon hearing footsteps walking up our front stairs. Then we’d all head downstairs to hide.

When my brother and I were home alone and someone came knocking, we assumed it was the end. Death was imminent. We’d hide and pray. This was the only time we embraced Catholicism. We’d huddle together and recite the Lord’s Prayer in a whisper hoping God would carry our souls to Heaven, a place I was told during catechism classes, was anything you wanted it to be. All I wanted it to be was a place where no one ever comes over unannounced.

For almost 22 years of my life, I didn’t answer the door. Unless it was a friend whom I was expecting. And even then they’d have to either call/text me when they arrived or yell through the door, “Hey Joleen, it’s (insert name of non-murdering friend).” It wasn’t until I saw my door response through the eyes of another outside of my immediate family that I realized this was an abnormal response.

During my senior years of college (I say years because it took me five to get my bachelor’s degree), I lived in an apartment with my then boyfriend. A few months after moving in, there was a knock at the front door of our apartment. Naturally, I froze and then hid behind our couch. I assumed my boyfriend would do the same. I was shocked when he started walking toward the door.“Where are you going? Just be quiet and they’ll go away,” I whispered. He ignored my request, walked to the front door and opened it. I couldn’t believe it. This dude was trying to kill me. I closed my eyes and just accepted the fact that I was destined to be an episode of ABC’s “20/20.”

After what seemed like an eternity, my boyfriend returned to the living room alone and asked, “Are you OK?” I shook my head no. He looked at me confused. “It was just our neighbor. He locked himself out and needed to use my phone. What are you so afraid of?” Without hesitation I replied, “Everything.” This was the first time I had ever been honest with anyone about my anxiety – even myself. I felt both ashamed and free at the same time.

Now, 14 years later, I have yet to shake all of my door demons. I am; however, finally able to answer the door (on occasion) when unexpected visitors come knocking. But I keep the metal screen door shut and locked just in case. I also throw in a piece of the Lord’s Prayer for added protection.

Give us this day, our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. I forgive you unsolicited guests.

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Thinkstock photo by magann

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