I like yard work as much as I like walking shin-first into a trailer hitch. Let’s just say that I’m not a meticulous man. I don’t iron my jeans, and I don’t worry about the length of my lawn.
Long grass never hurt anyone.
But wives feel differently about this. And, as it happens, so do neighborhood associations.
Anyway, long ago my lawn was out of control. The problem reached a crescendo when the neighborhood association noticed a family of raccoons building a summer cottage in my tall grass.
I was forced to evict the coons and start mowing regularly.
But one afternoon, my landscaping worries were over.
Enter Dillon. Dillon showed up on my porch, unannounced, with his mother.
He was a sixth-grader with a round face. The kind of chubby face I had at his age—which earned me the name, “Chip.” Which was short for “Chipmunk.” Which was short for “Slow-Moving Dodgeball Target.”
Dillon was shy. His mother nudged him and made him speak for himself. Dillon used a voice quiet enough to qualify as non-verbal.
“I’m starting a lawn service…” he said.
It took me three nanoseconds to answer, “You can start tomorrow.”
We agreed upon terms and conditions, and we shook on it.
“You were so brave, Dillon,” I heard his mother say when they left my porch. “I’m proud of you.”
I remember the look on his face when she said it. All little boys need someone to be proud of them.
He charged twenty bucks per cut. I paid him thirty. Dillon was as dependable as they came. Every Wednesday, he arrived pushing a mower.
Sometimes we talked. I’d ask how life was. He’d give wordy responses like, “Fine,” then dart away before any threat of actual conversation.
For nearly a year, things went famously. Then Dillon quit showing up.
I called his house. His grandmother answered. She said, “You mean he didn’t tell you?”
Doctors found a mass on his mother’s brain. They took her to Texas for treatment. His grandmother said that Dillon stayed with his mother morning and night. She told me Dillon slept in a chair beside her bed.
She gave me his new address. I sent a card. And for the most part, I haven’t thought about him for a long time.
Until a few days ago.
I was in Walmart, buying a set of grossly overpriced windshield wipers. A tall man said my name.
His face was not round anymore. He was holding a baby.
We talked. I asked about his mother. I recognized the distant smile on his face. I wear the same faraway look when anyone asks about my late father.
His mother died. He moved to Georgia to be raised by his uncle. And six years ago, he opened his own business.
He handed me his business card. It has a fancy logo.
He is a graphics designer.
He said, “I’ll never forget the day my mom told me to knock on your door. I was so scared.
“But she made me get over my fears. I think, deep down, she knew she wasn’t gonna be here, looking out for me.”
We shook hands. I told him that he’s wrong, of course. She will always be here, looking out for him.
Before we parted ways, he asked if I was serious.
“You really think people who die can actually see us?” he said.
No, Dillon, I don’t just think it.
By the way, I’m proud of you.
And so is she.