Many of you know that I own a nice little cabin tucked into a hillside in Tennessee. It is the Writer’s Retreat. About a month ago, thanks to the American NewMedia Education Foundation, I started a six-month mentoring program with two writers in SW VA. We went to the cabin and had a fun time writing and retreating (and eating) and left refreshed. One of the writers asked about going back out to the cabin from time to time. I explained where we hid the key and wished her well.
Last week another friend and I went to the cabin because it was nicer than the hotel offered by a conference we were attending. When I unlocked the door, it was evident someone had been staying there. A moldering cup of coffee on the table, pillows piled on the bed. Lots of canned food gone. A cigarette in an ashtray; I don’t allow smoking inside.
And in a sudden horrific downturn of discovery, the soap in the shower was wet.
“Someone’s been squatting,” said my friend Beth. “This is hobo living.” The peanut butter had been half-consumed by spoonfuls, the canned soups eaten, but in something between a funny and a poignant turn, the Indian ready meals of Saag Paneer and Tikka Masala were lying next to ripped-open boxes, unopened in their pouches.
“He can’t read,” Beth said. “He couldn’t follow the cooking directions.”
Indeed, the guy had used the microwave and coffepot but not the stove, and had in many ways indicated that life needed to be simple. I began to feel protective toward him.
“Maybe we should just leave the door unlocked when we leave. He’s not going to walk in while we’re here. He doesn’t want any trouble, hasn’t taken anything except the food.” As I spoke, Beth looked at me as if I’d grown two heads.
“You’re crazy, and not in a good way,” she replied.
We went back down the hill until we had Internet connection (about a mile from the cabin) to inform Jack of the break-in, in case our bodies were never found. Despite his urging, we stayed the night, and I still thought with sadness of the poor guy who just needed a place to crash. But I also shot a quick question to my writing friend who’d used the cabin last, just in case this was all made up in my head and they’d left things a little untidy.
The next day as the conference wound down, I had a reply from Lizbeth. Nope, it wasn’t them. Did that mean the bottle of New Zealand special vintage she’d left me was gone?
I scoured the cupboards. Nowhere waited a special bottle of Pinot Noir.
“Bastard! I hope he dies!” I shrieked to Beth. “We’re changing the locks tomorrow!”
There’s sharing with those in need, and there’s rare vintage. No more squatters in the Writer’s Retreat. But the funniest part of the story came when we went back yesterday to make good on changing those locks–
–and realized we hadn’t brought a key to get in. So Jack broke in so we could change them to break-in-proof ones. We will be the last people able to B&E my little writing retreat. That will make me feel safe when I’m out there writing.
And drinking good Pinot.