My mother is not paranoid. She just thinks everyone is out to get her.
Like any immigrant who moves to a strange country, Mom was at first frightened of her new home. That’s understandable.
But that was more than 40 years ago. And I could safely argue that she grew even more afraid over the years. Why, exactly, I can’t say.
After all, we lived in Watertown, Mass., a Boston suburb known more for its two malls and large Armenian community than its penchant for raw violence.
Perhaps it was the time she saw two men standing in our back yard at night. Or maybe it was her tendency, despite my exhortations, to faithfully watch the six o’clock news every evening.
If it bleeds, it leads.
Whatever the cause, we all felt (or should I say suffered?) the effects. Windows were closed with the shades pulled down, even in the summer. Light, natural or electric, was strongly discouraged. Trick-or-treaters ventured to our doorstep at their own risk.
Our doors sported a hodgepodge of locks, bolts and chains that only a medieval warlord could love. Each time I made my mandatory annual visit, I seemed to discover a new lock. Each lock was like a tree ring. You could figure out the year just by glancing at the front door.
Combined with Dad’s reluctance to spend money on heat, our house was particularly unforgiving in the winter.
“Dark and cold here in Azkaban,” my sister texted me once.
So scared was my mom that she refused to visit her sisters in China unless someone stayed in the house. Since she had not seen her family in decades, I volunteered to guard Azkaban for two weeks. (Guess the Dementors weren’t available.)
After their plane took off from Logan Airport, I promptly went to New York.
“Aren’t you worried something might happen to the house, like a burglary or a fire?” people would ask.
“Nah,” I replied. “It’s freakin’ Watertown. What could possibly happen?”
Last week, I woke up around a quarter to five in the morning. Unable to fall back asleep, I glanced at my Twitter feed.
“Boston bombing suspect killed in Watertown shootout. Second suspect on the loose.”
I called my parents. They had received a robocall around 2 a.m. from the police, who warned them to stay indoors and lock the doors.
It was as if my mom had prepared her entire life for this moment.
“Don’t go outside,” I stressed. “Lock the doors. Don’t open for the door for anyone unless it’s cop.”
“Stay inside?” she asked.
“But I need to get our trash barrel,” she said.
“Who gives a rip about the trash barrel?” I shouted. “Stay inside!”
“What about the newspaper?” she said.
Don’t go soft on me, I thought. If there was ever a time to indulge your worst instincts, Mom, now would be an excellent opportunity.
What good is paranoia if you don’t consistently use it?
In the end, as the FBI and police swarmed the neighborhood, my parents did what they do best. They hunkered down.
Around 4 p.m. that day, I called again.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Yes,” Mom said. “But I’m scared.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’ll be fine. Just don’t leave the house.”
“I not leave the house for next four days!” she vowed.
In other words, things were returning to normal.
Thomas Lee is a Star Tribune business reporter.