who was that guy

tuesday 5  july 2011              (new post)

a little preamble…    Just heard a story on the radio, another interview with another soldier in afghanistan. He says he’s not re-upping anymore after this tour. Doesn’t want to “get to the point where I have no respect for humanity anymore.”  And he says he’s close. I understand this man completely, and anyone like him. A soldier has one kind of trauma and emotional strain. I’ve had different kinds, far removed from battle and war. Others I’ve known have had different kinds yet again.  It doesn’t matter what the traumas are, what the overwhelming emotional strains are … there are hundreds of different kinds, I’m sure. What matters is that there are people, and I’m in that group, who break under this weight, and break for good. This soldier is aware that this could happen to him. I’m aware that it has happened to me. No respect for humanity as a species left. Not since 2008. None. And I’m fine with that. I wouldn’t have been fine with it in 2007, to despise the human race to the degree that I do now, but as of 2008, my conscience regarding humans gets shut off whenever I choose to flip the switch. My life brought this about. The ice-cold actions and words of other people brought this about.

This particular guy was my own age, or maybe slightly older, and I’m going to be blunt and say that his face was rather ugly. I didn’t like to look at his face. I never saw this guy until the very end of June in 2008. It’s certainly possible that he was in greenfield before that time, but if he was, he never ended up near enough for me to notice him until that time. I thought he was one of the many older, low-income alcoholics that live in greenfield and turners. His clothes were old and often not very clean, hair always just slightly greasy. At the end of June, he took to sitting on the bench in front of the health of food store and saying hello to me, though he never asked me for any cigarettes or money, as certain others did. By the end of June I was extremely sensitive to faces and bodies on this particular bench, because it’s the place where Matthew and some of his pals so often sat. When a new face appeared there, I noticed. The first day this guy was sitting there and said Hi to me, I noticed everything about him, and that he was new to me.

I didn’t think he had anything to do with my situation. Most people didn’t — it was only certain ones. I thought he was just a drinker who had perhaps lived in greenfield for a long time and only recently taken a liking to that bench. I tried to be pleasant to him, because I felt sad, not about his presumed drinking problem, but about the ugliness of his face. It both repelled and saddened me. A couple of times I sat down beside him if there was room, smoked a cigarette with him, and talked about innocuous things like the weather or the mayor or whatever. He was just this ugly, down-and-out man that I tried to be nice to, though I certainly never sought him out. If he was around, I was nice.

All of that changes on Sunday 13 July. I go to the health food store shortly before ten to wait for them to open so I can have breakfast. This is a routine for me on most Sundays, since the health food store is the only place in the center of greenfield where I can pay for my meals with food stamps. Lots of other low-income people go there for the same reason. Well he’s there too, and another guy, on the bench, waiting for ten o’clock. I begin the usual empty, meaningless social chit-chat. And then he jolts me. I happen to be looking right at his face, sitting right beside him, when he says, in a slightly taunting tone: You have a daughter, don’t you? I’m completely upset by this question, try to hide it, and pretend I didn’t hear. I return to whatever subject it was we were on before he shot that question out of nowhere. But he won’t let me ignore it. He asks the question again, the nastiness in his tone having increased. I’m angry. I say a very terse Ya and look away from him. I’m about to get up off the bench, but he has more to say: Well you can be my mother now. I don’t look at him when he says this, and I do get up. He’s not finished. Did you hear me, he asks, I said you can be my mother now. Whatever, I say to him. Someone unlocks the door of the store and I go in, making sure I don’t go anywhere near this ghoul while I’m in there.

Please bear in mind that at this point in time it’s only been eleven days since Matthew said the kill-word to me. Not enough time for me to process this stuff. It’s only been three days since the white-haired man. And while I’m still trying to process comes this stranger saying these things. He is a stranger. I buy my food with the question repeating in my mind: How does he know I have a daughter? This question is both valid and sane. I’ve only been living in greenfield for four months. Most of the people I’ve met there know almost nothing about my life before the eviction, including that I have a daughter. She lives in another state, we haven’t spoken in two years, and I just don’t tell most people that she even exists. Nor do I tell them much of anything that doesn’t directly bear on the landlady, the eviction, the animals, and the DMH. So how in the hell does he know, and why does he put that emphasis on the word daughter? Why does he say I can be his mother now, again with the emphasis on a certain word?

I ponder this during my breakfast. I ponder some more after I leave and go walking, for the sake of the blood sugar. I can perceive this man’s remarks, in light of what Matthew has told me, in only one way: this is some kind of threat against my daughter. This is my intellectual conclusion, but my psyche certainly doesn’t want to accept it, and so I push it away by thinking about other things. Denial. I cannot always defeat denial.

Later in the day I leave my rented room a second time to get lunch, and Matthew shows up and invites me over. I’m well steeped in my denial now, and have not thought about this stranger and his words for hours. I go to Matthew’s and am there two hours before this man comes to the surface again, and it only happens because Matthew and I have got back onto the subject of people wanting to hurt me. I’m asking him more questions, trying, and not succeeding, to get more information out of him. Then I remember the ugly guy and the things he said. Denial is, for the moment, overcome.

And what about this ugly coot this morning, I ask my Matthew. I’ve only been seeing him for a couple of weeks. What’s he all about? Why did he say those things about my daughter? How does he even know I have one? Then Matthew asks some questions of his own. When did this happen, and where. What does this guy look like, and exactly what did he say. After we go all through it, I take another of my infrequent stands: I want to know if she’s all right, I say. And I know you can find that out for me. Find out. I want to know. As I recall, I didn’t have to do too much demanding before he said Okay. Then he said, let’s go outside. I’m already used to the stupid cloak-and-dagger way Matthew does things. I’ve met the weird radio. Before I stop talking to him later that summer, I will meet the weird VCR, which eventually replaces the radio. I watch the posing in front of the window every bloody time I go there. When he says Let’s go outside, I don’t even bother to ask why.

There’s a square table in the backyard with two chairs. He says we sit there, and so we do. We sit for what seems ages in the heat, and in my restlessness to know about my daughter. At last a young guy comes out of Matthew’s building from the front door, carrying a big circle of garden hose around his shoulder. He watches Matthew as he walks from the front of the house to the back. Matthew makes a hand signal at him, and the guy goes back inside through the back door. I hate this stuff. I say Now that you’ve made your little signal to your little pal, can we go back in to the air conditioning? Not yet. So we sit some more. Finally he says we can go in.

When we get there, I ask him if my daughter’s okay. He says we have to wait a bit. He lies down on the floor and I park on the futon. We talk, and sounds are coming from upstairs. This doesn’t throw me. I’ve heard footsteps in the upstairs of Matthew’s apartment before. This time it’s a squeaking chair. Someone is sitting in it, making little movements that cause the chair to squeak. After about seven noises, Matthew comes out with a question, a disingenuous, phony question: What is that creaking noise? I bite, as always. It’s a butt sitting in a squeaky chair. I better go see who it is, he says. He goes upstairs and stays there a little while, then comes back down with a red face, sniffles, and wet eyes. He dashes right into the bathroom. When he comes out, he says the noise was a door blowing in the breeze. There is no breeze today. And in August, when that room has been emptied and I’m allowed to go into it, I will learn that there is no door. The upstairs of Matthew’s apartment turns out to be an attic that has been loosely made into a couple of rooms. The one above Matthew’s livingroom not only has no doors, it doesn’t even have a frame for one. The second room is further back and has a door. To this day I’m willing to bet my last nickle that whenever I was around, at least, that door was locked.

After the bathroom, he parks himself in his favorite chair and starts talking about something or other. Is my daughter all right, I bark at him. Yeah, she’s okay, he says with impatience. Are you telling me the truth? Yeah, I wouldn’t lie to you about that. But this time I don’t entirely believe him. I didn’t like the way his face was, and the sniffling and wet eyes, when he came down the stairs. I get angry. I take another stand, one he completely ignores. I want you to tell me yourself or send me one of your monkeys every day to let me know she’s all right. I’m speaking very angrily when I say this, and he gets annoyed at my anger. He has absolutely no justifiable reason to resent my anger. He’s the one who told me about this situation in the first place, and he is not stupid, not by a long way. Surely he has no right nor reason to expect me not to get angry at these things. He’s angry that I’m angry, and once again I just want to slap him, and so I leave.

I go to my room and start trying, without success, to reach my daughter. The sheriff’s department in her town goes to the address I give them, but she doesn’t live there anymore. They say that on Monday they’ll call her office and try to reach her there. Monday comes and goes with nothing, and I figure they forgot. But they didn’t. They’d called her and talked to her, and had only forgotten to call me. In any case, I don’t hear from her until Tuesday. All those hours of waiting since the drama at Matthew’s Sunday afternoon. Many things happened in those waiting hours that I’m not going to write about here because I’ve had enough right now of walking down these dark roads. Maybe another time.

That July, by the time I heard from the daughter on the 15th, had already seen Matthew introducing the k-word on the 2nd, the white-haired man on the 9th and 10th, and was about to produce the man in the white bandana on the 18th. It was quite literally one bizarre, hollywood insanity after another that July. There was never time to recoup, time to absorb. It just kept coming.

And from that Sundaythe 13th on, the man with the ugly face is my enemy. I see him in future almost everywhere I go, often sitting down on the sidewalk. He makes occasional nasty remarks to me over the rest of the summer, and then I leave greenfield. When I return to greenfield for a long-term stay in June of 2009 (it’s been nearly a year since I lived there), he pops up all the time again, and makes his periodic nasty remarks. Sometime in late 2009, he disappears. If he’s still in greenfield at that time, I certainly never see him again.

And also from that Sunday on, I refer to Matthew and his pals as monkeys. I do this for over a year. I even buy stuffed monkeys and carry them around with me, another one of my quirky ways of showing them, in public, how much I detest them.

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