Wayne was one of those people that should have been institutionalized but was born so poor no one ever thought that it might be something very seriously wrong with him. It’s a very telling thing really; there is no distinguishable difference between the effects of deep mental illness and the damage done to a child when raised in abject poverty. Not that everyone who is born poor or was raised poor has these kinds of problems, but toss in some truly abusive parents, starvation, and an alcohol habit at a young age and hey, you’re looking at a large part of the population of rural South Georgia.
But Wayne was different. He told everyone who would listen about his car wreck, the one that happened when he was a kid, and how it messed his head up, but those people who had known him all his life, like his sister, Reba, would tell you there never was a car wreck and Wayne was born the way that he was. Poor impulse control and a frightening inability to discern danger made Wayne one of the most interesting people not to be around on a regular basis. Something was going to happen and Wayne was going to be there when it did.
The first time I met Wayne he had come looking for me, which was more than a little bit disconcerting. I knew of him but had never met him and didn’t want to meet him. Things happened around Wayne. Not good things, sometimes. But there he was on my doorstep holding a brown paper bag that might have contained a twenty-four ounce beer. But it didn’t. It held an empty beer can that had about a half ounce of homegrown reefer in a plastic bag at the bottom. That’s how Wayne hid his dope from the law. No one ever checked an empty can for pot. As far as I knew, Wayne was never busted for drugs. That was the one thing he and I had in common. But Wayne had heard that I caught a rattlesnake and he had come to tell me one thing and one thing only, “You put a snake on me and I’ll put a bullet in your head” and that’s was the first thing he said to me. No introduction, no greeting, nothing, just a death threat and then an invitation to smoke some pot, as long as I didn’t have a snake in the house. Wayne was more terrified of snakes than about 99% of the population of earth.
But Wayne wasn’t the kick back and hang out for a while type dude. The man was in a state of constant motion. He was difficult to find, even harder to pin down at any given time, and Wayne knew a lot of people. As far as I could tell, no one really liked him, but he could grow decent pot. No one knew where he grew the pot because he lived in an abandoned house in town, but somehow, he always had some of that smelly homegrown that was just a shade better than nothing at all. Honestly, I never did figure how where he grew it, or if he was just being fronted it. But Wayne never was totally out of pot.
The story of how Wayne wound up getting killed was one I knew enough about to have been called in by the law on it, but there was no way in hell I was going to get involved. But Wayne, for all his weirdness and all his sudden swings towards, you know, I have no idea what to call it, wasn’t a mean person. But Wayne would do things. He once grabbed a waitress by one of her breasts in a truck stop. I was there. I saw it. One minute we’re eating cheeseburgers and fries because they’re running a special and we’re stoned, and then out of the cold blue, Wayne just slips his hand into this woman’s shirt from underneath. Well, what in the hell do you think happened? She went monkey crazy on him and he stood up and just stared at her like he had no idea what just happened. If you’ve never been cussed at before I highly recommend pissing off a truck stop waitress because you’re going to discover a whole new world in profanity. This chick threw down. She also screamed loud enough to attract the attention of everyone in the building which meant we had to get the hell out of there. I left a five on the table and scooped up my burger and walked. Kenny was with us and he was just a step behind me. This sort of thing flat pissed Kenny off, and that was never a good thing. We left Wayne there, rode off and left him, and Kenny wanted to kick his ass. So did I but I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. Being insane is a pretty good defense because nobody is going to mess with the crazies.
I went over to Wayne’s place later that day to see if the law picked him up. I was pretty sure somebody at the truck stop knew who he was, and I was damn sure they knew me. Wayne’s house had been abandoned but he ran an extension cord from his nearest neighbor’s house to his. All he had was a refrigerator and a two eyed hot plate. His neighbor let Wayne do it because Wayne would cut the man’s grass every week. Wayne loved mowing. He made a lot of money mowing but he did things. He bogged a mower down in a gravel driveway one day and rocks went flying everywhere like it was a damn machine gun. But other than that, the man would cut grass all day long if he could find someone to pay him.
Crazy means crazy. Crazy means insane, it means off balance mentally and sometimes it means dangerous as hell, but it doesn’t mean stupid. Wayne wasn’t stupid but he played the part better than anyone I ever met. Some of it was his inability to stay focused. His mind wandered and drifted off and it was hard as hell to carry on a conversation with him. He also had the language skills of a five year old and the five year old was happy to be shut of them. But one day, someone broke into Carrie Hatcher’s place and stole a pound of pot. Carrie’s boyfriend, Steven, dealt pot but Carrie didn’t touch the stuff and everyone knew it. The next day Wayne is walking around with a lot of pot. He’s selling stuff dirt cheap. Well, as you can imagine, Steven find out Wayne has some dope, a lot of dope, and Steven goes after Wayne. Steven is one of those guys that would take the bottom part of a pool cue and wear someone out with it. He had beaten a guy nearly to death for breaking into Carrie’s car and when he got to Wayne’s place, there was Wayne with the dope.
Right off the bat Wayne offers to sell Steven dope that Steven believes is his. So Steven asks Wayne, “That’s good stuff, Wayne, where’d ya get such good stuff and so much of it?” And Wayne tells him that the guy living across the street from Carrie just up and gave him three or four ounces of dope. Steven believes Wayne because Wayne is a pretty simple son of a bitch, right? Steven goes after Carrie’s neighbor and sure enough, he’s got pot, too. He tells Steven he found the stuff on his kitchen table, about an ounce of it, and Steven beats the guy up pretty bad, too. So the cops get ahold of Steven and the other guy and they both are holding so they both go to jail. In the meantime, someone breaks into Steven’s apartment and takes about five hundred bucks in cash. I know who did that because I helped him hide it.
Wayne came to my place and asked me to help him hide the money and I knew, really knew, that if I went to Steven and told him what had happened someone would die. I was afraid Wayne would kill me if I refused to help him. But mostly, I would know where five hundred bucks was hidden and that, my friends, was a very good thing. Wayne and I went out back of his house, in near total darkness and dug holes, deep holes, with post hole diggers. We then rolled twenties and tens into very small and tight rolls, put them in glass jars, sealed the jars with super glue, put the jars in the holes, put a foot of dirt on them, and then put posts in the holes and set them in the dirt. It looked like someone was trying to make a fence but had quit. There were five holes with posts in them, and a hundred dollars in each hole. The whole operation too less than an hour.
We rolled some joints, drank beer, and then Wayne just got up and left, the way he did sometimes, and left me in the house alone. The sun had long since gone down and there wasn’t any real light in the place. The real reason I never strayed into stealing for a living is I have never felt comfortable in someone else’s house. I can’t stay the feeling, that weird feeling of being somewhere I don’t belong when I’m in someone else’s house. I was burning one, about to get up and walk home when Reba showed up.
Reba was an interesting person in own right. She didn’t smoke, drink, do drugs or cuss. Reba made a lot of people nervous and she made me nervous a lot. Reba was born into the same generation of trouble as Wayne had been, but she married at fifteen and got the hell away from home as quick as she could. Reba still looked a fright, mind you, because she had been working the fields like a migrant worker for most of her life. Exposure to direct sunlight and poverty had taken the pretty out of Reba very young and all that was left was who she really was. I can’t say I remember Reba ever smiling or laughing much. She had her first kid at fifteen, and that one died before the first year ran out. She was pregnant again at sixteen and this one lived, and so did the next two. But Reba had worked hard at having nothing at all and her kids were going to follow in her footsteps unless she could keep them away from people like Wayne, and people like me.
“Whare’s Wayne, you know or don’cha?” Reba wasn’t much on small talk either.
“Reckon, I don’t.” I told her. “He didn’t speak to it fore he left.”
“Reckon he wouldn’t” Reba replied as if she were satisfied I wasn’t lying to her.
“Wayne this way, the way he is, always?” I wanted to talk to her and I didn’t know why.
“You come look at this.” Reba said and she flipped on a flashlight she was carrying. I hadn’t seen it when she came in. It was one of those long metal flashlights the cops used when they beat people. It occurred to me, at that moment, Reba might have had reason to have a weapon on her.
I have done, and even at that early age, I had done, my share of drugs. I had seen some fairly freakish things in my life, things I can’t tell you about even now. Most of what I write about is long since done, and nobody is going to care if I tell you this story or that story, but there are just some things I won’t drag up out of the past because they’re done. I know, mostly, why people are the way they are or I wouldn’t say. But there are some people are who they are for reasons nobody knows why, and we haven’t the right to ask if we aren’t going to help.
In a part of the abandoned house Wayne had started drawing on the walls. There was a line, thin dark and made with a common pencil, about a quarter inch from the baseboard, that line went all the way around the room, all four walls, and it came back and went a quarter inch high and kept going until it wrapped around for two or three feet, each line perfect and exact and tiny. But there were people drawn on the wall, too, in pencil, people who didn’t have their faces drawn in, and some of them who did. Reba was there, much younger, almost pretty, and there was a woman, “That’s mama” Reba told me, and then she pointed out other people she and Wayne had grown up with. The drawings were life size and each of them looked perfect like a photograph. I was stunned.
“Why have them people get drawed without faces, Reba?” I asked.
“Those hurt him some, and some, more.” Reba said. “That’s daddy, there, I can tell by the hair, and that’s Uncle Jerome, I know that hat, and that there, I don’t know, Mike, I never did know who that was, but that’s one Wayne draws a bunch.”
There were lines, thin and straight, a quarter inch apart, all over the house. They went around electrical outlets and sometimes they made patterns that seemed to be moving. But there was only one room with the faces. It was an eerie creepy thing to look at a drawing of a person that didn’t have a face where you knew one would be.
“You know Wayne stole that dope.” Reba said suddenly.
“I don’t.” I lied.
“No good will come of it.” Reba told me. “You get shut of that stuff and you’ll be okay, Mike”
“Okay.” I had no idea what else to say. Reba left without saying anything else.
I never saw Wayne again, not alive. I got there over late, on foot and drunk, when they were putting the fire out. A small crowd had come and I was hoping Wayne had left the plate on, and maybe he didn’t get burned, but it wasn’t the fire that got him; the smoke took him before the flames got out of control at all. They said later there was a cigarette that Wayne dropped when he fell asleep. The smoke finally got him but not the way I thought it would. I knew ever else might have been true, Wayne didn’t smoke cigarettes. That sent chills down my back, thinking somebody might have made it look like an accident, but I wasn’t talking. There was somebody else in the house with him, and the odd thing is nobody knew who it was. “Unidentified White Male” was they ever really said about the body, but I watched them take Wayne out of the house and whoever it was in there with him, and that was that.
I dug the money up, you know I had to, and it did take some doing. I unrolled it all, flattened it out some, and put it in an empty beer can. I took it to Reba’s place and laid the money out for her and she just looked at me, like I was asking for something. I wasn’t.
“Comes a time you just have to walk off from something evil tainted and keep walking, and hope that the good you’ve done balances out what came before.” That’s what I told Reba when I left. I hope I was right.