I get a call from a friend to put an alarm into hibernation until the realty company can find a new tenant, and I already know what that means. The house is now vacant, and the story, however it ends, will end in someone else’s history. People on the fringe of a life drift by, waving perhaps, speaking a dozen words or so, but in the end, gone, and there’s just no way to keep up with everyone even if there was the desire to do so. Yeah, kinda, maybe, but no, there’s too many things in front right now to take care of, so not.
There was a young couple downstairs from me, twenty-six years or so ago, and one night I was walking down the back stairway and the young woman was walking into her kitchen, without curtains, without clothes, and she never realized I could see her. I missed the last step and nearly broke my jaw which went from hanging open to being bounced shut. That’s a photograph in my mind, of a woman not yet out of her teens, barely pregnant, nude, and in candlelight, and it’s hard to imagine the slight bump being a mother or a father by now. I cannot remember either of them by name now, only they had a GSD, named King that I could howl with, at times.
The house isn’t empty and there’s two men in it, one quite a few years older than the other, he’s the one repairing a smashed window while the other is hauling away boxes full of stuff people used to live. Socks, pans, plastic food storage containers that will be stashed away with leftovers until they are old enough to be thrown away, a jump rope, a roll of string, a few toys, and all of it not at home right now. The man working on the window stops and looks at me, but the other is one of those take charge who- are- you- what- are- you- doing- here- types.
“Just here reset the alarm.” I tell him. He doesn’t offer to shake hands and I don’t offer it either.
“So you don’t know where he is?” the man demands of me, as if I am hiding someone in my pocket.
“You’re her father.” And suddenly I can see it in his eyes. They have the same eyes, the same thinness of face, and the same reckless sense of honesty.
“How’d you know my daughter?” He demands again, and I see now why his son-in-law bolted from working for him.
“Resetting the alarm after a lightning strike, and then again after an X box strike.” I tell him.
“Worthless POS knocked my daughter up, ruined her car, and then ran off, that…” He tells me and I have to admire his ability to curse. He’s a professional.
The other man stops work to stare in wonder at this outburst. I have to admit, it’s a little startling, but I have a vocabulary of very sharp words that I allow the light of day or dark of night, when they are needed. Bats or crows, whichever the occasion calls for, they will come to flutter or flock whichever is most inappropriate.
“How is the baby?” I ask, and if anything can, and I’m not sure anything will, distract him, but grandparents when asked about their grandchildren, even those sired by the very worst of humanity, will still show you photos.
“He’s fine…” and the man looks at me as if he suddenly realizes that I’m there. He puts the box down and goes into one of the other rooms and the guy fixing the window shrugs at me, as if to say, “Don’t ask me” and then, after a full minute, dad comes back in. “Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to take it out on you.” With this he tells me who he is, who the guy repairing the window is, and he asks me to forgive him for his behavior. Odd thing here in the South; you’ll find that sort of thing here. To be uncivil to strangers is not something that many people practice as a rule. The guy at the window is Roy, one of the other deacons at his church (uh huh, you see it too) and his name is Carrol. That happens in The South too. Men have that name in a family and live with it.
I ask him what happened to his son-in-law, and I do this with deliberation, for I know now that he’s had one outburst in front of a fellow member of the church he isn’t likely to toss another so soon. We sit on the floor with bottled water and scattered toys, and the remains of a dining room table, a quadruple amputee.
“He done run off.” Carroll repeats. “Says he’s going to join the Marines but they won’t have him.”
“Is he from here?” I ask.
“Naw,” Roy finally speaks up, “they met on that Facebook. He’s from up north, Atlanta or someplace.”
And then there’s a litany of events that led to the young man’s eventual exit. Pot, alcohol, X-Box, getting caught doing things they ought not be doing in the pool, (TMI dad, you’re straying) and a general sense of hatred for the man who knocked his daughter up. But as he tells the story it keeps coming up that Connie, the daughter, was led astray by this guy, but it was she who went to pick him up in her car, and it was her idea they get married, and she was the one that fronted the money for the rental house, and now, incredibly enough, Connie isn’t back home with her parents. She’s staying with her sister about twenty miles west of here.
“What if he makes it?” I ask. “What if he makes it through boot camp?”
Carroll laughs but Roy looks at me, as if he has wondered the same thing, and I notice he hasn’t said very much at all in any of this.
“Roy, what do you think?” I look at Carroll when I say this and he looks startled.
“If’n Connie’s worth it to him, and that little one, he’ll pull through it.” Roy says and suddenly I realize that this is what Roy has been wanting to say, perhaps for a while. Roy nods after he hears his own words as if he agrees with Roy, and agrees Roy should have said those words out loud.
“You two related?” I ask.
“That’s my half- sister’s boy” Roy laughs. “Don’t hold that against her.” And both laugh.
It’s a reckless sense of honesty, I think to myself as I leave. The family charges forward with their thoughts and their feelings, and that scares some people, intimidates others, and endears them to a few. What little I know about the woman the young man might do well to join the Marines to keep her and his son. A woman like that would appreciate it and wait for him, and follow him around the world, because he did. I wonder if that young man is, right now, doing push- ups or running on a track, or looking in the mirror, wondering if he has what it takes to be a Marine, and perhaps, a father, and a husband.