The writer is an exorcist of his own demons. - Mario Vargas Llosa
We all tell a lot of amusing stories about past marriages, and I am no exception. I’m not sure how many stories my first wife tells about me, but I have a few in my book. But here is one which I have not told anyone for over 30 years. It’s not a happy story, and I don’t think I look good, but as I have written before, I have nothing but unbridled contempt for writers who only want to tell you of the “Walton’s Mountain” tales of their pasts.
It was an odd sort of world I found myself wedded into when I moved into my wife’s trailer in Wedington Woods (then largely a home for trailers and feral dogs, it often seemed), though I did my best to try and fit in. Looking back, it was all a sort of Stranger in a Strange Land sort of situation. I still vividly remember Christmas night 1977, when the minister at the family’s church (the only time I ever attended) ripped the tie from his neck and yelled at his congregation that they had better all have flashlight batteries ready, because darkness would fall upon the earth by the end of 1978.
There never seemed to be any common ground between us; conversations between her family and myself were always stilted and uncomfortable.
In late spring of 1978, my wife’s grandmother called my mother-in-law in a panic, who then got word to us. It seemed that she had let a drunken old man into her apartment and he wouldn’t leave. He just sat on her couch and kept speaking to her in a highly suggestive manner, using the crudest possible language. Could someone come out, please?
There are already questions coming up at this point, I know, but I’ll deal them as best I can.
So my wife and I drove the 30 minute journey to her apartment, where, indeed, a thin, drunken old man kept telling this little old lady how much he’d like to . . .
A little while later, one of my wife’s uncle’s arrived.
Around this point, it occurred to us that no had had actually called the Fayetteville Police Department. Actually, between the uncle and myself we could easily have maneuvered the old man out into the hallway, and even out of the building. But we didn’t. We just sat there and listened to this drunken old man spew out his crap, telling him to shut up.
The call was made, though, and the police were on their way; they could handle the situation. At some point before the police arrived my wife’s uncle signaled me to move around behind the old man. I assumed we were going to finally move him out of the apartment.
As the old man - a feeble, drunken old man who probably didn’t even weigh 150 pounds - stood up, the uncle did something I never expected. With the speed of a boxer he landed several quick punches into the old man, into the body and the face, and he fell against me, knocking me back against the wall.
He lay on the floor, the vulgarity beaten out of him. He was now just a pitiful wreck of a man, whimpering as he lay tangled against my legs.
The uncle stood over him, breathing as heavily as if he had gone 15 rounds with Joe Frazier.
On the couch, his mother looked up at him with eyes filled with adoration. And my wife? Well, she was every bit as proud of him. And there was something else in her eyes as well.
Disappointment in me.
Why hadn’t I done my part? Why had I just stood there? These questions I attempted to answer on our ride home, but she couldn’t understand my answers. Later, she took pleasure in telling me that her father also wondered why I had not helped put the old man down.
This, was from a man who once advised me that I needed to “discipline” my wife.
There are so many aspects to this night that make no sense, and I have thought about it many times in the past three decades. Why didn’t her grandmother call the police before she called us? Why didn’t we call the police earlier? Why did her uncle think that beating an old man - no matter how vile his language - was the appropriate solution?
Why didn’t I anticipate his actions?
I don’t have any answers to any of the above that make none of us look smarter than a rock, and me in particular, I suppose.
There are those who have attempted to provoke me into violence over the years, and with very few exceptions, it has rarely succeeded. I wish I could tell you that it was because I have reached a higher level of existence, or that I am a more spiritual person.
But I haven’t, and I’m not. I just remember that pathetic old man at my feet, and the look of triumph in the eyes of the man who put him there.
Quote of the Day
Know thyself. Ulysses showed his wisdom in not trusting himself. A Yale undergraduate left on his door a placard for the janitor on which was written, “Call me at 7 o’clock; it’s absolutely necessary that I get up at seven. Make no mistake. Keep knocking until I answer.” Under this he had written, “Try again at ten.”