Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Recovering Bigot Gets Another Chance to Practice

This morning I'm feeling a little like a character from a Flannery O'Connor short-story, but I can't really pinpoint which one. I shudder to think of the possibilities. Here's my account of the day.

On Sunday morning, as I was madly prepping food to go on our "impromptu" lakeside picnic, my husband showed up at the back door saying that "John" needed a glass of water. I thought he said "Joe", and rolled my third eye for the sake of the guy who always shows up for food and never helps with anything if he can possibly get out of it. But it wasn't Joe. It was some guy I'd never seen before. I said hi, and went back to what I was doing. He went to the bathroom, and I hid my purse.

Chive brought him into the house and gave him the water. He took a couple pills with it. Chive told me that John had gotten his truck stuck in the swamp beside our auction mart. John said he'd been looking for a place to pull over and sleep since he'd been driving for a long time, and hadn't realized that it was private property. I was having a hard time understanding that, so I assumed that he'd pulled in on the other side of our property line, onto a farm-trail that led into the neighbouring field. But no, he was stuck in our yard. Strange. I shrugged and went on baking.

He and Chive sat down together in the living room. I asked him if he'd had breakfast. He said no, and I volunteered to make him an omelette. "With cheese?" I asked. "Only mozzarella," he said, "I'm fussy about cheese." I shrugged. Not like I don't have mozza in the fridge. "With bacon?" "I'm allegic to bacon. And beef. And chicken." I shrugged, and went on cooking.

I served him his omelette and sat down to chat with him at table. I asked him about where he was from, where he was going, what he did. Am I nosy? Probably looks that way, but what I really am is suspicious. I want to know what his connections are, who he knows, who knows him, how he fits into the world as I know it. And all the while I'm trying to keep an open heart, to find a place for him in the world that makes sense, that means that I can relax and trust him. He's Native. Around here, there's a huge amount of prejudice against Natives. It's what I grew up with, but I don't want to be part it. I'm working overtime to not suspect. I'm telling my red-alerts to shut up. I'm assuming that what I'm hearing is the voices of the past. I don't want to be an bigoted asshole. I'm shaming myself.

He says he's from a community two hours east of here. So I'm thinking, why do you need to pull over and rest? What were you doing all night? He says he works for an organization there for at-risk youth. I never knew that had that institution in that town. I tell him about the sweat I wasn't able to attend the day before because of the short notice, and how I'm nervous about being able to breathe in there. He tells me how it goes, how to get down low and take short breaths. He tells me about how to snare a fish, how he and his grandad used to snare rabbits. I ask him if he knows anyone in ***** Creek, since I know people from there. He looks confused, shakes his head, no, he doesn't think so.

Chive keeps trying to talk to him about how to get the truck out, but John doesn't seem to care. He says his friend is going to come to meet him at the restaurant, they'll figure it out later.

He takes his dishes to the sink, shakes my hand, thanks me for breakfast. And leaves. I watch him walking through the trees into town.

The truck is still there. The truck is still there a few hours later. I send Poppy out to get the license plate number. They're Saskatchewan plates. I phone it into the police to check if it's been stolen. The dispatcher says that John had been found sleeping in a ditch by another resident, and the constables were on their way out. Yes, the truck was stolen. My heart sank.

I gave them my cell phone number. We went to the lake.

I talked to the local constable again this morning. She's taking statements. "John" came from Saskatchewan with the stolen truck. He'd stolen it from a woman, with violence, using a weapon. He'd just got out of jail for the same crime. He's in custody now, being transported back to Saskatchewan.

Mercy. There so many possibilities in this world, and so many of them don't come to pass. Some of them do.

I'm still processing my actions and reactions. Not just what I did, and what came out of my mouth, but what was in my heart. Am I still a slave to prejudice? Do I accept people as people, regardless of colour or culture? Do I really? Will I still be able to do that tomorrow? If someone shows up at my door again, will we start with a fresh slate?

I suspected him. But I suspected myself too.

And I find myself wondering, how much do mozzarella omelettes matter?

12 comments:

shaktimama said...

Oh, wow. What a haunting story. I cannot believe that happened to you. It does sound like a Flannery O'Connor story. I'm so glad you and your family are okay.

Madcap, it seems to me as though you went with your gut feeling. Your intuition. I'm sure that if this guy, John, seemed harmless, you would have softened up, or never suspected anything. But the fact was that you felt something was wrong. You felt that there was something not right about his story. The truth is that native or white or whatever, someone shows up at your door or my door, and they seem weird for whatever reason, we're going to be on alert. We're hardwired that way.

So, don't be so hard on yourself. You made him an omelette, for God's Sake! Of course, maybe you made him the omelette to encourage him to put his guard down (a good Flannery O'Connor moment if this was the case), but you still made him an omelette, and a mozz omelette at that!

You sound like a brave woman to me, and a smart one too.

Madcap said...

I've had a few more days to take this all in now. I'm thinking about what I might have done differently, or the same, or how to set things up to reduce the risk "next time".

Still not sure about all that, but one thing I'm definitely going to do is make the other half of the yardsite less accessible from the road.

Brave? Well... ignorance is helpful in that regard. If I'd known more of the story at the time I would have been shaking in my boots!

shaktimama said...

Hi, Madcap, I hope you are doing well. I can't really imagine how shocked you must feel, to know you had such a man in your house, your home, your sacred space.

I've never been good with strangers myself. I'm too awkward and distrustful. Especially men. I have a hard time trusting men.

You did what you could with the information you had. I suppose there's a lesson to be had, though. Don't let strangers into the home.

I shouldn't have told you in my earlier post to not be hard on yourself. I understand your questions and concerns. They raise serious concerns that we should all consider.

CG said...

why should you start with a blank slate? The slate is NOT blank. And your husband is very not cautious to not even get a straight story from him before inviting him in.

Madcap said...

Juliana - One of the things that recurs to me is that he chose to use a weapon on that woman in Saskatchewan, and I doubt there was anything she did to provoke or encourage that. Maybe he even broke in. I really don't know. All that I do know is that he seemed taken aback by being offered food and conversation, so perhaps at the point I met him, hospitality was the best option. I'm just throwing the possibility out there, not maintaining it. When someone's bent on destruction, they generally get there one way or another.

CG - The blank slate I'm referring to mainly is that lack of prejudice against someone because of their cultural background, skin-colour, etc. Not presenting circumstances. I agree. That was incautious of us both.

I dreamed about you last night, that I met you in the mountains. You were attending a wedding, and we wandering around outside the hotel, talking philosophy.

CONSTANTINE said...

M-

Very much a “Flannery” situation! You could (and should, mi amiga) easily translate the experience into a short story of power and persuasion to call out the polar opposite feelings that wage war within you and all of us.

I share a similar and ongoing struggle. I have two sides—one, a more shadow persona, that owns a pistola (and as you know, I’m also an aficionado and practitioner of the “sweet science”) and knows how to use it rather well and would, if necessary (hope you'll still talk to me, now), and the other that believes (and attempts to live out, at least peripherally) at the level of the heart the "truest" path is the one voiced at the Mount of Olives in the form of the Beatitudes.

The other day a work colleague of mine (who is also a friend—he’s originally from out east and is basically a liberal pagan—grin) was in my vehicle as we made our way back to work from a Starbucks run. I showed him my folder (a rather mean and serious knife) that was nestled in the leather folds of my 4WD shift stick. He asked me what I was doing with a knife “like that.” I said I use it around the house on the weekends for doing various work chores, etc. What I really wanted to tell him was that it was my “apocalypse” knife (I say that in jest…sort of). I’m a big admirer of the Pulitzer winning book by McCarthy and subsequently faithfully adapted film called “The Road.” I have no doubt that it depicts how it would really be at “the end” for those still around. As such, you’d need a knife of the sort I have and a pistola with sufficient ammo.

Anyway, I’m pretty much a liberal, too, at least on most fronts, and I struggle frequently with the fact that most of the church universal continually makes as a key focus the doctrine of “the Fall.” Given our behavior and history as a people, something sure as hell happened (maybe we are just a bunch of atavistic animals and the evolutionary- biologist are correct), but I also personally like to focus on the dogma that we were also created in the “image and likeness of God.” It’s from that vantage point that I, too, would make your “intruder” breakfast. (I have some experiences of my own with those on the darker side of life—homeless, etc., but I always approach the encounter solo without my daughters present.)

My daughters are among the most “liberal” people I know (I take a lot of the credit for that, seriously—I like to think I’m doing something right the way Christ would want it. I so much take to heart the primary motif from the book, “The Road,” that we must “carry the fire”; essentially a call to the fact that goodness is also in each of us) and they always see the good and best and potential in people. God bless them for that—literally! As for me, my old conservative roots (they never die entirely) suspects—even really knows, candidly--that the darkness is always near.

Jim said...
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Jim said...
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Jim said...

I'm very open with people too, Madcap, all the while watching them like a hawk from my inner wariness.
I've allowed a few unsavory characters into my space for short periods of time, and probably will again, because I simply refuse to judge people by how they look, or by some circumstance they find themselves in.
Most people seem a bit crazy to me these days, even good hard working folks I've known for a long time, so it's difficult for me to be judgemental of strangers.
Some years ago I brought home a down & out alcoholic Georgian musician that I met at a bustop and
he turned out to be a gift Peggy & I will treasure forever. Yes, he was a mess, but a sweet harmless guy with incredible talent, and I ended up producing a CD of his music as a gift to him and his family. The day we met Kenny I told Peggy, "this guy is dying and his beautful voice will be lost forever if someone doesn't get him recorded." She agreed, and says she thinks that CD re-energized him and added a couple of years to his life. The whole project cost us $400, the best $400 I ever spent in my life, and Kenny enriched our lives for several years until he died of alcohol poisoning.
We took a chance with this unsavory looking character from the other side of the country and were rewarded a thousand fold. Sometimes you just have to take that chance...
In your case, I'm so glad you weren't home alone.
Love,
Jim

Madcap said...

Constantine: Glad to hear you have a soft spot for liberal pagans - it may turn out I'm leaning that way myself!

It's very strange to be carrying both sides like that, the part that acknowledges that yes, I will kill you if I must, and also yes, you stand before me as an image of God. And you, with your fighting training, have it in you more clearly than I do. Where you have an "apocalypse knife", I think my equivalent is more an "apocalypse pantry".

Part of that is just not being able to cope with such a bleak possibility as the scenario presented in "The Road" (not that I've read it, but I think I've got the gist of what you're talking about). If the world became like that, I don't think I'd want to be in it. I'm easily discouraged.

It's beyond me to think in terms of a "fall", but when you start talking about atavism I can get on board with that. I think we've all got it in us, and some circumstances will bring it to the fore. In this person's case, given his apparently low function (getting out of jail and immediately repeating the same crime), possibly fetal alcohol effect strips away his barriers that would keep him from acting on his impulses. And I can see how the brain-effects of abuse can impair the ability to react appropriately too. It's all part of the picture.

And YET... yes, the "image and likeness of God" is there too, and can be summoned up in almost everyone, I suspect. And maybe when you and I "make omelettes", that creates the opening for that possibility to take precedence.

If your daughters see the good, it's because you've created a world for them where that possibility seems like the natural default, while you hold back the darkness. And for that, God bless you.

By the way, have you been taking your "herbs" in your soup? I don't want to see all that clover go to waste!

Madcap said...

Jim, that's a beautiful story. I hope you kept a CD or two for yourself? How long did Kenny stay with you, or was it off and on?

Life is a risk. Every time I see a new client, it's a risk. It's mitigated by the surrounding circumstances, but it's still somewhat risky. And I live with that. Like you say, when an entire society is crazy, it's hard to single someone out just for doing things a little differently, or looking strange.

But I was very glad Chive was home that day too. The whole houseful of us is a different proposition than any one of us alone, and certainly Patch went downstairs and quietly slipped his knife into his pocket. He's the wariest one of us all round these parts.

CONSTANTINE said...

Hey M,

Your commentary on creating the opening for hopeful possibility to take precedence is beautiful. Thank you for the insight!

As for the magical soup--I do indeed take a spoonful bite now and again. Thank you for the insight there, too. :)