For the sake of anonymity, I will call the person I’m writing about, Charlie.
Charlie has always been eccentric; he believes in the power of the written word more than anything else, although he can participate in a deep conversation better than most. Growing up, he pretended to eat the plastic food from my Fisher Price kitchen, he taught me my times tables when I was seven or eight and I was writing detailed book reports about Harry Potter to present to him over the phone as soon as the first one came out.
Outside of my mom’s consistent support, I found myself getting my proverbial cup filled from Charlie’s encouragement; when he said I could be anything I wanted, I believed him. You know when you hear platitudes over and over and it makes you roll your eyes? But then a certain person can tweak it, delivering essentially the same message, and it just hits you… that often happened with him.
Going through Christmas as a child really brings out strong, clear emotions — were you a count your presents type? How about comparing to what your siblings received? Would there be a tantrum if you got pajamas instead of a new iPod [or, insert whatever electronic device]? I must admit, I scrunched my nose a time or two when I unwrapped a noticably cheap art set from Walmart, or a religious book from my dad’s side of the family, but for some reason, I always truly appreciated any gift from Charlie. I just knew there was intention behind it — I knew there was meaning behind the book(s) he selected for me to read.
Over the years, I would make it a point to work on something I could present during our next in person visit — whether it be my middle splits, a one-handed push-up, or some new knowledge I retained about a topic that I knew would impress him.
As I grew out of my “I’m a rebel with a bartender boyfriend that does opiates and parties every night” phase, I reconnected with Charlie on the meaning of life; he seemed to have such a clear understanding of how “it” all worked and wasn’t shy on verbalizing his thoughts. We’d engage in discussions for hours about one topic and I felt an extra spring in my step when I was able show him a different perspective he’d never considered.
By all accounts, he was / is one of my heroes, but that veneer was slightly tarnished last week and I feel guilty for even thinking it.
I suppose it actually started when the cops were called on his former roommate, or so the story goes. With that, he called my parents and asked if he could stay with them for a bit, offering to pay rent; some of us found it odd, since he’d lived in the city for the last 30+ years, and my parents live in a small town, but of course they agreed and would not charge him rent.
For the first couple weeks, things seemed fine, but when I went to visit them all, something seemed off… not at first — at first, the only notable sign was his weight loss; though, he always said he hated having excess fat on his body so I didn’t think much of it. As the night progressed, however, and we were playing Yahtzee, his questions about handwriting, math ability, and crossing our eyes turned into silence shortly after we enlightened him on everything going on with police brutality and Trump’s statements on the matter.
Okay, understandable — it’s a heavy subject, and when you don’t even read the news, it’s easy to be weighed down.
But then, when I got a call from my mom a few days later, saying she was concerned, I sat up a little straighter.
“He interrupted my work meeting more than once to try and show me what he taught the dog, then how he’d trained lizards in the backyard. Then, he left his car in the middle of the road, right in front of the house with no explanation…” I slumped against my headboard before agreeing there needed to be some sort of intervention.
There wouldn’t be time, though, as the next day would catapult into a whole new level of… is it in bad form to say, insanity?
How’s Charlie doing? Did he train the neighbors’ cats yet? I texted my mom, trying to make light of the situation. She called me minutes later, clearly sobbing.
“He fully lost it, Devon…”
“What do you mean? What happened??” the panic in my voice was palpable.
She explained that he woke my brother up at 7am for a lighter, proceeding to burn books in the yard. He would follow this up by throwing all of his belongings in their garbage and recycle cans — his clothes, shoes, phone, laptop… everything. He dumped the alcohol my parents had in the RV down the toilet, leaving the overturned bottles propped against the seat. The sharp beige rocks stacked up against the fence were used as a slide, which scraped up his bare back before he started crawling around on the grass like a dog.
As I heard the explanation, I let my tears fall in silence — I couldn’t imagine how scary that would be to see in person.
“We called the crisis hotline and they ended up calling the police to take him to the hospital, but now we can’t find him,” her sobbing grew heavier and I wished I could hug her.
Turns out, he didn’t use his real last name when he admitted, and didn’t have his wallet on him, so they couldn’t validate his identity.
After several calls to the hospital and police station, we tracked him down and the doctor’s said he had a seizure and were looking to rule out a stroke.
I was given his room number and to my surprise, he answered, but he didn’t sound like himself. His voice was deeper and like he was talking with his tongue out; it frightened me, which brought me down even more. I wondered if he remembered what happened, if he somehow had an explanation for it all, tying back to how life works… instead, he told me he wasn’t ready to talk and that he would call me when he could.
It’s been nearly a week and he hasn’t called. Is my hero someone that will only get to live on in my mind from now on? Why hasn’t he called? I need to share my life with him.
Come back, Charlie, I miss you.