I had an interesting experience yesterday. A friend of mine called, her neighbor and reported her brother in her yard and she was afraid to go home.
Her brother is kind of rough. Basically, drug addict, indigent. He’d been married, had a job, a kid. Lost it all. Beat and gaslit his wife, abused his family, he found something he liked better and his life spiraled down.
My friend, his sister had tried to help him, had tried to maintain a relationship with him. But as he went on, he got more and more unstable and potentially violent. The last time he showed up at her place, he told a story of ripping off his drug dealer’s cash, and in turn his drug dealer beating him up and stealing his phone and ID, and she’d spent half the night driving him around. It wasn’t getting better.
So, I judged she was right to be worried. I told her to pick me up when she came in from work, and I’d go with her to her house.
I figured that even as potentially violent and unbalanced as he was, having a full-grown male there, even one as inoffensive and docile as me would deter any potential violence and keep things even. And if there was violence, I’d probably handle it directed at me better than she would.
I suspected that I was going to be stuck in a great deal of someone else’s drama. That wasn’t really appealing. But you look out for the people you care about.
So, she picked me up, off we went to her house.
She’d been told he was in her back yard, lounging out on the lawn furniture I would suppose, waiting for her.
I told her to wait in the car while I checked the back yard. If he was there, I wanted to assess his condition and gauge his risk before she came along.
The back yard was empty.
I checked around. Nobody. Looked in the garage. Nobody.
Checked the house.
The basement window was shattered.
There were bars on the inside of the basement window, they’d been torn out of the casement. The hole was enough for someone to wiggle through. He’d gotten into the house. I checked around the window for blood, nothing. Backed up to glance at the windows, no one was looking back at me.
Okay. He’s in the house, or he was.
I went and got my friend. I asked her to unlock the door, and told her to back away and not enter the house until I came and got her.
Then I walked in. Off the front door, there’s a small set of stairs leading to the main floor. I walked up to the foyer, this central point where everything branched off. One way, kitchen and living room, the other way bedrooms and bathroom. Behind me, the stairs to the basement.
I stopped and listened. Nothing. No creak on the floor, no sound of breathing, no movement.
The television was on, providing background noise. Had he been relaxing, watching television after breaking into his sister’s home, waiting for her to come back? Was he somewhere in the house, waiting to see what I’d do?
“Hey there Buddy,” I announced loudly. “I know you’re here. Come on out and see me, we’ll talk sort it out.”
“Fair warning,” I called out, “If you try and sneak up on me, or if I have to find you…”
“…I’m going to kick your ass,” I announced. I was very calm, relaxed, certain, ready to do it.
Still nothing. I shrugged.
“Have it your way.”
I swept the kitchen first. Nothing. Then the living room, looking behind furniture, just in case someone was hiding there. The living room window curtains were open. I figured he’d have wanted to avoid being seen.
I noticed the front door’s small window was broken, glass spattered down the hall, a sheet of dirty plastic hanging from the window. The glass was on the inside, so the window had been broken from the outside. I checked the door, double deadbolt, you need a key on each side. He’d probably smashed the front door window hoping to unlock, and that hadn’t worked. He’d had to go in through the basement.
Bedrooms were cleared, the second bedroom she used for art. I checked around corners, in the closets, under the bed. Went to the bathroom. The medicine cabinet door was ajar, but not widely, still I suspected he’d checked. Other doors, closets were ajar. I checked them, no sign. Had he been there, or had she left them open? Hard to say. Any place a person could hide, I checked.
He wasn’t upstairs. Good.
Downstairs then? Possible.
Once again, I told her to stay out of the house a little longer. I went through the basement, the pantry, the laundry, the storage room. I even used my phone as a flashlight to check around the furnace and water heater.
I examined the broken basement window. He’d definitely made it inside. No blood, he hadn’t cut himself on glass, but the bars were torn wide open and you could see things turned over where he’d climbed down clumsily.
He’d broken in, come and gone. I wondered why?
It had rained earlier. Had he been waiting for her, got caught in the rain, and broken in just to get out of it? That would have been foolish. But often people do foolish things. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” is a species constant.
I could almost respect that though. It spoke to human need rather than malice. Messed up people do shit without really appreciating it.
Nothing major seemed to have been taken. The house wasn’t trashed. Everything seemed okay.
I told her it was safe, and to come in.
She was visibly distraught.
I showed her the smashed window in the front door, warned her about broken glass. On the way to the basement, she stopped at the bedroom.
“He looked in my drawers,” she said. They were closed, but not all the way. I hadn’t paid too much attention; they could have been that way. But she noticed.
In the basement, we looked at the broken window and bars. I showed her I checked everywhere. She was safe, he was gone.
We went back upstairs, and I sat down and watched her. She seemed derailed; she didn’t know what to do next.
“Call your handyman,” I said. “Tell him it’s an emergency, you’ve had a break in. He needs to come and board up the broken windows.”
“Then call the police, report the break in.”
“Call your neighbors, tell them what happened. Tell them the next time they see your brother around your house, to call the police. Ask them if they have the video recording.”
That was the how and why of when they called her. They had video cameras around their house, and they’d picked him up in her yard. They knew him because they’d seen him on camera hanging around during his last visit. They’d been concerned about a prowler then. They’d been right.
That seemed to galvanize her. She had purpose. The handyman was on his way over. The police weren’t as helpful, we got a menu listing, tried that a couple of times, and eventually got a message to call back in the morning when officers were on duty. Since he wasn’t around, it was non-emergency. Then we talked to the neighbors on the phone.
After that she took pictures of the broken windows inside and outside, and did a more careful walk through of the house. He’d definitely tossed her bedroom and bathroom. Hey gym bag was missing, so was her jewelry box and small personal effects, ID, credit card. Her tension was ramping up.
He had ignored the kitchen and living room. She told me she’d left the television on when she left, she felt the noise was protective, and she thought the cat liked it.
The handyman came over, I made sure he was careful of the broken glass. We talked for a while, and then I took her out to get something to eat. Fast food. I was hungry, and I thought she needed to eat something to settle her. Eating normalizes, there’s something about food in the belly, that soaks up stress, eases the fight or flight reflex. And it would be good to get her out of her house, to just calm a little bit.
She relaxed somewhat. I felt that she was good. I asked her if she needed company. She didn’t. She talked about calling her insurance. That would have to be done tomorrow. Meanwhile, she’d have to check more thoroughly.
I had an appointment that evening. She said she was okay, and drove me to it. I told her I’d call her when I was out of it. On the way over, I suggested she call up one of her other friends, just to have someone to talk to.
People like to talk, I’ve noticed, it calms them in bad situations.
I said I would keep my phone and ringer on, in case she called.
At the meeting, I politely mentioned to people that something was going on and I had to keep the phone on, if it rang, I’d just leave the room and hopefully avoid inconveniencing people.
At the meeting, she texted me a couple of times, noting more missing items.
Afterwards, when I got home, I called. No answer. I texted. Nothing. I called her land line. Nothing. I gave it couple of moments, and tried again. Nothing. Ten strike outs.
I grabbed my coat, readying to call a cab and get out there. Worst possible case, I’d just waste thirty or forty dollars on a round trip cab ride across town. The real worst possible case was that he’d come back and she couldn’t pick up. In which case, I’d have to sort things out.
She picked up on the 11th call while I was in the elevator.
Her phone had been dying, she just put it on the charger while she did other stuff. Her land line wasn’t connected.
Everything was fine. We talked for a while. The neighbors had shown her the video. Her brother had come by twice, once very clearly to case the place and then several minutes later with his hoody up and features concealed, but the same clothes to break in.
As I’d figured, he’d tried the front first, then gone around the back, using some of her yard supplies as a makeshift club.
The bastard. I could understand the stupid chaos of stumbling into a break in to get out of the rain. But this? This was deliberate. He’d intended to rob her, even if, in the end, he’d done a half assed job of it. There’s a deeper, more unforgivable layer of betrayal there. A cruelty and intent beyond foolish bad impulse.
I found I hated him a little bit.
She was hurt of course. We don’t much in the way of family. And even when you have family that’s a screw up, that’s toxic, you still have to love them because they’re family. Every abused child, every beaten wife, no matter how we’re hurt by our family members, there’s that residue, some trace of love and longing for something better. There’s history, or good times, or the memory or promise of that. Sometimes it’s… the longing, the idea of family represents the love we crave that is absent from our lives. It hurts to be hurt by family, it hurts more than any other kind of hurt, because it goes deeper, because it’s the last promise being snuffed.
You know what that’s like.
And if you don’t, I hope you never find out.
We talked for a while until I was sure she was okay. I made sure she had her pepper spray close by, said she might have trouble sleeping and to maybe binge a television show. If she couldn’t sleep, she shouldn’t even bother trying. I suggested that she call in sick tomorrow, and promised to check in before noon, not too early, in case she ended up sleeping. Anything serious happen, and she was to call the police immediately.
Yeah, I was mother henning, she didn’t need an instruction manual from me. But maybe me going through it comforted her.
The next day, she was fine. Not happy. Our homes are our refuge, our safe places. Break into them, we feel violated, a stranger has invaded our intimate places. You get over it, but it’s not pleasant.
But dealing with it.
It’s been about 24 hours. Things have settled down, and I’ve had time to reflect on the experience.
God damned addicts. Yes, addiction is a disease. Addicts are not responsible. Addicts need treatment, and support. But god damn it!
That’s not an excuse. The fact that someone has a condition, the fact that someone is in pain, it’s not an excuse to harm. It’s not a license to violate. I have addiction in my family, I saw it around me growing up.
And you know what? Addicts bring harm. It’s not just the failures, the betrayals. It’s harm, it’s genuine harm. It’s breaking into homes, and stealing things, its beating or abusing wives and children, it’s all selfishness elevated to depraved indifferent cruelty. I hate addicts.
I hate their games, their routines. I hate the way they use and abuse everyone unlucky enough to be in their life, draining them to feed the addiction. I hate ‘reformed’ addicts, crowing with crocodile tears about all the people they screwed over, how they wallowed in their addition, there’s this deep dishonesty in their hallelujah holy roller histrionics, because it’s all really about them, about their deep selfishness. They rail on about the evils of drugs or alcohol and the horrible things their addiction forced them to do.
But the truth is, it wasn’t the addiction. It was them. They did the horrible things. They betrayed their family. They decided to rob the only sister that cared about them, they decided to beat their wives, and abuse their children. They wanted to do these things, the addiction, the buzz, the rush, that was just the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Perhaps now, in this rant, you think me unkind?
You have no idea how unkind I can be.
“Let’s come out and talk to me… If I have to find you, I’m going to kick your ass.”
So, apparently, I’m really, really, really stupid. That kind of hits me in hindsight.
I walked straight into a house that had been broken into, where one or more people might have been laying in wait, where they might have had weapons, and a willingness to attack. That’s a good way to get stabbed, or clubbed, or hurt really badly.
And I didn’t give a shit. I walked in, politely offered conversation or violence, and I was calm, confident and ready to do both.
Average, ordinary, middle-aged, roly poly me.
Twenty-four hours later, I realize that was deeply, deeply stupid.
But you know what? I’m struck by how comfortable I was in that moment, how absolutely confident and sure of myself I was. Cold, methodical, brutal and completely at ease, completely willing to do… anything. I was prepared to do violence.
“Made of ice, half as nice, eyes like dice.”
That person I thought was gone, the me I’d buried decades ago. He came back, I was him, and it was as smooth and natural as a cloud passing in front of the sun and the world being the same, but somehow, something else. That person stood in front of an empty doorway, and walked right in without hesitation, focused as a laser beam, clinical as a surgeon, utterly confident and willing to hurt anyone I found. There was no doubt.
I remember the collected meticulous way I cleared each room, the automatic manner in which I noted anything I could use as a weapon, a club or hammer as I passed.
Honestly, talking to people terrifies me. I never know what to say. I’m intimidated by just about everyone. This world is just nightmare of eyes and faces, looking, judging, I’m awash in complexity. I want to hide away. I function by brute force, and although I’m used to it, that’s all.
But walking into that house, the world clarified itself, all the doubts and fears, the insecurity and nervousness, that all fell away, replaced with cold confidence. If what I was in that house was capable of feeling happiness, I would have been happy.
I’ve been in a lot of situations, I don’t seek them out, I avoid them. But sometimes things happen. You wonder what you would do in a situation. And over and over, I find I’m an Iceman. Cold and focused, dealing with the situation, seeing instantly what needs doing and then doing it. I’m not bragging. I’m just… functional.
I’ve noticed, situations hit, people go to pieces, they freeze, the discombobulate. They don’t know what to do. But it just seems straightforward, this is the situation, this is what needs to be done, do it, step by step, focus, act, resolve.
“Made of ice, but not as nice, eyes like dice.”
So ready and willing for the violence I’d left behind so long ago. I like to think if I’d found her brother, even if he was hiding or ready, I’d have tried to talk. I don’t think I’d have gone straight to hurting him.
I’d like to think I’ve left that other me behind for real, and he’s not a shadow passing over the sun, natural as breathing. Or just a matter of changing the focus on a lens, twisting the situation and suddenly, what was distant and blurry and long ago comes clear, and what is now recedes and goes blurry. I feel a different perspective looking out through my eyes, a certain willingness. I think it will fade. I don’t like that me. perhaps we grow. I reflect now. In the oldest days, that guy was incapable of reflection, he existed and he acted.
But I guess, none of us really escape who we are.
That’s why I hate addicts. It’s not the addiction, it’s who they are. They can shed the drugs, but they’ll never shed who they are.
We should be careful not to be cruel. We should be, but we aren’t. I’ll tell you a secret, why we shouldn’t be cruel. Because cruelty lasts and lasts, it’s like a scar we put on someone’s soul, it can never quite be gotten rid of, it can be there forever. We should be kinder to each other.
And then there’s the thing.
Someone I cared about stood there, traumatized, her home violated, the violator the last member of her family, a brother she feared but tried to love. That must have been so horrible, so painful.
It never occurred to me to give her a hug. I dealt with the problem, gave her a list of things that needed to be done. There was a problem, I was all about dealing with it – the Iceman walks. But I didn’t think of a hug, I knew she was distraught, but offered no compassion. I had none to give.
If someone had been there and said “give her a hug!” I would have jumped and said “Oh right.” But it just didn’t occur to me.
I was concerned, and careful, I recognized the situation, and dealt with it systematically. But whatever empathy, whatever human feeling should have been there, it wasn’t.
I don’t think I can explain to you how deeply disturbing I am finding that, a day later. I think I’m getting it back, re-establishing empathy and compassion, the genuineness of human feelings. But I feel a readiness, I am right now more easily cruel, less forgiving, callous and readier for certain things. But basically cold..
I should have been better for her last night, but instead, I was what I was.
In that sense, I failed.
I think that perhaps certain situations call for an extreme functionality in me that sets emotions and empathy aside. I think that I was conscientious, and abstractedly empathic. But I didn’t really feel much. I was triaging – responding to threat and danger, functionally dealing with the aftermath, rather than the emotions. This isn’t a bad thing, if you have someone who is dealing with a severed artery, they need a pressure bandage, not a hug. If you’re facing a fire, get the fire extinguisher and deal with it, don’t stop and relate to your feelings.
Still, I am disturbed by my coldness, the inhumanity of those moments.
And finally, as always, there’s the bullshit. The bullshit is what comes after every situation, the dull tedium of the consequences and aftermath. She’s got to deal with insurance, and police, and getting the insurance contractor to fix her place, finding what’s missing and mourning the small pieces of jewelry which were all she had from her mother and grandmother, getting a security system, the unease of her brother’s potential return, and the cold ache of betrayal.
No matter what, there’s always the bullshit that comes after, the minutiae and nuts and bolts of life, the tedium and inconveniences of the trauma that drag on and on. That’s life. No matter how bad it gets in a moment, no matter how profound it is… time moves on, the seconds turn into minutes turns into hours and turns into days.
And we get to be around for all of it. Unless we’re unlucky, or lucky. We get to live on, and just deal with the crap and the aftermath, clean up what we can, adjust to what we can’t, and live.
I wish she didn’t have to go through that, it would be nice to have a magic wand to set us free, to make it as if fit never happened. But it did, and so we are forced to go on.
The world moves on, no matter what. You just have to move along with it, or you get left behind.