Sunday, March 14, 2010

Laughter Behind the Tears

I still remember that first encounter in June of 2003. I was told up front, before we ever reached the duplex I was looking at to purchase, that the seller’s agent should speak to Judith, that she doesn’t like talking to strangers. My first investment property. A new experience for sure, but I had no idea what I would be dealing with people wise.

As I walked through the three room shotgun home, an old mill house built in the 1920’s, Judith stood in the corner, quiet, her arms pulled upward like a frightened child. I did not speak, but I made eye contact and nodded. She recoiled.

I purchased that first property, and I inherited two sets of tenants that had issues, some of which were not of their own doings. A state run agency helped them to live on their own by taking their disability checks and paying bills first (including rent and utilities,) then giving the sparse remainder to the tenant.
Judith turned out to be one of the warmest hearted people I have crossed paths with, but with an exterior as rough as I have encountered. She had spent time in jail for beating a man so bad he nearly died. Something about him making a move on her. The crusty ‘ole shell was effective enough; it kept out what she desperately wanted to avoid- anyone that could hurt her, and that covered pretty much everyone. A nearly impenetrable fa├žade that blocked at friendships at all costs, for fear of rejection.

Over time she took a liking to me, in large part because I spoke to her like an equal, as though she was worth something. I heard this theme from several of my tenants in the old mill town, over the next few years; no one else had ever treated them like they were worth something. As though they were human and worthy of being on the planet.

The neighbors always smiled and shook their heads, talking about that crazy lady. “Somebody’s gonna end up killing her, with that big mouth of hers.” Everyone knew Judith, for better or for worse. She did, as I found over time, have a few old friends who watched after her. Her precious few insiders shared a common thread. They all thought Judith was a wonderful, caring person who had lived a tough life. What brings a person to this point of no hope for a better life?
Judith would call me at times, just to talk. I would not hear from her for weeks at a time, a result of her medication and mood swings. The conversations seemed to help her to cope with life, and release some of her overwhelming anger, without spewing it out on someone else. She was loud, and at times full of venom she could not seem to contain. She got mad and punched her hand through a window at the apartment one day. I can’t remember all the times the police came out, either because she called them or someone called because of her.

Judith was a brutally honest as anyone I have ever met, both in her opinions and in dealing with others. She never backed down from anyone, and I believe she could have decked any man, any time if she took a notion. At the same time, if she was walking behind her worst enemy, someone she despised, and the person dropped a ten dollar bill, Judith would have run him down to return it. She was just that way; honest to a fault, to the point she sometimes had no money for food because she gave it away. She couldn’t stand to see someone go without, and she was taken advantage of at times.
People like this seem to be an easy target for predators and control freaks.


After Judith reached a point in her life where she could not live alone, someone new moved in, a month after Judith moved to a place where she could have a roommate and more constant care.

At first, it seemed my investment in Tara would cost less time, although I didn’t mind the conversations with Judith. Tara seemed normal at first, I suppose because she took her medication as described. By the time the schizophrenia was more obvious, she had started mixing illegal drugs and booze with the prescription meds, and all predictability went out the window. When Anna Nicole Smith died in 2007, Tara decided to change her appearance as a tribute to the Hollywood star. I drove by one day and saw a bleach blonde; she was wearing eveningwear that looked like it had been painted on. On the front porch of course. She also “idolized” the 80’s pop star Billy Idol. Just before her oppressive boyfriend made arrangements to move her out, she reached a point that she thought Elvis lived in the attic of her apartment. What events in her life led up to this point? I recall the last interaction I had with her, a message I received-

hey craig,,,i am so glad to hear from you,,,yes i am in the area.if you read my profiel i see the future and can do things like i know its a sin but talk to the dead,,i never let noone close to me who meet me know,,,they dont understand,amen.but i would love to do you a reading,,lets see,,i see an older women whos been in your life your grandmother i beleve.she wore dresses and had grey hair and loved church.amen she showes me a yellow rose.do you understand a yellow rose,,,only you and her would know this amen,shes showing me a piece of wood,like a 2 bye 4 but old wood,amen..she showing me a hammer,,,,,are you remolding,,,do you understand what shes try ing to tell are say,she showing me a little blond haired girl about 2 or 5 yrs old,amen,,,,her hair is in a pony tail,,long blond,buetyful child,amen shes pointing out easter to me,,,colorful eggs,she sayys she loves you..amendid you ever fix her hair,she showes me you fixing her hair .when she was younger she had dark hair buetyful women amen,her age in heaven is about 24 and thin and in perfect health,,,she points out to me her heart was a problem when she was alive,,,now its perfect,amen she says you are found of rainbows amen...shes showing me a red rose for love,amen and a bush in front of a home,on the left hand side,,,i do beleve this is where she lived,amen.this bush you remeber,she said...........i know this all sounds strange but i gagttta find friends who know the real me your the first i have opened up to.beside billy idol.i tried to be the next sylia brown thru him,,,but instead i failed,so i am out here ,trying to be exsepted as who i am your my new friend who knowes my secret within,,,i talk to the dead....you still like me,?i admired you alot,you made me nervious and felt like a child with a crush

She craved someone in her life that would accept her, just like she was. She longed for acceptance, just like so many others in the area. People looking for a new start, but without changing the old habits that put them there in the first place. Or unable to shake the skeletons in their respective closets long enough for a new beginning. Like Judith, Tara was addicted to smoking and other habits that she took to the extreme. She was wide open to predators coming in her life, the ones faking affection to get what they wanted.

One common thread with both Judith and Tara was this: they cherished time spent with them more than having things. They craved the chance to belong, to be cared for. Something they missed out on growing up. The old, worn down mill town was full of the affects of broken homes, abuse, missing love. And the effects of living there still makes it that much tougher to get out.

Another person that touched my life was Peggy. She passed away of a heart attack a couple of months ago, and I did not know until after the funeral. Her kids were jealous of me I think; she thought so highly of me. I did get a call after the fact, letting me know she was cremated and the remains released somewhere in Alabama.
She seemed to have her own guardian angel at times, a reward for a very kind heart. She had nothing bad to say about anyone unless they gave her a good reason.
Twice a year, Peggy went through a couple of weeks of depression and crying spells; the anniversary of her husband’s death and his birthday. She still considered herself married all the years after his unexpected death, and she never forgot, never stopped mourning. She was truly a warm hearted soul, who like the others, craved time spent with people she truly cared about.

I always went out and collected rent from Peggy in person, and had a conversation with her. We either sat on a chair on the front porch, or during cold snaps or on the occasion she could not get up, we would sit in the living room, where she sometimes slept. She always talked about things important in her life, which meant I heard about people. Her son in Florida, the daughter who lived with her, her husband of so many years. A picture of her husband always sat in the room, along with family photos. She asked me once to do some photos of her and her daughter/grandkids, but she never could get everyone together at the same time when I could be there. I’ll always regret that.

Pictures and stories, they’re so valuable. I’m writing down the many stories I collected from the old mill town, but no one let me take photos. I’ll bet they had trouble looking in the mirror as well.

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