Ghosts of My Past

When I was in ninth grade, Angela told me Jerri was using drugs. We were in the fellowship hall of King First Baptist Church either before or after youth group and completely out of the blue, as I remember it, she said,”your sister is doing drugs, you know.” She said it, not as a friend out of concern for another friend, but as an adversary who knows something that will hurt you and has picked the exact moment when you are most unsuspecting to slap you with it.

I can still physically feel the pain of that moment. The queasy sensation of my stomach bottoming out, the dull ache in my chest of hot wax being poured in and hardening, dizziness, my brain turning to cotton. My body went cold all over and then my face burned with, what? Shame? Anger? Fear? Something inside me knew Angela was not just being cruel. She knew something I didn’t.

“She is not!” I shouted. “My sister would NEVER do something like that.”

Angela smirked. “She is, too. I saw her. But you can believe what you want. I just thought you’d want to know.”

I didn’t want to know. I wasn’t ready to leave the imaginary land of happy, healthy family. I think there’s a voice inside all of us that whispers, “if you don’t acknowledge it, it’s not really real.” You know the one I’m talking about. It’s called Denial.

I tried to push the accusation aside and ignore it. I told myself all the things you usually do when people say things that hurt you. Angela is just jealous. Angela was just taking her bad day out on me. But in the end, I couldn’t let it go and I confronted Jerri.

“Are you doing drugs, Jerri? Because Angela said she saw you.”

“No! You know me better than that. I wouldn’t do that!” It was the smoothest lie that had ever been told. She looked me directly in the eye, her expression genuine, her tone of voice the perfect balance of sincerity and righteous indignation. Not a flex of a facial muscle to give her away.

Cut to the present.

Jerri’s birthday was Thursday. I gave her a low-end microwave from Walmart. She eats a lot of frozen dinners and uses her neighbor’s microwave frequently. This creates some tension in their relationship so we both thought a microwave was a good idea. I bought the microwave several weeks ago knowing my workload was about to get hectic.

A few days before her birthday, Jerri called. “You know I’ve changed my mind about my present. I’d rather have a PS2. It costs about the same as a microwave and it will give me something to do.”

“I think you need a microwave more than a PS2, Jerri. Besides, I already bought it.”

So Thursday night, I delivered the microwave to her apartment, unpacked it, plugged it in and then took her to dinner at her favorite restaurant. As we left her apartment, she locked the door from the inside then pulled it shut. She then pushed on it to verify it was locked. It pushed open. She slammed it and locked it with her key and checked it again. This time the door stayed locked. As we left the apartment building, I noted that someone had propped the outer door open with the mat.

“That’s really dangerous for everyone, Jerri, why don’t you pull the mat out so the door locks?”

“I wasn’t the one who put it there.”

“Yeah, but it’s your building too. It’s your security.” She shrugged and left the door propped open.

At dinner, she tried to convince me to drive her to her doctor’s office the next morning but just the thought of trying to juggle that was giving me high blood pressure so I said, “sorry, you’ll have to take the bus.” She grumbled about this saying it takes 3 hours round trip on the bus whereas if I’d take her, it would be more like an hour.

On Friday at 11:30 am, Jerri called me at work. “I just got back from the doctor and my microwave is gone.”

“What?!! How could that happen? Wasn’t your door locked?”

“Well, I thought so but I must not have checked it.”

“Was the door to the building propped open when you left?”

“Yes. Should I call the police and report it? They aren’t going to do anything about it anyway. It’s not like they are going to get it back for me.”

“I don’t know. Did you talk to Brian [property manager]?”

“No, he’s not here.”

“Was anything else taken? Your TV or your computer?”

“No, the TV is too heavy and the computer would be a hassle to take.”

“Well, the microwave was heavy too.” I’d been lugging the thing around, from the store to my car, my car to the garage, the garage to my car, the car to Jerri’s apartment. Given Jerri’s neighborhood, whoever took it was probably on foot and that’s all he could handle. It might even have been taken by a neighbor and still be in her building somewhere. Would the police be willing to search door to door? Probably not. Would Brian? What to do. What to do.

My brain raced around in circles and then came to a screeching halt. Everything Jerri said added up. Her door not catching and locking – I’d witnessed this myself numerous times. The building door propped open. Unsavory characters routinely cutting across the property. Jerri not home for several hours because of the bus and her doctor’s appointment. But something was bothering me. It seemed too predictable. Hadn’t another client told Telecare she saw Jerri talking to her dealer all the time? Was I being played here? And wait just a minute. Jerri wanted a PS2. Couldn’t she have brokered a trade?

“Jerri, I hate asking you this, but I have to. Did you sell the microwave to someone?”

“No! You know me better than that. I wouldn’t do that!”

Huh. Now let’s see. Where have I heard that before?

This particular ghost won’t stop haunting me. Am I crazy to keep applying something that happened over 30 years ago to present day situations? Is that part of your being which we refer to as character already intact by the time you reach your teens, and if so, is it fixed or can it change? Is it possible to ever trust someone again after they’ve lied to you so smoothly and so soundly about something that devastated the world as you knew it?

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I called Brian to report the theft and confessed “there could be other explanations for the missing microwave but Jerri said it was stolen. Her story aligns with several key facts I’ve witnessed myself. So, at least for now, I’m choosing to believe her.”

“I think you have to,” Brian said, “until you have evidence to suggest otherwise.” And then he went on to describe the steps Housing for New Hope is taking to improve security by replacing all locks on apartments with good quality locks and installing video cameras. He also explained that the bigger problem was the community there doesn’t take care of each other. Every man is out for himself. Neighbors may appear to be friendly but it’s not real and they will stab you the minute your back is turned. He has worked in other housing communities where they were able to turn this around. He hopes to transform this community but knows it won’t happen over night.

“Propping the door mat open is a real problem and I’m aware of it. But here’s the thing. No one is going to pull the mat out if they didn’t position it in the first place. Given the current climate in the community, that would just set them up as a target. They are afraid of retribution.”

Hmmm. The fear Jerri deals with is on a whole other level from my own. So thinking about my particular ghost, I ask myself, “So what if Jerri is lying? What are you afraid of?” I realize my biggest fear is of looking stupid. Of standing up for Jerri while everyone else shakes their head and says “how pathetic.” My dad used to say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” And that’s it in a nutshell. Jerri fooled me once. I’m finding it takes a lot of strength to put myself at risk to her doing it again.

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