Wonder what I've been doing today? Let me tell you about my day.
It was dark, the kind of dark that gave me no idea what time of night it was. Could have been 3 am, could have been 6 am. My dog and I both had to go to the bathroom.
Once I got downstairs, a voice called my mother’s name. I thought it was my dad with his croaky voice, since he’s had a very bad cold this week. I answered that it was me, and when I left the bathroom to take the dog outside, I realized that the person sitting in my Dad’s easy chair was not my dad.
Melvin had been a draft dodger during the Viet Nam war. In his travels in Ontario, he found out about these Mennonites who don’t believe in going to war and fighting and killing people for any cause. A large group of Mennonite leaders were gathering for a conference at that time to discuss the war and alternatives to fighting, and my grandfather was one of them. Melvin somehow reached my grandpa, talked his ear off, and managed to impress him enough for Grandpa to take him under his wing.
That’s the thing with my family. We’re not just good Mennonites, we’re the kind of Christians that Jesus would be proud of because we take in all the stray dogs and lepers and possessed people.
For decades, every couple of years, Melvin has gotten in whatever run down car he’s driving, taken a perilous journey up from the United States, showed up at the home of one of my Grandpa’s adult children, and plopped himself down for a chat.
Melvin does not stop talking. Unless he takes a fit of narcolepsy and falls asleep, or gets distracted by the TV, which in our house was never on at all times, or if the person being talked at walks away, he is talking.
The man is like a motion sensor light. If a physical body moves into his range, the switch is tripped and he starts talking. He seems to have a list of topics ready to go as soon as the switch goes, and he’s off, talk talk talk. If the person being talked at walks away his mouth stops and his face goes blank. Just waiting for the talked at to come back.
So this morning at whatthehelloclock, I’m standing in the middle of my parent’s living room, blinking at this strange man who is sitting in my Dad’s rocking chair. This does not compute. He has just materialized. No warning, no phone call, no discussion, just...he’s there. All wrinkled and rumpled and sitting there in the dark. I said that I had to take my dog to the bathroom and he wants to know all about my dog and what his name is and that he saw the long leash outside and that’s great becauuse then I don’t have to walk him and I’m shuffling across the room in my slippers for the door. I don’t want to talk. Not to anybody, not at darkoclock in the morning, and not to him.
I watched for the dog out the window, brought him back in, and muttered something about morning before heading back upstairs, totally confused and quite a bit weirded out.
I got into bed and poked my husband in the shoulder.
“I’m not sure if it’s a figment of my imagination, but I’m pretty sure there’s a crazy man from Chicago in my Dad’s chair.”
“Did you talk to him?”
“Tried not to.”
“Did he talk to you?”
“Well then it wasn’t your imagination.”
I wasn’t so sure. My dreams and figments often do talk to me. But as I lay there in the dark I got more and more freaked out.
There were rumours that Melvin was on his way up here way back at the beginning of December, but he didn’t show up. My mother told me just today that Melvin has showed up at my aunt’s house, totally unannounced, then promptly disappeared, resulting in my aunt reporting him missing and middle of the night phone calls and everything. Not a word from Melvin, until all of a sudden he shows up in the dark early this morning.
I tried to sleep but the questions rolled in my head. Would my mother have a heart attack when she left her room and found him sitting there like a giant frog? Would the kids wake up and bounce down the steps and wonder wide eyed who the hell this greasy person was? Should I call the cops? And why the hell wasn’t that door locked? Who went to bed last? Who left that door unlocked???
And furthermore, what kind of person shows up in the dark at the home of somebody he hasn’t seen in about eight years and then walks in and gets comfy, waiting like a lump until the people in the house wake up?
After finally falling back asleep, I woke up late; it was almost 9 am. After checking the kid’s room I freaked out that they’d been cornered by a Melvin conversation. I’m pretty sure he’s basically harmless, but I’ve always felt uneasy around him. I threw my clothes on and raced downstairs. There they all were, my folks and kids, quietly eating their cereal while Melvin told them everything he knew about the Kellogg’s Corporation and how in the United States they sell Finding Nemo cereal which is basically just Cheerios but in a different package. I could have told him that Kellogg’s doesn’t make Cheerios and that he’s completely full of crap but I didn’t want to make any reason for his voice to continue droning.
He has completely ruined the Midwest American accent for me. Forever.
When told that Mom had to work today, and that the kids and I had to go into town for a few hours to get some barn supplies, and that my Aunt couldn’t entertain him today, he seemed surprised and put out. Then he announced that he really needed a bath.
I glanced sideways at my mother. I admired the restraint she practiced to keep from visibly shuddering with revulsion.
She and I rounded up the kids and high tailed it outta there as quick as we could. I had a chest pain so bad I wanted to eat six Ativan tablets but I didn’t want to fall asleep. I couldn’t even swear in front of my kids. I kept talking to Jesus. As in, Sweet Jesus, why is that man here, and Jesus please tell me why he thinks it’s okay to walk into the house like that?
We’re back from town now, she’s at work, Dad’s out in his shop, and we have no idea where Melvin is.
Or when he’ll amble back here with his booming voice and expressionless eyes, expecting a meal and a place to sleep.
So by now we’re all asking why we put up with this. Part of the reason is because we are cursed with niceness. Me not so much anymore...after my breakdown and continuing recovery I am less and less tolerant of everything and I don’t like people as much as I used to.
Part of it is pity. He has nobody.
Part of it is compassion. We have this thing where we feel like we need to be good to people who need some goodness.
Part of it is guilt.
Part of it is obligation. My grandparents tolerated regular visits from this guy. They were God’s people, I’m telling you, prisoner visiting, hospital visiting, praying with you and for you kind of people. They would take in the scum of the earth that nobody else would touch, and care about those weirdos and losers just simply because they could. And believed that Jesus wanted it that way.
Well I kinda wish Jesus would get in Melvin’s beat up decrepit car with him and direct him to a nice place where he can talk to nice men in white coats. Not that there’s anything wrong with places like that. Some of my best friends have visited places like that and I maybe should have too a couple of times. I just kinda wish Jesus would take care of Melvin right now so my mom wouldn’t have to. Melvin could use some Jesus attention. Seriously.
I wonder this evening if my grandparents would be ashamed of me for having so little patience with this annoying soul grinding irritating boring grimy slimy person. I’m sorry Grandma but you were a better person than I am. I wish I had your capacity to care. I’m sorry Grandpa that I hate being in the same room with Melvin.
And hey, Jesus, I’m sorry...I just am. Sorry for being sorry. But honestly Jesus I just feel like you would have at least given us some notice first.
In any case, Jesus said that by helping the least of these we honour him. There’s a used towel draped over the edge of the tub. Melvin seems to have had a bath while we were out. So there you go Jesus, now you can add my mother to your list.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m not against weird people. I myself am slightly weird. I love eccentric, off kilter, fragile, and even unhinged. But blankly, droningly, selfishly weird, I can’t deal with.
So, about twelve hours after Melvin sat there in the dark like a frog faced buddha, I have supper in mom’s oven and the chest pain has dulled to a little ache halfway down my ribcage. We’ve got a movie ready to pop in the machine in case he comes back expecting entertainment. We’ve told the kids to not start a conversation with him. Mom is going to tell him that he has to go to someone else’s house tomorrow. The other Aunts have all been notified and are probably right now on the phone working out how to juggle Melvin until he decides to go home.
All of this is true. And no, I don’t think I’ll ever feel like writing a novel about it.