A continuation of an earlier post, discussing the early memories I have of a man I eventually wound up dating. Link to the previous post: Shades of Yellow Pt. 1
The only other thing aside from the apartment not being in his name, and that weird note I have to sort of verify his story is this next event, which occurred between us a few months later when I was getting ready to move out of my parents house and into my own apartment. My boyfriend had ended the lease at his apartment and moved in with a friend of his who had fallen on hard times. The money required to help out his friend was substantially less than his rent, and he was still in-between jobs himself. It made sense, but being the only girl living in a house full of guys wasn’t very feasible both logistically due to the location of the house, and morally on the count of his roommate who was raising a teenage son. So I set out to get my own apartment to provide us our own private space, even if he never officially signed the lease or completely moved in, he had a key, spoke to the landlord often, and spent most of his time there unless my work schedule conflicted with his odd jobs and hobbies. (Or he was hooking up with another girl. Another post for another time.)
Part of this I actually could verify with public records if I felt like it, but it still isn’t proof that he was telling the truth about his involvement. I’m not sure why he would go to all the trouble to connect the dots unless it was genuine memory recall, especially considering the circumstances of how it came up, but I also don’t really know why he would have felt the need to lie to me in the first place about any of his past so… It’s really any one’s guess. I’ve copied and pasted my journal entry of the event here, which is why the tense and style changes a bit. I’ve had it written for a while, but have been a little hesitant to share it. Mostly because if what he said was true, I don’t want to inadvertently put him in any danger. I keep my writing as vague and non descript as possible for that reason as well. I have many, many, many more descript details, but they’re never going to make it here.
I was digging around in our closet the other day and found something which I thought I’d left behind and/or lost in all of my various moving over the years. It’s a stop sign which my grandfather gave to me many years ago. He used to be the custodian for a small shopping center. It was often that he brought home all sorts of toys, trinkets, and assorted boxes of junk left behind by the previous tenants of each small space when their lease was up, they defaulted on their payments or cleared out their stock. When he found a stash of street signs haphazardly tossed behind the dumpster one morning he didn’t think twice before gathering them up and bringing them home. There were two street names (which I don’t remember), a speed limit sign, a stop sign, and a no u-turn sign. When my mom, sisters and I arrived at my grandparents house for our weekly visit and I bounced out into the back yard I was immediately mesmerized by them. I asked about them, and when the only answer I received was an incomplete one about finding them in a dumpster my imagination began to run wild. The stop sign had a tear on the edge, which I now know to be a bullet hole. All afternoon I played in the back yard thinking of any possible scenario for the signs.
The afternoon passed into evening and eventually it was time to go home. I wanted to take them home, but my mother insisted that we needed to call the city and figure out where they went first, but my grandfather didn’t see the harm in me taking one. So he helped me sneak the stop sign into the back of the car unnoticed. It was our little secret, until a few days later when my mom went grocery shopping and discovered it in the back of the car. I got a mild scolding, but it was eventually forgotten and I was allowed to hang the sign in my bedroom where it remained for the duration of my time at my parents house. I didn’t think anything of it other than it was awesome and it accented my license plate collection perfectly. (A collection I gathered legally from my family in their various vehicle purchases over the years)
Fast forward several years: I was packing my things to move out into my first apartment,with my boyfriend, who happened to be visiting my parents’ house for the first time to help me. I met him at the front door and lead him quickly past my mother and down to my bedroom in the basement.
“It’s kind of a mess. Well no, it’s a wreck, but y’know. I’m too busy working to clean. Sorry.” I explained slightly embarrassed, as I opened the door and revealed my piles of laundry and other various junky items collected through adolescence. The walls were plastered with posters, art, and just about anything else I could think of including my stop sign and license plates.
“Good God, how do you find anything in here?” He asked honestly as he peered around me into the room.
“Yeah… It’s a mess. This is why I needed your help.” I laughed nervously.
“You don’t need my help. You need a dump truck, and a shovel.” He answered, taking stock of my mountains of laundry and cluttered mess. “Where did you get that stop sign?”
“My grandpa found it behind a dumpster up in their old town . He used to work at a shopping center as a janitor/custodian person.” I answered casually not thinking too much about it.
“Just the stop sign?” He asked staring at the sign almost mesmerized by it.
“No there were a few other signs. Some street names, a speed limit sign, and a no u-turn sign, why?” I asked.
“A shopping center? Off of (specific highway number)?” He asked, still entranced by the sign.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t driving yet. There was a closeout store, a pharmacy, and a fast food place right around there. I know where it is, but I don’t know how to tell you where it is unless I show you.” I answered. “Why?”
“I think I might have been the one who put it there.” He answered.
“Seriously?” I asked with a small snort of laughter at the irony of the situation. “There’s a number on the back.”
He stepped over several piles of clothes and pulled the sign from the wall peering behind it to read the serial number on the back of it.
“I don’t remember. You’ll have to show me where he found it.” He said with a distant, yet sad tone in his voice.
I was about to inquire as to why he was so distant and distracted, but the moment was interrupted by my mother poking her head into my room and asking us how the cleaning/packing was going and making some remark about my clutter.
My boyfriend and I finished packing up my clothes, loaded as many as we could into his car and headed up to my apartment. After we dropped off the load of boxes we headed up towards the city where my grandparents used to live. For some reason he really wanted to know where my grandpa found the sign. With out any directions from me, he arrived in the then nearly abandon shopping center.
“Is this it?” He asked, pulling into the parking lot and making his way behind the building to where the dumpsters were kept, pulling up to one and pausing for a moment.
“Yeah, it is. How’d you know?” I asked.
“I knew I left them here! We were running from the cops and had to stash them somewhere so I put them behind the dumpster and hopped the fence. I got away from the police, but when I came back to get them they were gone. I needed them. I got the shit beat out of me.” My boyfriend said quietly more to himself than to me as he pulled back around to the front of the store and found a parking spot near the edge of the lot, not really answering my question but not exactly evading it either.
“Why did you need them? Who needs street signs?” I asked completely ignorant to the circumstances which he was implying. He had mentioned his involvement with one of the local gangs, but I was too young and naive to put the two together, just as I was too naive to equate the damage on the stop sign as a bullet hole.
“Back in high school… It was a challenge. I had to get the certain signs from certain places and bring them back proving that I did it.” He answered, sparing most of the details and leaving my ignorance fully intact.
“A challenge in high school?” I answered with a laugh. “For the swim team? Boys and their displays of manhood.”
“It wasn’t exactly for the swim team, but yeah. It wasn’t the best idea in the world. After those disappeared and I got the shit beat out me I had to get ten more.” He answered still not correcting my ignorance. “I did it the second time.”
“What did you earn for your efforts?” I asked with a disapproving, sarcastic tone in my voice.
“Respect.” He answered simply as we both got out of the car and walked into the store.
“So you broke the law, got chased by the cops, beat up, and all you got was respect?” I asked in disbelief.
“They said it couldn’t be done, and I did it. Technically twice, but thanks to SOMEBODY’S GRANDPA, we’re the only people who know that. Do you know how hard it is to get those signs down with out getting caught? Not to mention carrying them.” My boyfriend explained. “And I spent all that time in the wrong territory. I was basically a sitting duck. If I got caught by anyone else except the police I would have been dead.”
It was then that I understood what he was talking about. I made the connection with territory to gang activity.
“Wait, territory? Are you okay? Should we be here?” I whispered.
“Sure. It’s been years, and besides who’s going to be looking for me here? It’s literally the last place anyone would expect me to be: right under their nose. We’ll be fine.” He answered nonchalantly. “And I’m always 100% aware of my surroundings at all times. If I see anyone we should be worried about I’ll let you know.”
I stood there for a moment searching his face for any sign of a lie, and when I was satisfied that he was telling the truth we finished wandering around the store picking up a few items I was lacking for my apartment and returned to the car.
“Since we’re up here, would you mind driving by my grandparents old house? It’s right down the road. I haven’t been by there in forever.” I asked as we hopped in the car.
“Yeah, that’s fine. Where is it?” He asked starting the car and pulling out into the flow of traffic.
“By the paper factory.” I answered. (also giving the street name)
“I know exactly where that is.” He answered as he turned out of the parking lot and headed off toward my grandparents former house.
He once again turned down the correct street with out any guidance from me and slowly crept through the small neighborhood. I listed off things I remembered about each house having spent most of my childhood in that neighborhood just as much as my own.
“We helped that lady move. We’d never spoken to her before but she was having trouble with something on the sidewalk and mom stopped to see if she needed help. We ended up spending the entire afternoon with her helping her pack. She gave me a stuffed duck. And that house had the Siamese cats. Two of them that went every where. They scared me, but I secretly wanted one. If I ever have a cat it will be Siamese. This is where my grandparents lived. The one with the pine tree in the front.” I explained as we pulled into the drive way. “They cut down the maple tree! I can’t believe it! We used to sit in the front yard and play in the biggest pile of orange leaves every fall. I’d never seen a pile of leaves so big. One year we piled it up over top of the pine tree.”
“How long did they live here?” He asked content to listen to my stories, and genuinely interested in what I had to say.
“I don’t know. As long as I can remember, up until a few years ago. The neighborhood was getting a little too rough for them. There were always shady people at the house across the street and when it got raided that was the last straw.” I answered. “We were actually here when it happened, but I had to stay in the back of the house so I didn’t really get to see what happened. I remember the DEA and FBI being here though, and my uncle really freaking out about the whole thing.” (And there you have it. The event I can verify with enough digging back into archives of public records from ages ago.)
“Which house?” My boyfriend asked turning around in his seat to see which house I was talking about.
“That one there.” I answered also turning to point to the house in question.
“I spent a lot of time in that house.” He answered with out further explanation.
“Are you serious? When? I probably saw you. What were you driving?” I asked, once again completely missing his implication. Here I was telling him about all the criminal activity going on in this house, and he was trying to tell me that he had been involved in it, but unable to see any wrong in my beloved it went right over my head.
“You probably did. I was here a lot. The Taurus.” He answered quietly.
“No way! I DO remember you! I remember because we had a Taurus, and I remember saying: ‘Hey the neighbors have a car just like ours!’” I laughed again, merely at the irony of our lives being so closely intertwined for years yet never officially having a legitimate conversation until we started working together, years later.
“That was me. I actually do remember your car being parked here one time. I thought it was mine and tried to get in it. I was PISSED the door wouldn’t unlock, until I realized it wasn’t my car. Someone called the cops on me.” He said with a sheepish smile.
“I remember that night! Grandma was about to have a heart attack because she thought some guy was trying to break into our car. It was my mom who called the police. I can’t believe that was you. That’s so weird.” I said, a cheesy grin spreading across my face. “Anyway, we’ve been sitting here in this driveway forever. We should probably go. Can we stop one more place before we head home? There’s a park just around the corner we used to go to all the time.”
“The park at the top of the hill?” He asked.
“Yeah, have you been there?” I asked, excited that a place so near and dear to my heart was remembered by some one else outside of my family.
“I used to hang out there all the time.” He answered as he backed out of the driveway and headed toward the park.
We drove up the hill and pulled to a stop in the small quiet parking lot as I peered out the window in wonder soaking up all the memories of that place.
“The last time I was here Grandpa, Beverly and I were walking back over there towards the woods and we witnessed a massive drug deal. It was the only time I’ve ever been really freaked out by strangers. We were minding our own business, but these creeps kept staring at us. It really freaked me out, especially when one of the guys followed us back down the hill after we left. I will always remember that. He was in a Camaro with the license plate “2Wild4U”. As soon as we left the park he crept behind us all the way down the hill to one of those houses down there. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and I couldn’t sleep for weeks afraid that some one was going to come find me.” I said recanting my story with out too much thought into it.
“You were here with your grandpa and Beverly? What were you wearing?” My boyfriend asked.
“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked, slightly put off by such a random question.
“Because I think I was here that day. This was my park. I was in charge of distribution here and a few other places.” He answered honestly.
“You were with Camaro Man?” I asked a sick feeling growing in the pit of my stomach.
“I wasn’t WITH Camaro Man, but I knew him. You were right to be afraid. What were you wearing?” He answered, turning in his seat to face me as I spoke.
“A yellow sweat shirt and jeans. Grandpa was in his blue work clothes like he always wears and Beverly was in a red dress and white sweater.” I answered.
“I was here. I saw you.” He answered, a dark expression falling over his face, as he turned back around to stare out the windshield. “We all saw you. I was supposed to follow you into the woods and… take care of it.”
Those words hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, before I next spoke.
“Take care of it, how?” I asked, this implication too grave to escape my understanding.
“Take care of it. Try to scare you, and if that didn’t work, kill you.” He answered bluntly, his hands tightening on the steering wheel as he continued to stare straight ahead, not looking at me as he spoke. “To them you were just a threat, a liability. Two kids and an old man. I couldn’t do it. That was the day I walked away from that life and never went back.”
Completely overwhelmed with everything my boyfriend had just dumped onto my emotional plate I heard him, but didn’t fully comprehend what he was saying and desperately tried to lighten the mood with: “Well, if that’s not love at first sight I don’t know what is.” (There you go, some of my own traumatic dissociation at work)
With that, my boyfriend turned around to finally face me with a mortified expression on his face. “Oh God, no. You were just a kid.”
“I was seven years younger than you, just like I am now.” I said as a matter of fact.
“Is it seven years? Oh my God. No… you’re my girlfriend. You’re over eighteen. I’ve seen you naked! I don’t want to think about you as that little girl.” He stammered.
“But… I am that little girl.” I replied, just as uncomfortable as he in the ever growing awkward atmosphere in the car.
“Okay, yeah… but I’m attracted to you. If you’re that little girl, it’s creepy! Oh, my God. No. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I can’t be here, we gotta go.” He said, quickly throwing the car in reverse and zipping out of the parking lot.
We drove in silence for quite a while until I cautiously said: “It’s not that weird. I mean… my grandparents are ten years apart in age, and I’ve always been attracted to older guys so… You’re not old enough to be my dad. It’s not creepy.”
“Kelli…It’s not the age difference. My parents are pretty far apart too, so I mean I know it works as far as relationships go. That’s not the creepy part.” He replied with a sigh. “When I was going through the courts and testifying and getting out of that life, I kept having nightmares about that girl. Now, I’m sleeping with her? That’s creepy.”
“Oh… well… yeah. When you put it that way, it is sorta creepy.” I replied.
“Yeah. Yeah it is. Which is why we’re never going to speak of it again.” He huffed, sharply.
I turned my gaze out the passenger side window, sufficiently chastised as tears started to well up in my eyes. He wasn’t wrong, it was a whole lot to deal with in a very short amount of time, and I was honestly a little scared at how upset he was by the entire thing. I felt like it was my fault, or that I had done something wrong by asking him to visit those places, bringing up memories.
“Wait, are you crying?” He asked, still upset but making an effort to soften his voice. “Kelli, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I just worked really hard to get past all of that and really start over in my life. I don’t like thinking about it. All I want to focus on is now. Now, you’re sexy and you’re fun and I like you. I like being with you. You’re my girlfriend. That’s what I want to think about when I hear your name, not all the shit from my past. Do you understand?”
“Yeah.” I squeaked. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. Are you going to be okay tonight? You aren’t going to have nightmares or anything, are you?”
“I… don’t know. Don’t worry about it. It’ll be okay, Kelli. I’m not breaking up with you or anything. We’ll just… we won’t talk about it anymore. I met you at work, you’re 19, we started dating. That’s that.”
There we have it. I can verify the raid, and my grandparent’s address, but I still don’t know for certain if the man I was dating was really involved with all of those activities, especially since he was a minor and had all of his records sealed after the fact. He definitely had a strong reaction to the girl in a yellow shirt. I was wearing a yellow shirt the last time we went to visit that park, which was one of the last events before the raid solidifying my grandparents decision to move. It all happened with in a few years, so if my boyfriend was telling the truth it fits as far as timelines go but I’ll never really know.
I was simply mesmerized by the poetic beauty of it all. When I think of it I don’t think of anger at nearly losing my life, I just see a scrawny, strung out, wannabe thug who worked so hard to achieve the respect of these people by enduring his initiation, looking at the innocence of two children who were still complete strangers and using that as a defining moment in his life. Plus, the fact that the cosmos sent us back into each other’s lives to fulfill a different purpose years later, I mean it really is serendipitous. That’s sincerely all I saw in the moment, but as I said so many other things had already happened between us it could just be that all I WANTED to see was poetic beauty instead of the harsh reality. (ding, ding, ding traumatic dissociation again)
Whatever the reason he told me these things, if he dissociated from everything because it was too overwhelming, had forgotten because it had been so long, or simply made it all up trying to reinvent himself, or scare me away, it doesn’t change my opinion of the guy. It’s no longer denial about what happened between us, it’s not infatuation or any desire to have him back, it’s just a deeper understanding. An understanding I was never quite able to reach during our time together. His suffering was genuine, no matter what the cause and he did some really stupid things because of it. Things he wouldn’t have otherwise done in a healthy state of mind. I sort of always knew, but after addressing my own issues, thus removing the emotional aspect behind the memories it became much more clear.
I think it’s pretty clear to just about everyone who reads these stories too. At least everyone I talk to on a regular basis outside of blogdom. Honestly, he probably hates himself more than anyone associated with me has any issue with him. I wish he could accept that so he wouldn’t fly into a defensive frenzy anytime we accidentally cross paths. Unfortunately, that’s all him. Someday… maybe.