Day 70: Are you a psychopath?Posted: March 11, 2011
The Book provides a test, about the accuracy of which I have my doubts. So rather than putting myself through something that’s the equivalent of something like this – and which only tests for one thing! – I’m going to post a short story I wrote back in August of 2008, and let you judge my mental health for yourselves.
Grey House, Red Door
My grandfather bought the house on Laurel Street in 1946, when he came home from the war. Within a month, he had married (and impregnated) his high school sweetheart, and they lived together in that house, with its grey asbestos-tile siding and bright red front door, for the rest of their lives.
I didn’t find out that my grandparents were dead until six months after my grandfather was in the ground, and it was the executor of his will who broke the news to me. I’m a bit estranged from the family, which is why he had to tell me – probably also why it took him so long to find me, since no one in the family except my grandfather had any idea where I was.
The lawyer had come to find me because my grandfather had left me the house. I loved that house growing up; it was the scene of all my childhood holidays, Christmases and Easters and long stretches of summers. I was never as happy at home as I was there, and my grandfather knew it, I suppose, which is maybe why he left me the house. Also, no one else wanted it. The rest of the family had made it quite clear they had no desire to live in a small town.
So that’s why I packed my life into my ’84 Toyota Camry and drove halfway across the country to the house I never thought I’d see again, the house that was now my home.
My grandfather left me the house, I said. He didn’t specifically leave me any of the things inside the house; so it was, naturally, completely empty when I arrived. No furniture, no stove, no refrigerator, no dishwasher – the kitchen sink was still there, but one of the toilets was gone. Who steals a toilet from a dead man’s house?
My car somehow made the trip from Seattle to Texas, but it refused to go any further once it was parked in my new driveway. I eventually traded it to some random guy in a pickup for a box of old tools and two rusty bicycles. To be fair, it had already made the trip croos-country once, in the other direction, and maybe coming back was more than it could take. It was almost more than I could take.
I left home the day I graduated high school. I’d gotten up early, thrown my clothes and my books into the car and tied my bike to the roof, so I could leave town as soon as I got my diploma. I left the ceremony early so I wouldn’t have to tell my parents goodbye, and I never looked back. The only person I had any contact with was my grandfather, and that was sporadic, at best.
I never got the impression from him that anyone was that upset that I’d left.
I didn’t come home with much to show for my time away, at least in material terms. A few more books, a few more bikes, new underwear. But it still all fit in that stupid car.
It comes from not working any more than I had to to survive. I lived in one-room apartments and ate beans and rice or corned beef and cabbage, but I had plenty of time to read and bicycle and hike. Also, it prepared me to live in a house with no furniture.
I said before that the house was empty when I moved in, but that’s not entirely accurate. The pantry had a few things left in it. There were some canned goods that looked like they pre-dated the Vietnam war. There was a dusty bottle of bourbon in a bottom corner, which must have been overlooked by the raiding parties. And there was an old coffee can on the top shelf, at the back, which was stuffed full of money. My grandfather never put all his eggs in one basket. That’s why I didn’t have to bother with a job.
It’s also why I started drinking.
I wasn’t much of a drinker in Seattle – would’ve meant more time at work. But that first night, I had no food (and no can opener, even if I’d felt like eating really old creamed corn) and no car, and no idea where to find a grocery store, and so I got drunk. When I woke up hung over, I drank some more. I don’t remember much of those first few days, but I must’ve stumbled to the grocery store at some point, because when the fog finally lifted, there was food in the kitchen and a shopping cart in the garage.
When I was a little kid, my father would sometimes zip me up in a big suitcase and leave me in the closet in my bedroom. Usually he let me out after a few hours, but he’d occasionally forget about me, and I’d spend all night in the closet, zipped up in that suitcase.
I fell into a routine pretty quickly, for someone with no job and no friends, and no desire to get involved with anyone or anything in the community. When I woke up, whenever that happened to be, I would eat some breakfast, and then ride my bike for most of the day. Some days I would stay home and read, but most days I rode.
One of the nice things about rural Texas is that it’s crisscrossed with farm-to-market roads and two-lane highways, so that it’s easy to get lost, but just as easy to find another way back to where you started from. I spent my first few months re-discovering the backroads that my grandfather used to take me out on, teaching me to drive in his old Ford pickup, and lying to my parents about it when we came back in.
Some days I would get so caught up in the ride that I’d lose track of time, and I’d find myself across the county at dusk. I spent more than one night in some farmer’s field, as hidden as I could get without getting too far from the road, waking up to find a herd of cattle grazing a few yards away.
Oddly enough, I think I slept better those nights than I did at home.
The city didn’t allow the sale of liquor inside the city limits, so there was at least one liquor store on every road out of town, as close to the city limit as legally allowed. So I passed a liquor store almost every day, because most of my rides took me out into the county. Some days I rode past them; some days I stopped, and bought a bottle of scotch, and drank myself stupid. Usually I lost a day when I did that, but I didn’t usually know what day it was, anyway.
When I got back on my bike after a bender like that, I would ride into the hills north of town, and slog up them in as high a gear as I could until I threw up, and then I’d go home. Sometimes, though, I’d sit on the side of the road and sob for hours.
Those days usually ended with getting drunk again.
I’d lived in the house for almost nine months before I got a water bill from the city. I went to city hall and paid it, and didn’t bother telling them I wasn’t Miguel Gonzales. I only bothered to pay it at all because water was the one utility I needed.
I threw my trash away in my neighbors’ cans or the dumpsters of nearby businesses. I didn’t use any electricity – I didn’t have any appliances, or a TV, or a phone. I used candles for light, and used the fireplace in the winter to keep warm. By then I’d bought a mattress and a half-dozen blankets at Goodwill, so I stayed warm enough. When it was hot outside, I was just hot.
One week, toward the end of December, there was an ice storm, which was unusual for that part of Texas. I’d overheard some of the locals talking about the forecast at the grocery store the day before it hit, so I was able to stock up on firewood, food, and whiskey. I spent most of that week drunk, and cold, because I kept passing out and letting the fire die.
That was a bad week.
A few months after I moved into my grandfather’s house, I decided to circumnavigate the county on my bike. It was a disaster. I thought I knew my way around, mostly, and was arrogant enough to still not have bought a map of the area. So naturally, I got lost.
Toward dusk, I was coming down a county road that I thought would run into a road back into town. It didn’t. And I found myself, almost at sunset, at an intersection with a road I didn’t know, and no real idea which way the town was. I should’ve just quit there and slept in a field by the side of the road, or turned around and gone back the way I’d come until I got my bearings again. Instead, I turned onto the road I didn’t know, and kept riding until almost midnight, turning every time I came to a road that looked more promising, until I finally couldn’t ride anymore.
The next morning, after an hour or so of riding, I found myself in a little town I’d never even heard of before, in a completely different county. The waitress at the diner I had breakfast in looked at me like I was crazy, but eventually told me how to get to the state highway that would get me home. The next day I bought a map.
One morning I woke up in a ball on the floor of my hall closet, with a terrible headache, clutching an empty bottle of scotch. I had to spend the rest of the day in my yard, trying to shake the feeling of being in a suitcase.
I lived in my grandfather’s house for a year and a day. Maybe two days. It doesn’t matter.
I came home from a ride one day to find the house burned down, or mostly so. What was left of it was still smoldering. The garage didn’t burn, so my bikes were okay, and the twenty dollar fire-safe-box I got at Wal-Mart actually worked, so the cash I had left and the deed to the house were fine, but everything else was ruined – not that I had that much stuff to begin with.
The fire marshal said the fire was caused by faulty wiring, which pisses me off, because I didn’t even use the wiring. I didn’t think there was even electricity coming to the house. Stupid fucking wires.
Anyway. I rented a cheap apartment. I bought new clothes. I had what was left of the house cleared off the lot, and then I sold it. I bought an old VW van with a bunk in the back, loaded my stuff into it, left town, and never looked back.