21 May 2015

Lies and promises: The Move to Yellow Fever House, Part 1

Exodus 20:3-17 (Holy Bible, NRSV)

1.       You shall have no other gods before me
2.       You shall not make idols (“…whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Note: verses 4-6 are potent and provocative.)
3.       You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord
4.       Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
5.       Honor your father and your mother
6.       You shall not murder
7.       You shall not commit adultery
8.       You shall not steal
9.       You shall not bear false witness (against your neighbor)
10.    You shall not covet (you neighbor’s house…wife, male or female slaves, ox, donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor)

There’s so much bad behavior not mentioned in the Ten Commandments...

It is a little strange to find myself sitting before an open Bible at 7 a.m. But I have a new address. A new home. New rooms. New views from new windows. I’m in a new space, doing new things and everything is a little strange. Not unpleasant or frightening. Just…..new.

The events precipitating my relocation were also strange. Sudden and unexpected and unexplained. There is some chance that I will eventually file a detailed written account of the whole “episode”; but the task is not a high priority. I posted an S.O.S. on FaceBook early (during the first — and only --  moment of panic I have felt since my mother died in 2012).   That post generated many Comments and I engaged with them briefly and sporadically; but the moving process required vigorous mental, intellectual, physical and spiritual attention. There was little energy leftover for interactions on FaceBook.

It’s been eight days since that Monday morning when I stood in pajamas making coffee and heard the front door open. The night before, I’d had the dream about losing teeth again. In the dream, as usually happens, I am startled to find teeth, unanchored, in my mouth. New in this edition of the dream:  they are not my teeth. My teeth are all anchored evenly in my gums, bright white and shiny. I am deeply amused by the situation. I feel fat and solid and content. I am about to spit the loose, alien teeth out into my palm to take a closer
look when I wake up.

An hour later, a few minutes before noon, a troubled man who has been my housemate for over a year and was a friend for ten years before that, walked through the house and into the kitchen, said “Good morning” for the first (and possibly only) time since I returned from Brazil at the end of March, and handed me a Removal Order from the Justice Court of Marshall County, Mississippi. “The Court says you have to be out of here by 5 p.m,” he said.

We had the briefest of eye contact before he turned and walked out of the house. We had had infrequent eye contact for a long time. His eyes that morning were disturbing; I saw coldness, death, fear, bondage, hatred and confusion there. I saw sickness and suffering. 

Days later, I would remember the dream and think “Those were Troubled Man’s teeth!”


It took less than 72 hours to travel from receiving the Removal Order to receiving the keys to my beautiful new home but a lot happened in that time.  Three days of Amazing Grace:  rescue and resources from trusted friends, surprising support from acquaintances and strangers, fortuitous serendipity and coincidence, profound experiences of gratitude washing over and within me.

Unpacking and settling into the new house has gradually revealed “what I lost in the move.” I had students scheduled the day of the Removal Order so five hours was in actuality less than three. I loaded what I could into my car and relocated Piano Studio to the Episcopal church for the afternoon. At 5:00 p.m., I started my final lesson for the day but back on Johnson Park, I imagine Troubled man began feverishly dumping my belongings on the curb. By the time I arrived over an hour later, with Angels of Mercy, there was  a jumbled mess on the sidewalks of 216 Johnson Park. 

We had no boxes. We worked fast to cram everything into my VW and the two vehicles of the Angels. By Wednesday, things had been sorted and boxed and made for transport from the fancy front rooms of the Angels to my new home.

Thoughts of Troubled Man and Johnson Park now arise most often when I need something and discover it is no longer in my possession. It might be a knife – carefully chosen and preferentially used for three years…and “lost in the move” (LIM). Or the matching chopstick to the surviving singleton of a cherished pair. Or the beautiful wooden linen shelf from the bathroom. Or the handy undulating floor fan. Or a set of plastic nesting containers for leftovers. Or measuring cups, brandy snifters, champagne glasses, cherry-red barbecue grill…  Can goods and spices and cooking oil. All LIM.

Each instance produces a tiny psychic stab and, for a couple of days, elicited an automatic “Fuck you, C______.” The utterance happens less and less often as a) feelings of annoyance are overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude and contentment; and b) remembrance and reflection on the final days of our relationship reveal the sad underlying dis-ease compelling his actions.  It is within these reflections that the issue of “lies and promises” occurs. 

I would rather receive scathing criticism or outright argument than be ignored. I would rather hear hard truth than a lie. I prefer being flatly denied a request to being belatedly betrayed. 

Troubled Man preferred non-communication and betrayal. In retrospect, (see "Both Sides Now" post here at SITC) signs of the likelihood of the failure of our friendship were in evidence from the beginning. Recurrent pangs of “Ah! I should have known. I should have listened to my gut…” have been features of this transition. 

An essential and enduring mystery at the center of this story is “Why did he kick me out?”  Additional questions include:

·         Why is he angry?
·         Why did he stop talking to me?
·         Why did he deposit his mother on the front porch to watch the eviction?
…all of which can be distilled to “What happened?”

And then I remember his eyes. And the answer is right there:  Something broke.

It is frightening to think about it too often or for too long. I imagine the psychic and physical condition associated with eyes that gleam with such hostile confusion. 

I shudder…and willfully turn my attention away from such imaginings.


Through silence, cowardice and passivity, the Troubled Man avoided outright lying. The Ten Commandments include no specific prohibition against the default lying that results from omission or silence, for example. Or lies of denial or deception. The Removal Order permitted him to passively withdraw his hospitality (“The Court [‘not me’] says you have to be out of here by 5 p.m.”). 

Back in August 2012, the first or second night I was in Holly Springs, before Troubled Man flew back to his pastoral duties on the East Coast, he said “As long as you live in Holly Springs, you will always have a home on Johnson Park.” It sounded like a promise. My gut clenched. These almost-three years later, I can admit that that clenching sensation was the physical expression of instinctual distrust; I did not believe his words. 

It was embarrassing. I did not say “I don’t believe you.” (In my memory, only once have I ever told someone to their face “I don’t believe you.” Contemporary social culture seems to generally regard it as rude to say such a thing outright. In my lexicon it is akin to throwing a drink in someone’s face….which I also remember doing only once in my life. I confess experiencing supreme satisfaction after each faux pas.) I remember he also shed tears during this conversation. The whole thing was rare and embarrassing and memorable.

I shudder now…and willfully turn my attention away from such memories.


I am happier now than I have been since my first days in Holly Springs. The undergirding of this joy is different from those first happy days fueled by anticipation and curiosity. This joy is sparked by the blatant and relentless generosity and goodwill I have received from members of a community I thought despised me. I feel at last the dawning embrace of acceptance. A hundred times a day, I stop in my tracks and gaze around me and say aloud “I love my home!” All anxiousness to “get out of Holly Springs” has disappeared. 

I want to take on more piano students. I want to make this house a home. I want to attend a City Council meeting and research the history of this house, the other “named” houses on the street and the town in general and share the stories with tourists (I’ve done a bit of this already after living here for only five days!) I want to maintain a relationship with the young men who stole my purse Saturday (that story for another post). I can imagine a future of unspecified duration here in Holly Springs. 

My gut is not clenched. A thrum of  “possibility” winds through me. Mornings glow. The breeze at dawn has a secret again….”Don’t go back to sleep.”

[Note:  This posting was interrupted by a knock at the door. It was those boys who stole my purse last weekend, plus a friend! They came to visit and talk about what they could do to make amends. The Future and Possibility came to my door this morning. Amazing Grace!!! Who would have imagined I would end up in  MS playing Debussy on piano for adolescents I met for the first time at the police station?]