Flipping Switches

The more interaction I had with Kurt, the more I wondered about his story. I was beginning to realize that my initial impressions were off, many of them by miles. I remember commenting to Matt that Kurt “just seems like such a nice a kid.” To which my astute husband replied, “You do realize that guy’s 38 years old?”

Okay, so I’m not the most observant person in Summit County. In my own defense, I do tend to create images of people based on their application data and background check. Kurt first applied for a room with us in 2018 and I didn’t meet him until he came to get his keys. Any information I had before that came from the rental application…that he completed. And I did not look at his date of birth.

On paper, I saw a guy who was earning a reasonable income driving for Uber with a more than decent little Kia, no criminal or eviction history and only one speeding ticket, ever. His current address was local, and prior to that, he’d lived in Vegas. His emergency contact was a cousin who lived in our area. His car told me he was responsible enough to make payments, his squeaky clean background said he was too young to have made much trouble yet, and his emergency contact indicated he had no spouse or parents in the area. In my head, I made him a twenty-something guy who had fled from Vegas to Ohio, where his cousin lived. Perhaps he was exchanging the party life for a simpler one, and maybe a few classes at Akron U. It was a responsible decision for a young man.

Even I can do a bit of basic math (just not in my head) and things weren’t quite adding up between the Kurt I had created and the Kurt I was now getting to know. Driving for Uber can be great for someone working toward more (like an education) but he wasn’t. And the on-again-off-again thing with Bryn was junior high level lust at best. Not to mention he was borrowing money from his Landlord. (Where was this Emergency Contact Cousin?) There had to be more to this man’s story. So when he came to collect his loan proceeds, I gave him a cigarette and got to picking his brain a bit.

I started with Bryn and their love-hate relationship. His recent texts had been riddled with snippets of a self-centered nag who did nothing but bring him down, so I half expected him to tell me they had–yet again–parted ways. I was surprised when Kurt said they’d been together for two years. Their baby was due in June and they were planning to get married as soon as he got back on his feet. With a child-like grin on his face, he pulled out his phone to show a picture of a frumpy, plump faced girl with thick, brownish hair piled on top her head in a ponytail loop. Not even close to the image I had conjured. (She wasn’t blonde and she was not petite). If I hadn’t known she was pregnant, I would have judged her as overweight. She was caught off guard by the picture, a bulky men’s hoodie unfairly adding to her size. Her eyes held years beyond her age, but there were hints of pretty peeking through them.

Kurt said she lived with her parents (so how old was she?) about 40 minutes away. She’d been sick throughout her four months of pregnancy and wasn’t able to work. (So they both had no income.) Her parents were assholes, he said. Despite having the financial means, they offered no help.

But she was living with them...
And hadn't they just been looking at houses to rent?  

Well yes, but then that whole “blow up argument” thing happened and Bryn’s “pill-popping” mother had physically come at her with accusations that she tried to take money from her purse. He said, “Her parents treat her like shit.” Like the flip of a switch, his face scowled and his chest raised a bit, as he spewed details of how they “do everything” for their other kids but “Bryn gets nothing. She has nothing for the baby and no one will even have a shower for her. Her parents can go fuck themselves.” This was not the talk of a 38 year old man. Then his whole demeanor flipped again. And again, it was like a switch. It was as if he suddenly remembered who his audience was and realized he’d been giving the wrong speech.

These ‘flipping switches’ were a pattern for Kurt, but it would be months before I could recognize it. In the meantime, I bought into everything he said and continued to see him as the sweet, innocent ‘kid’ I had concocted in my head. If I was questioning anything at this point, it was about Bryn. Kurt’s ‘flipping switches’ and nasty rants–about Bryn one minute, and the familial injustices they suffered the next–were red flags. And I rushed right by them to pass judgment on Bryn by deciding she must be the source of Kurt’s problems.

I still can’t define the sense of allegiance I felt toward helping Kurt and, eventually Bryn and their baby. At the time, I was so clearly being led by God to be a light and an example; to give something back in a pay-it-forward sort of way, that I virtually never questioned any of my decisions. Everything I did–physically, financially, emotionally–it all felt like it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. They were in great need and God had blessed me with the time, resources and financial means to meet most of that need. If I didn’t do it, who would? I never stopped to think about why they were in that position to begin with.

Instead, I worked diligently to avoid seeing what I didn’t want to see. And not just about Kurt; but about myself, and my priorities, and my own unhealthy boundaries. But mostly about my drinking. When it was finally clear that Kurt had a deeper problem, it never crossed my mind that alcohol was the source. Not once, until someone else brought it up. And even then, I discarded the thought. I would know if he had a drinking problem.

I would know…Because I had one, too.

Broke, But Not Homeless

read the last post about kurt: Broke & Homeless

It didn’t take long for Kurt to get comfortable back in his rented room on Roselawn Avenue. He kept in touch frequently, mostly by text message. I assumed he and his pregnant fiancé, Bryn had called it quits, otherwise he wouldn’t have been homeless. I expected the old happy-go-lucky Kurt would resurface now that he’d been relieved of the premarital woes that seemed to have plagued his previous tenancy.

You know how we often say, “If there’s anything you need…” ? It’s kind of meant to be congenial from a distance, like saying “good morning” to a passing stranger, or “how are you?” to the Target cashier. You don’t intend to invite an ad hoc therapy session; you’re just being polite. Most people will smile and respond with something like, “I’m fine, how are you?” and probably not even wait to hear your reply. And~if you’re like most people~you’re okay with that. And~if you’re like most people~when someone, like say, the hotel desk clerk, says, “if you need anything…” you have that special little filter that stops you from trying to bum money from her. One would think this “filter” – often referred to as a boundary- would be especially sensitive in someone who had just been given a place to stay, a little bit of cash and some basic human kindness from a relative stranger.

From the start of Kurt Take Two, it was obvious he had found his assertive side, and it was ignorant to social cues. Much like the annoying kid in the neighborhood who never knows when to go home. It seemed that providing an opportunity for Kurt to get back on his feet came with price tags of entitlement and expectations, and I had unwittingly signed up to pay the freight.

Three days after he picked up his room keys, Kurt asked me for a “loan” of $150. He fessed up to losing his dispatch job (although he didn’t say when) and said he had just interviewed with Goodyear, which was “in the bag” just as soon as his drug test came back. In the meantime, he needed to “make some quick bank” until his first check rolled in so he could pay the rent he owed me. My loan would fund car insurance and gas so he could drive for Uber, which he had done prior to dispatching limos, so he was sure that would pan out, too. And everything he made “would be going right back to [me]”. He hated to ask; I had already done so much. But, he reminded me, I did say, “if you need anything…”

“And by the way, THANK YOU!” He had just found the $50 I stashed in his donation bag of canned goods. “You didn’t have to do that!” Oh hey; was there any way we could move the bed frame out of his room and get him a second twin mattress so he and pregnant Bryn could sleep comfortably together in the one-person room he rented but hadn’t paid for? And it was cold as hell in there! Could we come by and check the vents and maybe bring him a space heater? He was heading out right then to donate plasma (he didn’t know you could DO that!) for cash, but he would graciously postpone that if there was any way that I could meet up with him right now to make my $150 donation to Uber For Kurt.

I said yes. Yes. To loaning $150 to a relative stranger. I can still remember staring at my “Yes I can” text on my phone before hitting the send arrow. I’d like to tell you that I thought long and hard, weighed the pros and cons, talked it over with Matt, and prayed about it before mindfully making the decision. But I didn’t. At the time, it honestly felt like the right thing to do, a no-brainer. We have much, Kurt had little. “Of they who are given much, much is expected.” So I said yes and The Bank of Vicki was established.

I really never questioned my decision to loan Kurt that money, which was almost exactly 11 months ago. Frankly, I had forgotten all about it until now. And while going through my notes to write this, my resounding thought has been, “What in the Hell were you thinking?”

Was it the right thing to do, a good decision? Or was it wrong? I’m still wrestling with that question, which is why it’s taken me two weeks to write less than 800 words. But I do know that one small decision set several people on a life-changing path to recovery, healing and forgiveness.

And grace. Incredible grace like I’ve never seen before.

Kurt & the “Mother Lover”

“So my life has abruptly changed; my fiance’ is pregnant.”

A few weeks before I received his 30 second (as opposed to 30 day) notice of intent to move out, Kurt had been just a bit…off. Up until that point, he had been considerate, respectful and helpful, rarely complaining about anything. When he did have an issue, it was valid and reasonable and he approached it almost apologetically, usually with a lighthearted wit. I often found him to be entertaining. About six weeks before he moved out, a few hints crept out that the easy-going, even tempered, working man who basically kept to himself, perhaps had a little side of mean and nasty. It was just enough to give me pause, but really nothing concerning. I chalked it up to a bad day and forgot about it. But looking back…

“This asshole has me blocked in and he and his mother lover are not here.??” — text from Kurt

The owner of the blue van was another tenant, a young (and very spoiled) college student whose mother spent an odd amount of time at Roselawn, looking out for her adult son. Both Mother and Son had been complaining about Kurt, accusing him of stealing food and several other issues that were nearly impossible to prove. They had apparently left the van behind Kurt’s car and then left in another vehicle; a completely unreasonable and passive-aggressive thing to do. I certainly understood Kurt’s frustration, but the way he presented it was completely out of character for the Kurt I knew. I immediately called him just to be sure he wasn’t in the midst of slashing tires.

I absolutely (big word) never lie to tenants. So before contacting Blue Van Tenant, I asked Kurt if he had somewhere to be. “I’m going out to lunch,” he said. A valid reason to request driveway egress, I thought, as I called Blue Van Tenant. His indignant response to Kurt’s plight: “He probably just needs to go get beer.”

I specifically recall feeling a bit protective of Kurt. He just did not strike me as a drinker. Not that there’s anything wrong with drinking.

At 2:00 in the afternoon.

In the middle of the week.

Unless you, yourself have an alcohol abuse issue that you’re working very hard to ignore. And because we drunks like to stick together, I decided that Blue Van Tenant was making it all up.

The driveway blocking incident was the last in a very long line of straws for Blue Van Tenant and his “mother lover”. The conversation that ensued regarding their disrespect for fellow tenants, as well as for their Landlords, resulted in a formal request for them to vacate the premises. They were gone the following month; Kurt remained.

Mark one down for the Drunk Team.

Meet “Kurt”

I first met Kurt when he rented a room from us in Akron. For $260 a month he got an 8 x 10 room with a bed, a chair and a storage bin in a house shared with four strangers. Right on the bus line in what once was called the Rubber Capital of the World.

His application showed he was an Uber driver, his emergency contact was a cousin. He had lived in Vegas for several years, at one point becoming successful selling real estate. He was friendly and well spoken on the phone, and his background was spotless. I wondered about his story.

He came to collect his keys wearing the same smile I heard over the phone. He was neatly dressed with dark hair and deep brown eyes and a long slender nose; Slovakian with a slightly receding hairline. Small and thin in stature, built much like a wrestler. He was not stunning to look at; and yet, something about him was quite charming. For six months he was a model tenant.

Then he moved out without notice and sent me a text: “So my life has abruptly changed; my fiance’ is pregnant.”

And yet, something about him was quite charming.

Tiny Matters

Everyone has a story. Some parts of our story are mundane, littered with insignificant events, people and places that render no special meaning; they just are. But if we dig deep enough, we will find moments in our story, maybe entire chapters, that shape us into who and how we are today.

Somewhere in my mid-thirties I started to explore my story. I’d take little peeks here and there, and if I didn’t like what I saw, I’d slam that cover shut so quickly you’d lose a finger in the binding if you were close enough. Little by little, I began to uncover glimpses of truth that, for years I had chosen not to see. It was hard. Some of it was sad. Most of it scared the hell out of me. And so I ran from those truths, straight into a bottle of wine a few times a week. Sometimes two bottles and sometimes nightly. Then margaritas. Soon it was tequila with barely a few splashes of lime.

I knew I needed to quit but my want to wasn’t on board with that. And then all of a sudden my story took a plot turn. I got sober. I discovered my truths. It changed me and it’s still changing me. And so I’m sharing it, in hopes that a snippet or two might change you.

It all started with two drunks, a heroin addict and a tiny baby.

And tiny matters.