I wrote recently on the escapades of my emotionally disturbed friend – well – today saw a significant turn of events. I thought about writing the other day to report that life seemed better for that man of great hurt and grief. I would have said I thought he had turned a positive corner. He has been laughing more and distressing less. But today saw a sour turn that I am unable to comprehend.
Through all of his troubles he has remained an active volunteer, helping the less fortunate. He even says things like, “Life is unfair but it has been unfair in my favor. So I must pay back when opportunities present.” Because he is generally considered to be quite intelligent and responsible the volunteer organizations often put him in positions of significant responsibility.
The nature of those places is that other more emotionally disturbed people abound. Being around people with greater problems than his own has generally been good for him. He seems to have more patience and tolerance for those who struggle daily. He is a terrific organizer and puts together projects for others to participate in – helping them feel more relevant and worthy in this very cruel world.
Everything does not always go well. One of the men, a dishonorably discharged ex-Marine, obsesses about the chairs around the table being square with the table and equally spaced. Another man of mild schizophrenic illness finds the ordered chairs to be mildly irritating – and often will move them around for no particular reason. One might reasonably anticipate some trouble.
The ex-Marine has been known to become agitated, even with my friend, and is inclined to get real close, nose to nose close, and scream. He has been complaining for weeks about “the schitzo messing with my chairs.” He decided to take his issue directly to the President – my emotionally disturbed friend. He has been in my friend’s face before. My friend reports that the experience is quite irritating and somewhat threatening. (Have I noted that my friend was known to punch people in the face for lesser offenses? But he has not done that for thirty-five years, his last bar-room fight was when he was 29.)
So today began well. My friend went out to run errands with one of his sane intelligent friends. They visited the library, talked about books, talked about careers in substance abuse treatment, and laughed about silly facebook posts. The day was going well and my friend decided he would stop by his organization and spread mole-be-gone on the lawn and landscaped banks. The ex-marine was there and was obsessing about the schitzo (is that impolite or politically incorrect? not important now, gotta tell the story).
The ex-Marine was making threats, saying that if someone did not do something then he was going to. My friend cautioned him, “Don’t do anything that will get you into trouble”. The ex-Marine became more agitated, turning his discontent on my friend with things such as, “You let it go because that schitzo is not messing with you. You are a hypocrite. If he was messing with you you would not take it.”
“Just leave it alone ex-Marine. Let it go. Don’t get yourself in trouble.”
That ex-Marine jumped out of his chair and rushed my friend, presumably to go nose-to-nose again. He pushed the wrong button on the wrong day on the wrong guy. My friend had had enough. It was a startling moment. The ex-Marine was met with three hard fist punches to his face and before I or others could react the ex-Marine was laying on a picnic table bench with my friend on top, forearm to the throat, furiously asking, “Do I need to finish this now?” Fear defined the face of the marine. Fear defined all of us in that tense moment.
It felt like we could not react fast enough. We feared my friend was going to kill that man. But he let up. He seemed to come to his senses. He stepped away and the marine was on his feet and took his shot – a hard left to the jaw of my friend. They went down together in a scuffle. They were only down a moment and then back on their feet. My friend looked at me and said, “Call the police.” I did not have to – that ex-marine was punching 911. He made his report. The police were on their way.
The ex-marine was bleeding from his right temple, right at the eye. Blood also ran from the bridge of his nose. There was no visible damage on my friend. “Why’d you hit me?” the ex-marine exclaimed? “You charged in a threatening manner and I have had enough of you. You will never again scream in my face. You got that?” That old man was unwavering. “I wasn’t threatening. I would not have hit you. Why’d you hit me?” “Don’t scream in my face.” It went on like that for a minute or two. The the marine said, with a faltering smile, “You hit pretty hard for an old man.” The response, “Apparently not hard enough.” “Oh, it was hard enough! You got me a couple of good licks. Am I bleeding?” “Yes, go inside and wash up”.
I am not familiar with that world of fist fighting. I don’t get it. Both of them went inside to check their injuries. My friend had scuffed his elbow when on the ground. He also broke his pinky finger on his right hand – it was pointed in a direction not considered normal.
They came back outside in a few minutes and they were laughing! What?? Laughing?? Yep! They were laughing at what had happened. That marine was shaking his head, “I never dreamed you had it in you. I got a new respect for you now. You hit real hard. Now I know who you really are.”
My friend retrieved two band-aids from his truck. He picked up a chip of wood from the flower garden. He straightened his finger and splinted it with the wood chip and band-aids. “There,” he said, “that should do it.”
My friend laughed lightly and then turned somber. “I have not hit anyone in thirty-five years. It has been one of the missions of my life to restrain myself no matter what the circumstances.” He sort of smiled, “And besides that I am too old, too slow, and too weak to be getting into fights.” The marine: “You might be old but you are not slow and you are not weak. You have a hard punch.”
Somber again, my friend talked a few minutes about ‘the old days’. He talked about his father. He talked about pride. The marine said, “Yeah, but I respect you more now.”
We live in a crazy world.
I am not sure what to make of my friend. I have never hit anyone in the face, let alone three hard fast punches and a threat to finish it right now. Those two men seemed to understand each other. The ex-marine is fifty-one, my friend is close to sixty-five. I don’t get it. I don’t believe I ever will. Those two men shook hands. The marine said he would never again get in my friend’s face. And that was that. The police came and those men told the police what happened and said it was over and there was no need for police intervention. They told me there was no need for any intervention. They settled their dispute in a manner that satisfied both of them.
About that time the schitzo arrived and greeted all as he went into the building to move chairs around. The marine and my friend looked at each other and smiled and walked away.