Brother V got the job, went through the program and vanished from my life completely. When next I saw him, several years had passed. I had moved twice and started a family. On this particular night, I visited a hospital where a friend of mine was staying after a bad car wreck. His hip was shattered and the duration of his stay was uncertain. I returned from a business trip rather late due to weather problems and had picked up a set of books that he really wanted to read but had never had the time to. It was my motive to give them to him earlier that day but my late flight destroyed that notion, or so I thought. He texted that he was constantly up all night in pain and that I should bring the books whenever it suited me. Nights are calm on his section, he assured me. He had always been quite a Type-A personality, good at getting what he wanted, and he didn’t hesitate to make trouble for people should they get in his way. I had always known him as a decent man and dedicated father with an immature humor which endeared him to children but he would never show a shadow of it in the board room. I couldn’t help thinking that he may have been an unruly customer once who contributed to Brother V’s unease with existence. Strange, for me to think of Brother V at that moment.
At any rate, I went to the hospital and although I was informed that it was not visiting hours, when I mentioned the name of my friend the nurse’s faces dawned in comprehension (unflattering of course) and they let me see him. I kept my stay courteously short for the nurse’s sake although it was clear that my friend was quite lonely and bored. He understood that I was not used to being up at this time of night and would be jet-lagged for the next couple of days. He thanked me for the series of weighty tomes (his interest in early marine and sub-marine exploration was totally new to me) and I went on my way. Did you know there was a submarine in the Civil War? Imagine that!
Not knowing what would be in the fridge for a late-night snack, I decided to stop at an old supermarket I used to frequent during my twenties and early thirties. I had inhabited several apartments in this area of town and enjoyed the nostalgia kick. I grabbed the makings of sandwiches that we may or may not have had in the home and some dessert when I saw him.
He wore a dark-brown trench coat (although probably not as dramatic as the one you’re picturing) and his thick black hair had grown long and seemed to want to cover his face. The face itself had red patches and looked swollen as if perpetually scratched. We recognized each other instantly and made the awkward eye-contact that sent the social signals through my veins. You know the kind. It would be impossible to ignore this person after this energy has just passed between us. I walked up to him and he made an attempt to straighten his posture, but it didn’t really work. I waved and said hello. Brother V nodded and mumbled a ‘how are you’. I dove into an awkward tale about my delayed flight and midway through caught his gaze and realized what I sounded like. A middle-aged dad with nothing interesting to say except the weather, talking to someone clearly in the grips of hard times. I quickly dropped my story, paid for his groceries and asked if he needed a ride or if he drove. He gladly accepted a ride back to his apartment. He invited me up and then quickly apologized after seeing the quick look of disgust which crossed over my face. When did I become so judgmental? I used to sit on the steps of places like this. Eat food straight out of the wrapper. Flick cigarettes on the ground next to the trash can. His building was dark and I caught myself thinking that it would be more relieving should there be at least a few other people still awake.
Brother V’s room was a studio with a mattress by the window, a couch in the corner, and a small dining room table. A handful of books lay piled beside the mattress. These appeared to be his only possessions as I did not look in the closet. He did however, have two chairs for the table. They came in a set, he told me. It was hard, he said, to find the motivation to get a frame for the bed, since it clearly wasn’t needed, and he didn’t have much motivation anymore.
Why did he invite me up? He had nothing to offer except one of the beers I had just bought for him, but I partook. He seemed to be exercising muscles of social interaction which had long since gone dormant. Maybe it was the fact that my biological clock was so off-kilter at this point that I engaged in such up-front honesty.
“Brother V,” I said, “I remember you getting a job at the restaurant, being accepted to study? train? with Dr. Brum, and then you vanished to what I presumed to be a happy and successful life. What happened?”