Curious Lives

When I was younger, adults used to tell me all the time, don’t ever talk about politics, religion and money. It’s not polite. You’ll offend people. Now it’s all I ever read, talk, and think about.

Is it really impolite, or is the problem that those topics get to the deep roots of someone’s values? No one wants to go deep. We like to keep our conversations on the surface. Cool, calm, and not making waves. Besides, it takes more work to go deep. You might really get to know someone and actually have strong feelings of attachment or sympathy. Or you might end up despising them, and never look at them the same way again.

It’s hard to get to know people in a nuanced and intimate way. It’s easier to lump them into a cold group of faceless boxes.

I get it, I’ve done it before. Who has time to know everyone you meet at a deep level. It’s impossible, at least that’s what we tell each other. It makes life easier and you don’t have to let emotions get in the way. But I do remember as a child adults talking about politics and yelling over and at each other while breaking down what’s wrong with our world and how they would fix it.

I was never really interested in the large philosophical debates, but I was always interested at the root of the problem. I’ve never enjoyed the surface, I’ve always wanted to dig deeper and get into the why?

I didn’t believe he was just an evil person, I wanted to know the why. For years I had heard that my neighbor, Mr. Sigsbee, was a dangerous man. Someone you didn’t want to get close to. He lived at the end of our street. His home was four houses away from my mine. His was the last house on a dead end street. Behind the home was a wooded area that continued on for miles, I suppose, but I had no real idea.

I never spoke to Mr. Sigsbee, always saw him from a distance. He was the type of person who made an effort to be unseen and unspoken to. I could never tell if it was his shyness or if it was guilt, shame, or just an awareness of what everyone thought of him and so he kept his distance. It’s nothing short of miraculous to me that you can live around someone for years and yet never really know them.

From what I heard though, there was good reason to not know Mr. Sigsbee. The story of how he killed a man in Oklahoma many years ago and got out of a prison sentence because of some loophole in the system or a crooked judge. The rumors about how his wife died mysteriously and how his family had distanced themselves from him. Whatever it is, even I can tell as a sixteen year old that none of that is even probable.

He’s probably just a lonely man who has nothing to hide and lives a normal boring life. I made it my mission to find out for myself and to disprove all that I had heard about him. One day after school I decided to continue walking past my house and to continue on to his house at the end of the street. I passed the Robinson’s, and I passed the Sorenson’s house hoping that no one would recognize me or look out their windows to see me going towards Mr. Sigbees home.

As I continued walking down my street I eventually made it his house. From my house I never really noticed it’s details. Actually I had never been this close. I was still about two feet from his driveway and standing in front of his home on the tarmac. I realized that as I stood there someone was bound to see me. It could be the Smith’s directly behind me, or the Miller’s next to them. For some reason, in that instant, I didn’t care. I felt like I was about to commit some act of bravery reserved for only a few. I placed my right foot on his driveway and as I took each step I started to notice that his home, although similar in size and dimensions to all of the other homes in my neighborhood had some unusual characteristics.

As I drew closer, I could tell that the home wasn’t normal. Some of the wood paneling on the home seemed to have intricate patterns, texts, or what appeared to be hieroglyphic designs. I couldn’t really tell, but it was peculiar and unusual. The wood boards seemed normal at a distance but from about 10 feet away I started to realize that they were anything but what you would see on most houses. My heart started beating through my throat and I could already feel that this was a bad idea.

I wanted to get to know Mr. Sigsbee and prove to my parents and neighbors on our street that he was a good person, but now I was starting to doubt. Something about the eeriness of the panels, made me feel that something was askew. I paused and squinted to look at some of the outer woodwork on his home. I realized that everything on the exterior had these intricate designs not just the wood boards. I never noticed the designs when I was over at the Robinson’s house playing with Sam and Chris, but now at this distance, it was clear, something was weird.

Okay turn around, and go home. This is not something you want to see. This was a bad idea, you made a mistake. Let’s go home.

I tried to turn around but my curiosity got the better of me. The intricate designs were pulling me in while my gut was telling me to leave. I’ve never been one to do what most would do. I continued forward, taking small deliberate steps on the small walkway that lead from the driveway to the front porch. As I stepped closer and closer it became even more apparent than before that something was different. Not only were the characters even visible on the brick portion of the home but now there was a palpable force, something talking to me and through me. I couldn’t tell if it was in my mind or if it was something in my nervous system or what it was. Just this internal strange sound and feeling that I had to get closer to the front door.

As I took smaller and smaller steps, my legs seemed to be subconsciously moving without any effort. I didn’t like the fact that I felt like I was no longer in control. What ever was happening, it was happening to me and not because of me. I was about five feet from the front door when it appeared to open on it’s own. At this point I wanted the game or whatever this was to end. I was still curious but equally or more so afraid. The door was now gone, or at least not visible, and all I could make out inside the house was what appeared to be a wooden staircase to the left and a hallway table.

I continued on and it was all becoming very apparent that I was not in my normal frame of mind or perhaps I was literally in another world of some sort. As my legs were about to cross the threshold into the home, I took one quick glance back to see if I could see the Robinson house and to see if anyone was looking at me. It was gone, there was no home, there was no street, there was nothing but grass. An empty field. It was at that very instant that I knew wholeheartedly, I had made a grave mistake.

The next thing I knew I was sitting at a small round table in a completely bare room with beautiful dark wood paneling all around. I was looking down at beautiful silverware and what looked like an equally beautiful and expensive plate and tablecloth. The confusion that I felt was immediately added to when I looked up and saw across the table from me a pale thin man in a dark suit and tie. His hair was jet black and impeccably coiffed tight to his head. His eyes were dull and droopy with a tinge of eagerness. Eagerness for what, I couldn’t tell.

“Would you fancy something to drink?”, he said in a slow and dreary voice.

“No, I’m fine” I said while trying to figure out who he was, where I was, and how did I end up here.

Was I in Mr. Sigsbees house? How did I arrive at this point? I remember crossing the doorway and the next moment I’m in this strange predicament having breakfast, or dinner, I don’t even know, with a man I didn’t recognize.

Did I fall and hit my head and this man helped me? How long was I unconscious? I asked the stranger, “Who are you, and where am I?”

He gave me a faint smile and took a bite of what looked like a large pastry of some sort. He kept his eyes fixated on mine while he chewed and smiled at the same time. I began to feel uneasy at the whole situation and just wanted to get back home.

“Well”, I said as I abruptly stood up. “This was fun, but I must back home now. Thank you for your company, but I’ve got to get going. My parents are probably wondering where I am.”

The stranger kept his gaze on me and again kept smiling. As I started walking away from the table I realized that there were no doors on any of the walls. A room with no entrance and no exits? What is this? I looked up to see if there was a way out and there was nothing more than intricate wood panels on the ceiling. Now I was confused and angry, “What is this? What are you trying to do to me?” I said to the man as I raised my voice.

He simply laughed in response with the sort of laugh that is deep from within but also to let me know how amusing and nonthreatening I was. I began to feel helpless and defenseless. I thought about threatening to call the police, but I knew that was an empty threat and he would know it too. I just wanted to get out of this strange room.

I noticed that behind me and off to the left there was daylight coming through and illuminating the room. I turned to look up and left towards the source of light and there was a single small window about 11 feet above the ground. It looked like it was about three feet wide and two feet high. The ceiling appeared to be 20 feet high or more. I turned back to look at the stranger and he was still amused by me and my newfound observation. He seemed to know what I was thinking and calmly said, “there is no use in trying. Just relax and enjoy my company and some of these desserts.”

He was right, this whole thing was hopeless. I sat back down at the table and started crying. I realized that I was trapped in a strange room with a strange man and this was probably going to end horribly. As I was crying with my head bowed down I had a fleeting thought. There was a knife at the table. For some reason I had the thought, grab the knife. The next thing I knew I lunged towards the man with my knife in hand pointed toward his chest. As I was about to pierce his white shirt I heard an alarm go off. My eyes were shut. I opened them up slowly to and saw my mother worried looking down at me.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah why?”

“Well for starters, you missed your first two alarms and you’re not one to sleep in. Is everything OK?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, I just had this crazy dream about Mr. Bigsbee’s house and going over there and this weird man in a room with no doors..and”

“Whoa slow down, Mr. Bigsbee that moved away two years ago? You mean the Moore’s house?

“The Moores? What are you talking about? I’m talking about the creepy guy that everyone thinks killed his wife! He didn’t move. Mom, have you lost your mind?”

“Okay, I can’t tell if you’re joking around or if you’re being serious, either way, you need to get up and get to your job.”

“My job? What are you talking about? I’m still in high school and have to get ready for my first class. Mom you’re hilarious”

My mom looked at me as if she was genuinely concerned that there might be something wrong with me. I grabbed her arm, “Wait, what day is this? I mean what day, month, and year?”

She looked at me as if perplexed, “ It’s January 23rd, 2022.”

“What did you just say…2022? How is that even possible? You’re trying to tell me somehow during my strange dream two years have passed! What the hell are you talking about?”

My mother obviously frightened and concerned by my words and my tone started to backtrack towards my door and ran out.

I sat on the side of the bed trying to collect my thoughts and trying to replay the events of the night before. Everything was hazy and I couldn’t remember how I got there, and I couldn’t comprehend in any way what was happening to me. Was I losing my mind ?

I looked at the dark brown carpet of my bedroom, I saw something shiny by my foot partially sticking out from underneath my bed. I reached down to pick it up. It was the knife from the table in the dark wood paneled room. It was heavy and I held it up to my face. There was in inscription on the handle.
It read, he who never questions never lives. He who is curious lives many lives.

Savage

They’re all idiots! I live in a house full of whiny idiots.  They’re all savages! I literally live in a house full of savage animals. They’re all idiots, and they don’t even know it.   

It was her mental way of dealing with all the stress at home. This constant stream of self talk.

Crap, I’m driving too fast. I can’t get a ticket right now. Come on Jen, get it together. I don’t want to get sick.  I don’t want to get this freaking virus.  Not with my diabetic husband and crazy mother living with me.  Geez, imagine the crap I’ll get if one of them dies because of me.  I’ll never hear the end of it.

She had to be the tough one now.  She always had to be the cooler head, the caretaker.  She was the caretaker of her kids, the caretaker of her elderly mother, and now begrudgingly the caretaker of an incompetent husband.  She had to be the strong one on the outside, despite her feelings of inadequacy and anxiety on the inside.  The stress of all this pandemic caretaking was taking its toll on her.  

Just keep your foot on the gas. Just keep going. 

She was driving 65 miles per hour on a 25 miles per hour road.

 I’m losing control. No, I’m in control.  This is me in control.  Jen, just chill out. I never have time for myself.  All day long I’m just taking care of my husband and my mother.  How did this become my lot in life? Seriously God, how did this happen to me?  I am so tired. I can’t do this anymore.  I’m the freaking sacrificial lamb that has to go to the grocery store, make dinner, risk my life every time I go out, and no one cares about me.  These roads are so dreary.  Why can’t I live in Hawaii right now?

But there is something about the rain on her windshield that she likes, and she can even appreciate it.  Somehow, she feels as if the rain and the weather understand her and are reflecting her mood.  

Times are tough, but I’m tougher. Times are tough, but I’m tougher. I’m tougher.  Jen you’re tough.   Twenty-three years of marriage to the same unappreciative husband, and I’m tougher for it.  I’m like Job.  I’ve endured it all.  Matt doesn’t’ realize how much I do for him.  If it wasn’t for me, he’d be dead by now.  I put him through business school, and I took care of the kids.   

Jennifer Clark was used to being pushed around.  She really is tough in a lot of ways, but she is also a people pleaser, against her own wishes, she usually caves in.  What her family lovingly refer to as softy.  She had always been the leader of the household and has usually displayed a certain warmth, but the stress has been accumulating since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, and her love and patience is starting to fade.  In her marriage she is the martyr who sacrificed her career and she reminded Matt about that on a weekly if not daily basis.  She let her mother and her kids walk all over her.  It wasn’t her fault.  She had a mother and brothers that treated her like a doormat at a young age.  The only one who never manipulated or took advantage of her was her father.  And he was gone.  Killed in a tragic car accident way too early in his life.  Leaving behind a family that struggled to retain a sense of normalcy.

But things were going to change.  She was sick of all the years of emotional abuse from her husband and kids.  She was sick of her mother taking advantage of their generosity and living with them.  She was doing things her own way going forward. 

She saw the gas convenience store up ahead on the right through all the rain coming down.  She knew the place well.  She had been there exactly 2045 times in her lifetime, but she didn’t know that.  It was her daily ritual for years.  She was never one to get out of her routine.  She was the structured and disciplined matriarch of the family.  She was the Sargent, well, in some ways.

She was attractive and for a 45-year-old mother of two kids, she looked about 10 years younger than her age.  She was grateful for the compliments that strangers gave her that made her feel better about herself and helped her realize that she still had it.  It wasn’t that she was needy and seeking compliments, but she liked the reassurance.  Her husband rarely gave her compliments anymore. 

She was going into the store to get a 32-ounce diet coke from the fountain.  That was part of her routine.  It was her daily reward for her daily five-mile runs.  She prided herself in staying fit.  Running everyday was her escape from her husband and the kids during this pandemic.  Having her husband around at home all day was tougher than she thought it would be.  She loved Matt but he was getting to be a burden.  He was 50 pounds overweight, and never felt that he got a fair break in life.  He had type two diabetes, he was considered high risk in this environment.  It was wearing on her and their marriage.  Even the kids couldn’t take the constant complaining between them.  

Jennifer knew that if it kept up their marriage wouldn’t last.   She had been spoiled the first few years, but as the demands of kids and life and her own dreams and goals were placed on hold, she could no longer continue the charade.  Either Matt had to change, or she would leave him.  She wasn’t the problem. It was him.  He was the savage.  He was the one who was always yelling and complaining, and she had had enough. 

Unbelievable, this store is always busy.  Even during a mother freaking pandemic. Seriously people, stay home. 

She parked her beautiful white German engineered car and quickly ran in through the glass front doors of the store. 

Just getting my drink and getting out of here.  Look at this guy.  He looks like a mess.

She had just made eye contact with a tall awkward looking thirty something year old man.  He started laughing and smiling at the same time while looking at her.  She couldn’t understand why he was laughing, but she was used to getting creepy stares, from creepy men, and had even had some horrific encounters with men like him in the past.  She quickly assumed he was laughing because she had on her face mask, sunglasses, and a hoody from her run earlier in the day. Whatever his reason she wanted nothing to do with him.  She had the mask and sunglasses on because of the pandemic.  She had a high-risk husband an elderly mother at home.  In addition, she had two kids and if she got sick herself the whole household would be a mess.  She was a little bit annoyed that he didn’t have a mask on and seemed like the type to not take anything in life seriously.  A terrible thought popped into her head, quit laughing, loser

He wasn’t attractive, not the type that she would ever have interest in or give the time of day to.  And now he was laughing at her? The whole interaction was less than 2 seconds but enough time for her to look, assess, and make her judgement call.  She knew what kind of guy this was.  He’s the kind of guy that lives in his mother’s basement, is unemployed, and looking at women like her as a fantasy.  She threw him back a slightly disgusted don’t look at me face.  He couldn’t see it at all beneath her mask and sunglasses. 

She beelined it towards the fountain machine for her diet coke.  At this point in her life, she had better things to do than to worry about what some creepy guy thought of her.  She was looking for the foam soda fountain cups but had forgotten that in the midst of the pandemic the store now sold cups that were individually wrapped in plastic to avoid employee contamination.  She glanced to her right and left, up and down and couldn’t see the cups.  She looked behind her and there they were stacked on the counter, next to the creepy guy with his back to her. 

She abruptly said, “excuse me”, and even surprised herself when she realized her tone.  She thought for a brief moment, that was harsh.  He moved a foot to the left not even looking back, doing whatever creepy guys do in gas station convenience stores. 

She tore open the plastic wrapping and filled up her foam cup.  She was proud of herself now.  She had just run her daily 5 miles, and this was her treat, her cheat for the day.

Ugh. This machine takes forever, and I just want to get out of this place before I catch something from this guy and all these other people.

She put the plastic lid on and got in line.  She was behind an older woman who was counting change to pay for her gas and was taking her time counting.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

The lady finally got done after what felt like an hour due to Jennifer’s increasing anxiousness to just get out of there.  The lady hobbled slowly out of the way and Jennifer put her drink on the counter and mustered a quick, “Hi” to the cashier.

The lady at the register replied, “is that everything?”, with a slow southern drawl, which Jennifer always thought was so out of place for this suburban part of Virginia.

Even though Jennifer had been in that store many times she never made an effort to know the names of those at the register.  She wasn’t into small talk and with the pandemic she definitely didn’t want to talk to the cashier with no mask on.  She kept her head down and looked at the card display screen on the counter.

“Yup, that’s it”

“That’ll be $1.06 honey.”

Jennifer subconsciously reached her right hand into her jacket pocket as she had several thousand times before, but nothing was there.  An instant shot of adrenaline shot though her body.  It was a sense of panic added to her already high anxiety. 

Son of a…

She frantically placed her left hand into her left jacket pocket.  Nothing.  She frantically put both hands on her running tights, forgetting that they don’t have pockets.

“Crap, I can’t find my wallet. I’m so sorry”, while still not looking at the cashier but looking down and retracing her steps in her mind. 

“Let the next person go, I’m going to look for my wallet.”

“Okay dear, no worries, let me know what I can do to help.”

Jennifer stepped slowly back to the fountain machine while still looking at the ground searching for the wallet.  Her thoughts are drowning in possible scenarios. 

Did it fall while I was getting out of the car? I had three hundred dollars in cash in there. My drivers license, my credit cards, crap.  Crap, Jen, keep it together. What the hell Jen.  You’re so stupid.  Think, think, think. Where did I go? What was I doing?  Did someone steal it?  I need to call my bank and my credit card companies. I need to call the DMV and get a new license.  What the hell. Why me?  This is not my day.  This is such bad timing. 

As if there was ever a good time to lose your wallet.

She traces her steps back to the front doors while still looking down to make sure that she isn’t missing a spot in the convenience store. 

As she is about to go through the front door she hears, “I found this all on the floor, there was all this cash on the floor by it too.”

Then the familiar voice of the cashier lady, “Hun, hey lady, … I’ve got your wallet.”

Jennifer turns around and manages to blurt out, “Oh thank you. I was starting to panic.  Oh my gosh, you’re a lifesaver”

“I didn’t find it, he did”, says the cashier as she points in front of her.  Jennifer turns to look at the hero in front of her who found her wallet and had the decency to report it to the cashier.  It was the creepy guy, and he was paying for his stuff with a young girl holding onto his hand.  She was beautiful and Jennifer assumed it was his daughter. 

“Thank you so much.  Thank you for finding my wallet.”

“No problem mam, it was just on the floor with a couple hundred dollar bills next to it, and I thought to myself, I would be all messed up if I lost my wallet.  So, I turned it in.”

His daughter looked at Jennifer with loving eyes while she now held to her father’s leg with two hands. 

Jennifer noticed he was giving her the same creepy grin again and he even chuckled somehow while he was explaining all this to her. 

She gave him a smile, but he couldn’t see it through the mask and sunglasses.  All he could decipher from her was her body language. 

Jennifer got into her car and called her husband to recount the whole story.  Matt could only let out, “Jen, you really need to be careful with your wallet. That’s the second time in the last couple months you’ve lost your wallet. Listen Jen…”  She was so upset from the whole situation that she just wanted to punch Matt’s unsympathetic face through the phone.  She hung up on him midsentence. 

She started the push button keyless ignition in her car.  The engine purred.  She just wanted to get home and relax, what a stressful morning.  

She was speeding again on her way home. This time fifty miles per hour in a thirty zone.  She could see up ahead through the rain that the traffic light had just turned yellow.   She performed her split-second mental gymnastics and realized that she could make it the light. 

Her foot pushes on the gas and as she is getting closer, she can see some bozo trying to cross the crosswalk when he shouldn’t, especially in the rain.   She realizes that she can go through the intersection without hitting him.  He’s closer to the sidewalk.  As she gets close to the intersection she slows down and honks her horn to let him know that was dumb. 

Jennifer turns to look at him and in a split second through her wet rainy driver side window, she makes eye contact.  The eyes looking back appear heartbroken.  It’s the creepy guy walking in the rain with his daughter in hand.  In that instant, he recognizes her, she recognizes him.  The cruelness of her actions hit her.

I’m the savage.