"Do you recognize anyone?"
Yes, I'm thinking. I recognize him. He is no more than four feet away from me sitting in a chair wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt and jeans. His hair has grown and he's disguised his mouth with a mustache but there is no mistaking him. He is number four.
Five other men sit with him in a row but I do not see any of them, nor will I ever have the slightest memory of what any of them looked like. I am transfixed with the sight of one man's stare peering out at me. My memory of him will forever be the image of him sitting there before me with a handwritten number four dangling from his neck.
His eyes seem to bypass through the glass. I am told he cannot see or hear me. It doesn't matter, he knows that I am there. His stare is penetrating through the glass, it speaks to me.
I imagine he is saying, "So this is what its come to... You're really going through with this? I thought you wanted to help? You told me you were going to help! I need your help. This is not going to help! You are making me hate you!!!"
After a moment of hesitation, I whisper, "Number four."
A small black curtain goes down. I want to scream. I need more time with him. I want to look deeper into his blue eyes; there is unfinished communication there. I want to finish the conversation.
"I wanted to help you. I want to help you! I need help. I hate you for allowing me to help you, care for you. Who is going to help me? I blame me! What about me?"
It's over. The detectives shake my hand and escort me out of the police station. They are polite and formal. I am shell-shocked.
I leave the station uncertain as to how I feel or am supposed to feel, whether I am doing the right thing - whatever that means - or causing unnecessary harm. I want vindication, but feel a great weight of responsibility for the man behind the glass.
He is no stranger. He is an old friend with whom I passed a lot of time, shared dreams, aspirations and fears with. At the same time, he is a man responsible for committing a tremendous amount of damage - both personal and financial - the repercussions of which continue to haunt me to this day.
The extent to which I played a role in allowing him to commit this harm is unclear, but I fear that I am not blameless. Thus, the idea that I might be the catalyst for this man's incarceration is overbearing.
At night I sleep fitfully. I dream that he is banging at my door to let him in. I open the door and he is screaming at me, wide eyed, his pupils dilated by drugs stare through me - wildly. I shut the door and call 911. He runs away, scrambling down the hallway. He seems to be banging around, and then I hear it, a loud persistent gargling noise. I am scared and shaking but can't seem to stop myself from opening the door to find out what is going on.
There he is. He is dangling from one of the banisters to the stair case by the string from his sweatshirt. He is choking to death, his pale skinny frame getting bluer and more skeletal. I rush to his side to try and untangle him. He is thrashing about, entangling me in his grasp. I free myself and dial 911 again.
"I... I need... Help... Somebody... Please... there is a man hanging from the banister - he's going to die!!!"
I can't breathe!!!!
I wake up to the phone ringing. I am breathing hard. My heart is banging against my chest.
"This is the district attorney's office. Are you the person who filed the complaint?"
I am confused for a moment - my clock says it's 5:30 am. I am in a state of being half awake and half asleep - I'm having trouble distinguishing between what is happening and what was merely the figment of a nightmare. The events of the last few hours are sorting themselves through my mind as I try to formulate a simple answer for the D.A.
After a few moments, I manage to stammer, "Yes - yes, the police told me you would be calling."
"Monica, we need you to answer a few questions about the defendant."
"Now, could you tell me about the defendant and your relationship with him."
The defendant. My relationship with him. It's too early in the morning and the story is too long and convoluted for me to answer the question immediately, or as succinctly as I imagine the D.A. would like me to. I need to think for a moment, not sure how to characterize it or explain it in few words. He was an old friend and neighbor. He was someone I had known years earlier. He was a guitar player and song writer. He'd been a boyfriend for a short time and a friend for much longer. He was someone who used to make me laugh and knew how to be an advocate during rough times. He was someone I liked and found easy to be around.
He is also a junkie - a heroin addict. The only one I have had the displeasure of knowing. He lies, steals and cheats those closest to him in order to feed his habit.
I answer, "He was a guy who lived with me for a while."
"And how well did you know him?", she continues.
Again, I wonder how I am supposed to answer the question. I had thought that I knew him well. I had known him for five years, was acquainted with his family. I spent six months living with him, spending day in and day out with him, talking every day, confiding in one another.
In retrospect, I did not know or understand who this man is, or was, or how he came to be. I have no way of distinguishing who he was from the heroin starved junkie that he had become, nor am I even sure that there was a person left inside this shell of a man with whom I became or could have become acquainted with.
"I knew him for a long time," I answer, thinking a better answer might be that, "I didn't know him" for long time.
"Were you aware that he has four outstanding warrants for his arrest; three in New York and one in Oregon?"
This I did not know, and I am more amazed at how unfazed I am by this new bit of information than the fact that I lived with a fugitive.
The conversation does not last much longer. I am informed that I will be called to meet with another D.A. within a matter of days. Before we hang up, I ask, "Can you tell me, has he said anything, given a statement or anything?"
She reads him having said, "I know what this is about...", and it continues, naming me personally, "Monica gave me all that stuff, she said I could have it."
I cling to this bit of information and mull over it in my mind. I continue to struggle to try and understand how things could have gone so far and so wrong. How could he, an accomplished musician, twice signed to record labels, have fallen so low? How could I have been so naive?
At the same time, I am annoyed. The statement defied reason. Why would I voluntarily relinquish any of those items - my computer, word processor, VCR, tapes, CDs, leather coats or my passport? He was lying. No remorse.
The fact was that I had been away for a weekend and had left him in my home alone. He had promised that he would "clean up" while I was away. When I returned, my money and possessions were gone.
I changed my locks and warned him to stay away. Nonetheless, he persisted in contacting me, even showing up one day at my door to ask for a blanket of his back. He claimed he needed it now that he was sleeping in the streets of the East Village. He begged for this ratty blanket, promising me that my belongings were not gone but merely on loan or serving as collateral. He swore he would, could get my things back. I knew he was lying - the trade was absurd - a computer and numerous other items for a dirty old blanket. Yet, I wanted desperately to believe in him. I couldn't grasp that someone would do this to me, or to himself.
"Well - I'll tell you what", I remember saying, "I'll give you your blanket back when you return my things - return to me just one thing, one cassette tape, and I'll give you the blanket back!"
He looked at me as though I was insane. "Monica - you have an apartment and you kicked me out onto the streets and now you want my blanket!!!"
He was yelling at me - a master at making me feel guilty. Ignored was the fact that it was I who paid the rent on my apartment, worked sixty plus hours a week, and had just had my funds and possessions depleted in a vain and useless effort to save his life. These factors escaped the equation. He managed to make his argument with complete conviction. I could barely stammer a response. All I managed to do was cry.
Somewhere in the middle of my crying and his yelling he blurted out at me. "Yea, Monica - so what. I took your stuff and I shot it into my arm. So go ahead sue me - I've got nothing anyway. Sue me! - I'm a heroin addict, I'm a junkie! Go ahead do it - sue me!!!!."
His ranting nauseated me as I listened to him take perverse pride in having inaugurated himself with the damned.
The battle ended with him leaving, calling me "BITCH!!!"
The encounter frightened me. I needed to extricate myself from the situation, but he wouldn't leave me alone. He continued to attempt to call me - collect, he showed up at jobs I was doing, he yelled at me on the streets and stood outside my building.
So I sued him, in a manner of speaking. I went to the police, never really believing he would be caught or made to answer for his crimes. I am not even sure that I wanted him to be arrested, nor do I think I fully contemplated the potential impact of my actions. But I did it.
And it happened. He was picked up for shoplifting in Manhattan and brought back to Brooklyn to be charged with grand larceny. The police called me, and a neighbor, who had witnessed him carting away my computer. They asked us to come down to the police station to pick him out of a lineup. The date was two days shy of a year since he had moved in.
We arrived at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday evening. We waited for two hours before the police put together a lineup of individuals that were supposed to resemble him.
In the background, there was screaming.
"AHH! Let me out! Let me out", and then cajoling "Come on motherfuckers search me, go ahead! Search me!", and then again, "Let me out!!!"
I imagined the face behind the scream to be him. I was obsessed by the fact that he was somewhere inside the building. I thought I could feel his presence and wondered if he could feel me there too. I tried to picture what it was like for him waiting there behind bars. Was he mad? Sad? Scared? Or unaffected? How was he able to get along without heroin, or had he managed to obtain some through other nefarious means? Were they providing him with methadone? I wondered if he believed I would go through with pressing charges, or if he thought he could somehow guilt me out of following through with it. I wondered if he wondered or cared at all.
I worried about him, concerned with the fact that he was being incarcerated in the Brooklyn House of Detention, two blocks from my home. I was petrified that he might fall victim to a prison rape or somehow otherwise be hurt. I did not wish him harm.
After all, he had been a friend. He helped me through a distressful time of unemployment. He created activities for us, getting me out of the house everyday. We took numerous walks across the Brooklyn Bridge, spent days people watching in Tompkins Square Park, he took me to get my belly button pierced, and we passed many hours talking, talking, talking, never running out of things to say. It was he who returned files to my old bosses when I didn't want to go through the anxiety of returning to their office. And it was he who made me laugh when I was distraught over the betrayal of a woman who had once been a friend - terming her "the troll", and vehemently condemning her on my behalf. I thought everyone should have a friend like that.
But this "friend" was trouble. He moved in at a time when I was out of work, promising to help me with rent. He ransacked my home, destroyed a part of my spirit and introduced me to the devastation of heroin addiction. He stole from people I knew, used my last name, and jeopardized my credit. No one should have a friend like that.
In the police station, I cried. Each tear earmarked for him - for his desperate uncontrollable misery which neither he, nor I, nor anyone could cure.
I said to my neighbor, "It's been a really shitty year."
The wait in the police station was long. My temptation was to leave and forget the whole damned affair. I was deriving no satisfaction from being there. There was no hope for recovery of my possessions and old memories and emotions were resurfacing that I wasn't particularly fond of recalling. The police and my neighbor insisted I follow through.
Justice was being served.
Bypassed was the fact that it was I who allowed this individual to stay in my home, even after I had come to know that his drug use was something other than recreational. I watched as he sold off his possessions - guitars, a stereo, musical recording equipment, a television, video games, CD's. I loaned him money which I came to know he would never pay back, and had, on more than one occasion, found my wallet with less money in it than I had remembered. I could see the track marks on his arms and became accustomed to seeing needles poking out of his jacket pockets. I knew he was unnaturally thin - my size 3/4 pants hanging loosely from his 5' 10" frame - and I knew where the blood came from that soiled the arms of my borrowed shirts and the legs of my jeans.
I let it all go in the name of wanting to help, and I wanted to help him. Had he saved himself, it would have been deeply gratifying.
I used to console myself with the fantasy that if I stuck by this man, just a little longer, even after family and other friends had forsaken him, he could rise above it all and somehow become great, even remarkable. I fervently believed in his brilliance and thought I could see glimmers of genius during rare moments of sobriety. It was just a fantasy. He is no different from any homeless junkie I've passed on the streets and subway countless numbers of times.
I often wonder what would have been had I not become involved. Would he have still ended up in jail? Had I somehow "enabled" his demise? Would things have turned out differently? I think to myself, maybe if I had not taken him in, maybe if I ignored him, maybe he would have been forced to cling to a small part of his self that would have climbed out of this black hole.