When I was assigned to the library, supervising the civilian security staff, I spent a lot of time taking police reports and interacting with the varied populations that inhabited the library from opening to closing, including the wave of homeless people that entered the building every day. On one particular occasion, I spoke to a man (we’ll call Keith) who had been the witness to a crime and obtained his information, but hours later, something kept nagging at the back of my brain.
Finally, I realized that he and I were in the same high school class (we didn’t travel in the same circles, as I was all drama club and dungeons and dragons and he was an athlete and hung out with the cool kids). I returned to the floor where I had found him and asked him if he had attended San Martin High School (at least that’s what we’ll call it) and he confirmed that he had. I asked if he was class of 1984 and he said that he was. I told him my name and asked if he remembered me. He paused a minute, then he said, “You were the morning announcements guy, from drama. You were funny.”
Well, it was good for something. I remembered Keith as an open and gregarious guy, who had been voted most likely to succeed. One of the very few black people in my very whitewashed school (there should have been a lot of Hispanic kids-there wasn’t). I remember his very pretty girlfriend even better. I asked how he had been and what he had been up to. Keith then launched into a manifesto of how the FBI had been tracking him since he was in college and how they were now preventing him from returning home with an invisible psychic barrier and that he hadn’t seen his family in years. And I realized that he was homeless, and why.
After talking with him, I returned to my office and checked the internet for his parents. I found his mom and gave her a call, not sure what kind of reception I would receive, but making the call anyway. He did talk about how much he missed his mom, but apparently there was a national security reason preventing him from visiting her. When she answered, I didn’t want to scare her, as I am certain she was dreading a call from the police with news of her son. I have children; if one of them was missing, and I got a call from the police that started off with “Mr. Blalock? Are you the father of (missing child here)? Yes, we have some bad news.”
I started off with “Hi, I went to school with Keith. I happen to be a university police officer and Keith is here in the library, as we speak.” From there, I learned that Keith had attended college and had obtained a degree in Civil Engineering, but that he began to have some difficulties in his final year that seemed odd, but didn’t require intervention. It wasn’t until he started working for a prestigious engineering firm, that his mental health issues truly began to manifest, until he couldn’t maintain the job and had to move home. His family couldn’t force him to take his prescribed medications and he was certain that the doctors were really trying to poison him. And then he left, and his mom couldn’t make him stay.
After that conversation, whenever I saw Keith in the library, I called his mom and let her know. She would arrive soon after (within the hour) and take him out to lunch, get him a motel room where he could shower and put on new clothes that she had bought him. And then my assignment changed and I saw him less and less.
A couple of years later, one of my officers was busy towing a car for unpaid registration when the owner, a faculty member, showed up. She panicked. She ran to the car to prevent it from getting towed and I stopped her and she fell down (I absolutely did not knock her down or tackle her). She was still panicked and had to be detained; I arrested her for resisting and delaying a police officer and had her driven to the police station while her car was towed. She was later released with a citation.
Her influential friends began protests and a petition to have me fired. I don’t care what anyone tells you about ignoring them or that they can’t do anything, since you did everything you were supposed to do, this is a very stressful situation. Very. The university newspaper and the student TV news station did stories. Fortunately for me, there was no interest by the mainstream media.
One night, I had signed up for a special event and was in the street conducting traffic control, when I saw Keith on the sidewalk, watching me, waiting. I left the street and met him up on the sidewalk, greeting him and letting him know that he looked well.
Like some poetic, wandering sage from a knights and wizards novel, he smiled knowingly and said, “Wes, I’ve been looking for you. I read what happened in the paper. I want to know that what they are saying about you isn’t about you at all. It’s all about some fictional Wes Blalock they made up in their heads and they are talking about him, not you.”
Then he patted me on the shoulder and disappeared into the darkness. Those words; I found what he said to be very comforting, a very helpful piece of advice that got me through a very difficult time.