I so want to write this story. Am I even able?
The word ‘epithet’ comes to mind as my heart is forever changed by a week of knowing him. One definition of an ‘epithet’ is an adjective or descriptive phrase expressing a quality characteristic of the person or thing mentioned. Joe – a man of extraordinary dignity in a world where dignity is given no grace. The other definition of ‘epithet’ is a term for abuse. I got to live that with Joe. This is where writing what I experienced through his life really has no words that can bring it home to our hearts effectively. Joe was here for his brother Julian. I cannot write here what happened to Julian as a child. It is obscene and cruel beyond measure and to survive it he has a mental sensitivity that has him compromised. The landlady gets his social security check every month to pay his rent. The small apartment complex is housed in one of the more dangerous parts of Albuquerque and there are a few. He is subject to theft, taunting, and threats all of the time. The trauma of our society is acted out with crime and trauma laced into a normalcy that those of us not caught in the debris of a system gone awry could never fathom. In the. midst of it, Joe came to live with his brother to protect him.
Joe showed up at my door one day when I was on a coaching call. He had his landscaping vest on, a bucket for weeds, and a rake or a shovel. I can’t remember. He apologized. He told me he worked for a landscaping crew that had no work right then and did I have some work for him? This fast-growing ground cover chokes the life out of the trees and the other plants had taken over the rim of the front yard and another toxic weed for animals was covering a lot of the backyard. All I could say is, “I am on a call. If you want to start pulling out those weeds in the front, you are welcome to do that. We can talk about the price after I get off the call.” He said, “okay” again apologizing with a deep sensitivity present in disturbing me. That caught my attention. The feeling I got was that this man was not one to do this kind of thing as a routine. I came out of the house after my call and was shocked. I had only been on the call for a half hour.
In the desert part of New Mexico, people often put down a thick plastic ground cover over the earth to keep these fast-growing ground covers at bay and cover the plastic with small stones. It is also attractive. When I came out the door, Joe had taken all the stones off of the plastic, rolled back the plastic, and methodically dug out the plants to their roots. I just stood there. It was a precise, thorough, and a fast piece of work. He looked up and I said, “I pay $25.00 an hour.”
The days rolled toward a week. I am in this telling not sure how many days have passed. I showed him an area and in record time that area was impeccable. While there is probably unsaid in the telling, there was enough truth in it that I can piece together what had happened and what was and is still happening. Worse than the kid that gets picked on in school, Julian, Joe’s brother was an easy target for abuse both by the people who do crime in his area as well as the landlady herself. It is still in the writing of this hard for me to understand although I certainly remember this kind of abuse happening in school growing up in Tennessee. Joe was Julian’s only line of defense but hard to believe as it is, his defense of his brother in a vicious landscape of theft and manipulation became a platform to get rid of him.
Before I go on, I am not a pushover. I love my hyper paranoia, so I think I have a legitimate perception of the character of a person even in a world that I cannot even fathom. Joe and I worked out exactly what he was going to do every day. His work was beyond acceptable…more like an artist that takes care of everything with amazing exactness. Tools cleaned and put away. Trash picked up. Paint brushes cleaned. We were an instant team. There was an instant affinity and mutual respect. We negotiated each moment of our relationship in our time together making sure that there were no misunderstandings with the sensitivity of those who take care of life wherever we are standing.
It still quivers my soul to think that what happened to Joe is true. But it must be true to a great extent because in my dealings with him none of what the landlady told me fits with any merit. My mother was an alcoholic. Drug addiction is rampant here in Albuquerque. You get to know the body somatics and the hunger for the addiction that lays behind the interaction of people caught up in this challenge. Joe exhibited none of this. As near as I can piece it together, Joe would not put up with his brother being a target. He got in fights. I don’t know if I have the subtlety of language to piece together how the culture of abuse that had his brother as a target ganged up to get Joe out of there. They broke into one of the apartments and then said they saw Joe do that. When the landlady verbally abused his brother through text and phone calls Joe supported his brother in fighting back- for why is she the way she is with Julian? I don’t know but I did some digging and it is to the landlord’s advantage in Albuquerque to get out low-income paying renters to rent for a higher amount. There is little or no protection for a person like Joe’s brother.
After the theft of his truck, the theft of his phone, and the accusation of his breaking and entering another apartment, the landlady pulled the ace card which I still am not sure is legal. If Joe didn’t leave [more on that in a minute] Julian’s apartment, Julian would be evicted. The threat went deeper. He had to prove he had left town. If I hadn’t lived this through with Julian and Joe, if I had just heard someone telling this story, I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have thought the landlady must be right…but not possible…simply not possible…Yet in the face of what people can do to each other at this level of mentality, my confronting what human beings can truly do to each other has been unavoidable.
Then there is the magic. While writing about Joe is difficult for me in the telling as I am not a skilled writer who can relay the story sufficiently to evoke the empathy and caring that I wish I had an adequate written expression for, it is even harder to write about the magic. I work in I, Magi to ‘recall’ human magic. Human magic rises without question when the bond between human beings cannot be broken. This is our story: Joe, Julian, and I with C a contributor also. I am a ‘privileged’ older white lady. You can abuse the unseen but there is an instinct to be careful of becoming visible to the seen. That is what the privileged are – the seen. We had deeply needed work for Joe to do and he did it with partnership and dignity. Between C and me we had the money. It was and is a pleasure to be with him. Yes, his life had fallen into a downward spiral of chaos, but his dignity, impeccability, complete communication…and especially taking care of the equity in the relationship between us was the high bar that I know human beings are designed to be. Things began to fall together. I had wanted to close my account on one of my phones. So I gave him my phone I didn’t want when his phone was stolen. I found out about Medicaid phones that people who were ill or low income could get. What we needed to get done before winter and wanted to get done before winter so C could paint the gates and ornamental art on our house walls, was done.
The most important moment was Friday. The landlady had put an eviction notice on Julian’s door. The deal was that Joe had to get out of town. While there is no law that backs that up, the threat of calling the police, and evicting his brother made it impossible to do anything else. Joe worked for his bus ticket which I bought, but on Friday had texted me to see if I could cancel or change the date of his departure. I thought that meant he was not going. I have been sleeping a lot so I fell asleep only to wake the next day to Joe wondering where I was to take him to the bus station. A series of amazing events started to play themselves out. I called Julian. I got the phone number of the landlady. I called her and let her know that I had been the reason Joe had not gotten the bus. That he would be staying with me. I realized he had worked with the landscaper Saturday for much-needed money. I am good with bullies, especially female ones. I had become willing inserted into the equation. I was able through carefully crafted statements to position Julian so that it was clear that I and my lawyer [ my beautiful Jim – always on call] were now looking after Julian and arranging for Joe to leave only because of the threat of Julian’s eviction. What was being done to Joe and Julian was now visible. I wish I could take the time to put in the texts I saw on Julian’s phone – the undercurrent of threats using the court system against Joe and Julian. One: “I will go to court tomorrow to put off the eviction for one month.”
Last night, Joe and I went to the bus station earlier than we wanted to. You see, Joe has no ID, no proof of his existence. No cellphone. He asked me to take him to Walmart to buy a set of new clothes to wear and items for his brother that he needed while he was gone. Dignity.
It was a pleasure. Please be clear, there is no patronizing here. No charity. Shared field on behalf of all life. That is what Joe and Julian and I are doing in the face of incredible odds. But in the human magic of belonging to each other as one species, there is a power that moves through the broken shards of human existence during these times. Julian, Joe, and I with C there when needed did this together.
When we got there we went in and found out the bus that went straight to Phoenix due to take off at 10:40 was delayed with no idea when it would arrive in Albuquerque. However, there was a 10:00 pm bus going to El Paso [Joe’s hometown] that was leaving in ten minutes where he could then jump on a bus for Phoenix. I took a picture of Joe at the gate. Yes for the landlady to stop eviction procedures but, well, I wanted his picture also.
I went to shake his hand and he opened up his arms for a hug. We embraced, each tucking our heads into the other’s shoulders. He has my number and Julian’s number on a piece of paper. He says it will be two days before he can get a phone and contact us. His cousins he hasn’t seen in years, he says, are taking him in. How he finds them I don’t know. He can get his ID there, get his affairs in order, and most importantly find a place for Julian to come to. We will see what happens. He has the amulet of the mother goddess Deb gave me of black obsidian to protect him. And of course the most mighty protection of all – human love and human dignity.