Part 2: Hermit with a pastor’s heart (or how I managed to avoid death, make some jokes and maybe help a veteran)

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unnamedWell, I’m not dead.

That sentence is such a great start it deserves its own paragraph. In fact, it deserves to be said again.

Well, I’m not dead.

After I posted yesterday’s column, a car pulled into the cutout in front of the Tiny White Box around 3 p.m. Since he’d first called at 8 a.m., I’d kind of expected Adam by noon at the latest, but if he was here to kill me I couldn’t really be angry I’d been given a few extra hours. If I’d known he was really going to come, perhaps bearing weapons and bad intentions, I would have used those extra hours for more than hanging out with Sam (is a dog), reading and eating lunch. I was stuck choosing between thanking Adam for postponing my murder, berating him for being tardy or improvising.

Read Part 1: Today is not a good day to die – waiting for a murderer (or a really sad man)(or no one at all)

“Hi,” said a bearded guy who got out of the passenger door. “I’m Adam.”

In his late 30s, Adam looked tired maybe, but not like he’d been near a corpse recently. Also, he didn’t appear to have a weapon at his midsection or a killer blind rat-dog secreted on him.

“I’m Keith.” Looking at the frost-tinged windshield, I asked, “Is that your buddy in there? Does he want to get out?”

“No. That’s my lady.”

Unless this car was imported from Bermuda with the steering on the left-hand side, like a VW Bug I’d bought off a driver while hitchhiking back in the ’70s, the “lady” was alive. She got out, a nice-looking woman in her ’30s and, to my quick inspection at least, had no black eyes or bandages, no recent wounds at all.

“Hi,” she said, looking a little embarrassed, “I’m Madeline, but please call me Maddy.”

My detective-novel brain was in overdrive trying to process all this information. The corpse lives! And talks! With a smile on her face! While the murderer shuffles his feet and apologizes for being late.

(Director’s Note: The film Keith has being acting in his head all day is genre-wrong, wrong, wrong. This is no mano-a-mano battle for Keith’s life, the desperate criminal bound for the border. Instead, Keith must now be the gracious host with a touch of profane mysticism. Luckily, Keith is a good improviser.)

We went into the bunkhouse and we talked. Maddy left after a few minutes, to sit in her car and smoke. Sam (is a dog) left shortly after, joined Maddy in the car without smoking himself. Or cigarettes.

Adam’s story, the details of which are private, was like lots of men I’ve known. Hell, except for Adam having been deployed three times and injured by an IED, his story is within hailing distance of half the Liberty House residents I’d known and very similar to mine.

Drugs? Check.

Alcohol? Check.

Feelings of worthlessness? Check.

Suicidal thoughts? Check.

Suicidal actions? Check.

Now, Adam wanted help, but mainly he wanted someone to understand, someone to identify with, someone to be a goddamned friend.

I made him laugh about his shame at crying, asking him if he was ashamed of peeing or blowing his nose. Tears are just another juice that needs to get out of the body. Would he feel more a man if he never urinated? His laughter felt real, unforced, not that high-up-in-the-throat maniacal laugh we get before we explode. He seemed calmer.

We talked about French onion soup, which I hardly order in restaurants. They make it too too salty. (Quick sidebar: T-Bones and the Copper Door Restaurants in Southern New Hampshire are a safe place to order excellent onion soup.) We talked about roasting buffalo bones, scooping out the marrow and making soup. We talked about a chambered bullet and a desire to point it at your head and pull the trigger. Adam talked about cartoons, and I told him my fear his dog was Taz from Bugs Bunny. We didn’t talk about why he didn’t bring his dog. That’s an oversight that bothers me now. We talked about drinking and about alcoholism.

We went outside to smoke. Maddy and Sam joined us and we went back in the bunkhouse. I made clear I’m not a therapist, not a counselor, that I don’t have any letters after my name. I’m just a guy, a nobody who’s made it through that long dark night of the soul, at least for now. I asked Adam if we could have lunch Wednesday on my way down to Manchester, and got his commitment to still be alive at noon when I come to pick him up. I made him laugh. I hate to eat alone, and didn’t want to drag his corpse to a restaurant. We hugged.

Maddy said something that brought embarassment, and I’m ashamed to repeat it.

“You lied just a minute ago. You said you were a nobody. You’re somebody very special.”

They left. Sam and I turned off the stove and the lights in the bunkhouse and locked the door.

It had been a clean, well-lighted place to reach out the hand of brotherhood.

Nice Picture of Keith by Peter BielloAbout the author: Keith Howard used to be a homeless drunk veteran. Then he got sober and, eventually, became director of Liberty House in Manchester, a housing program for formerly homeless veterans. There, he had a number of well-publicized experiences – walking away from federal funds in order to keep Liberty House clean and sober, a contretemps with a presidential candidate and a $100,000 donation, a year spent living in a converted cargo trailer in Raymond. Today, he lives in a six-by 12-foot trailer in Pittsburg, NH, a few miles from the Canadian border with his dog, Sam. There, Howard maintains, his website, works on a memoir, and a couple of novels while plotting the next phase of his improbable life.

About this Author

Keith Howard

Keith Howard is former Executive Director of Hope for NH Recovery and author of Tiny White Box