Saturday, August 27, 2016
Hennessy Is A Fugitive From A Chain Gang
I'd never spent as much time with Hennessy as I did on a rainy drive back from Oklahoma City (about 3 hours from Big D). We used to tease him about being like Porter in "Payback", he's never referred to by his first name (which I think was Max or Maxwell, I forget). He was a supervisor at the job I worked but I got along with him anyway. What surprised me was his asking me to help deliver a car to his brother in Oklahoma then drive him back.
I'd of thought he'd have someone better to do that. I knew he was reserved and cautious but I didn't think it was to the point he'd be asking an employee for a personal favor. What's more, I was deep in the throes of my swirling hell of facing Emily and I didn't care to see another living soul or go on even one more day (not that I'm far from that now). Being trapped in a car for three hours was most decidedly the last thing I wanted to do. But it was a chance to be useful instead of useless for a few precious hours plus I sensed his helplessness so I said yes.
Hennessy had a secret. I didn't ask what it was or thought it was any of my business but I always observe anyone who has a possible say in my life. I had to decide if his secret was dangerous to me. Most people's secret is that they never grew up and you're at the mercy of twisted teenagers desperate to cover up their deficits (like the living hell I'm in now). Hennessy was different because I could see he was not a finger-pointer and actually looked to take on responsibility. Most assholes get into management because they don't want to work, but not him.
Looking back those years ago, I think maybe he knew I was severely wounded - one can only hide so much - and that created a trust factor between us. It was right on the edge, though, because one false move and I'd cut him off for life. Hennessy already had two strikes against him because of his secret past life. But I'd grant him leeway until proven otherwise. I guess what I'm really saying was I was both anticipating and dreading that ride back that changed the consciousness of my life. Storms were in the air in more ways than one.
Now that I put this down on paper, it clearly strikes me Hennessy was looking for a Father confessor and needed to put to rest some of his burdens. I forget what led up to it but I remember tipping my hand first making a smart remark that he was a "fugitive from a chain gang." It was more than I wanted to say. It let him know I suspected his past and though most criminal behavior is legal I insinuated his was not. I wanted to kick myself but I couldn't resist the impulse to say it as so often happens with me.
"Not exactly. But I did used to run around with the wrong crowd."
That means something coming from Hennessy because he's no straight-laced boy. I've never seen him be phased by anyone so any crowd he considers wrong must really be wrong. I remember thinking, Here we go.
"Is there a good one?"
"Yeah, maybe not. But some people you just can't hang with. They'll take you down with them."
"Ah, I get it. Yeah, I try to steer away from those types. Been burned a couple of times if only on the edges. Sometimes you don't want to admit how bad someone really is."
"Don't I know it. These boys...this was back when I was angry. Being angry makes you blind. It makes you think only about what you're gonna get, not the price you pay."
"Been there myself."
My remark hung in the air as we crossed the Texas border on I-35 south. I wondered if that was going to be the extant of our conversation. Hennessy was pre-occupied with something and I let him be. I needed to concentrate playing dodge car with the idiots on the road anyway.
"Cocksucking nigger!" I cursed some redneck pickup driver with ants in his pants. Assholes think they own the road. But seeing I wasn't paying attention to him anymore and maybe because he realized he really did want to take advantage of what he saw as a valuable chance, Hennessy brought all my focus back to him.
"I killed three guys."
Well, fuck, what do I say to that? I could make a joke or act real serious. I was at a loss for words. All that came out was, "Really?"
"Shot 'em dead. It was on the news but didn't last long because they thought it was gangs and no one gives a shit about them."
So it was related to his criminal past. "They were trying to kill you?"
Oh, shit. Tried to give him a self-defense out and he doesn't take it. Godammit, I don't want to hear this guy's shit. Now my soul will be stained with his dark deeds. I just wanted out of the car at that point. Hennessy continued.
"But I had to kill them."
"Who were they?"
"I used to run around with this black dude named Marcus. Back then I didn't know what I wanted to be. Half of me wanted to be a gangster, the other wanted to find another way. I could see the argument for both sides. Still can, sometimes."
"So can I - every time I get my lousy paycheck."
"But Marcus, he was more hardcore than me. He was wanting to jump in all the way and live out some gangsta video life. [That made me think of Alpha Dog and smirk.] I didn't want to go down that road. I was happy being a low level pot dealer just getting by but Marcus had to have it all. He starts up this crew of his and I could see my scene and his scene was changing."
"I was stupid."
"You don't have to bring it up if you don't want to. Stupid is as stupid does." His remark had brought me back to Emily and that dark, drowning pain in whose belly I had been swallowed.
"Marcus wanted to test me. He had a deal go wrong - a big time deal I wasn't part of. He needed to show his street cred and "send a message." I always hated that phrase ever since I was a kid. If I'd just drawn the line and walked away my life'd be different today."
"So he killed another dealer?"
"Him and his two man crew did. They started relishing it and shit, like they was animals in the wild. At first I was listening to my anger getting sucked into it thinking this is what life is. But watching those guys gloating and hollering woke me up. I'm not one of them. Then I got pissed, real pissed, for them dragging me into this, trying to make me one of them. My fucking life was ruined from that point forward. So while Marcus and them was busy with the body I shot all three from behind. Shot 'em again to make sure they were dead. I don't want those fucking a-holes being a part of my life!"
Obviously, they were a part of his life - a part he couldn't shake. That's why he needed to tell someone, to try and be free of his internal prison. Part of me was wishing he'd just gotten a girlfriend and confessed to her and spare me all this but then I put myself in his shoes and realized a triple killing is a tough selling point to a spouse. I was a much, much lower level risk. I gave Hennessy my true thoughts and feelings - rare for me.
"I'm glad you did it. Was a courageous thing to do."
"Yeah, how so?"
"You cleaned up a wound. You had two directions to take at that point and you took the right one. You had to face it."
"But I never should have been in that situation in the first place!" I could tell he'd been tormented by that statement for years.
"Yeah, well, so, what the fuck, you were. You gave yourself a chance to make amends in the end. That took guts. I'm not sure what I would have done in your place. I hate to even think about it."
"You don't know until you're in it. Then you know. Then you know forever."
By then Hennessy was talking more to himself. But I could see my words help liberate him, that beating himself up served no purpose (yet I was so livid with myself back then I wanted to beat myself with a baseball bat reeling from a far greater crime than his). We sat in silence or only made small talk rest of the way back. I can still see his lanky frame getting out the car door as I dropped him off in the thick Dallas humidity as we both struggled with the extreme awkwardness of the departure. We stayed silent.
Curiously, this drive did not bring us closer together but farther apart. Hennessy wanted to move on from his confession and get on with his life. Having done a dry run with me next he'd try with a real relationship. Long, slow, difficult steps back to reality. I think he needlessly felt a bit guilty about what he thought was using me but giving someone a leg up is something we all need to both give and get at times and each way it's a privilege.
Hennessy was gone in less than a year. We promised each other we'd stay in touch so we wouldn't have to. I do know that if he did find himself and a new lease on life and finished his rebirth he would greet me with open arms and savor introducing me to his family. After all, I was a part of making that happen and for that I'd be eternally grateful.