Let me introduce you to the rogue. I have been wanting to tell his story, or at least the part of his story as it relates to me, for some time now. But I was waiting for the moment.
The rogue has been in and out of my life for four months. When he’s around, he shines very, very brightly. He dazzles all. I cannot over emphasize this. The man can talk paint off walls. Seriously. I have lesbian friends who look a little glassy-eyed in his presence. He’s a tennis coach. He has dreadlocks half way down his back. He’s a walking anatomy lesson. He can probably bench press his own weight. I have no idea. I know that he lifts me as easily as if I was a cup of coffee.
I weigh a not inconsiderable amount.
So the rogue comes. He charms. He conquers. And them he flakes out.
This is fine. If you accept the rogue on his terms, you will not be disappointed. It’s like a meteor. It passes the place where you live every now and then and it’s sparkly and wonderful. And then it’s off on its own trajectory. Into its own rogue-like universe.
And then. Just when I think I’ve seen the last of him, he pops up again.
The rogue is back. Demanding to know why you haven’t invited him over to dinner or introduced him to your friends or asked him to your parties. (Blithely forgetting that he hasn’t returned your calls and that you have invited him to your parties and he has declined to show.)
It sounds bad, on paper. I know. And I am by no means a pushover. It’s just that I’ve developed a fondness for the rogue.
As a friend once said about a mutual colleague; “It’s easy to get angry with her. It’s hard to stay angry with her for very long.”
The rogue does not have a mean bone in his superbly put together body. In fact, I’ve stopped being angry with him. It’s just so much easier to put yourself in neutral and accept the rogue on his own terms.
So far, this is not a story. This is just me, indulging somebody whom I probably should not.
But the rogue story took an abrupt left turn this week.
He called me at eight in the morning and asked if he could come over. I said sure. I hadn’t heard from him for a while. I was wondering what was going on.
I’ve been in prison, the rogue said. He got into a fight with a guy and punched him and ended up in Riker’s Island. For a week. Before he could get bail. He couldn’t call anybody. Nobody knew where he was.
I made the rogue strong coffee and listened to his story. Prison had shaken him up—and the rogue is an Army veteran. He’s seen some stuff.
Prison shook him to the core. Just one week. He made a joke about hitting the American institutional trifecta—Army, university, prison—but it sounded a little hollow.
I did my best for the rogue, who is clearly in shock. I know shock. I’ve lived shock for some time now. Different source, but same effect. He can’t concentrate. He forgets stuff. He got a parking ticket when he came to my house because he didn’t read the signs properly. He says he’s not in his head. That’s how he describes it. He was charged with a felony. It’s been downgraded to a misdemeanor, but still. He has to go to court. And in the meantime he can’t leave the state.
So I did the best I could for the rogue. I listened to him. I said he could call me any time and I would be there. Before he left I hugged him and he felt as frail as a child. He is by no means frail. It was just the impression I had.
Part of me wonders what he was thinking when he punched that guy. He’s black. Brooklyn born and raised. He’s clever. He knows what happens to black men when they dance with the legal system. He has a young daughter. Five years old. He has a life. He has a career.
I wanted to ask the rogue those questions. But I didn’t. They would serve no purpose. The deed is done. The other guy has been punched. By a black guy with dreads.
Best thing to do is to ride it out.
So the rogue calls me today and asks me if I will write him a character reference. The rogue is not a writer and he attaches special importance to the fact that I am.
I gently point out that I don’t know him very well. What would I say? I met him in a bar. I picked him up in a bar, for goodness sake. Four months ago? These kinds of biographical niceties are not going to slay anybody in officialdom.
There must be somebody else, surely? I counter. Someone who knows you better. I can help them write a sterling letter. And even if I did know you well, I’m a nobody. I say. I don’t even have a proper job. I’m paddling towards ignominy as fast as the current will take me.
The rogue remains committed to the idea.
I don’t know. I don’t know how to handle this. Part of me, the writerly part, relishes the challenge. The part of me that is a friend to the rogue wants to do whatever I can for him.
And I have a sense about the rogue. That he’s a decent guy. I’m usually not wrong about these things. I have a fairly solid bullshit detector. But still, I can’t escape the feeling that anything I would say would be largely made up.
I would feel that it’s true. But it wouldn’t be. Not really.
I don’t know what’s the right thing to do.