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OPINION: A Stranger in Me

May 20, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

Do you want to hear something odd? Sometimes I read an old story I wrote and I can't believe I put that collection of words together. No, it's not because the story is any good; that's laughable. It's because I find it hard to believe that the author seemed to think about things in a manner so foreign to me. It seems as though I don't really know myself as well as I thought. I suppose I'm saying that there is a stranger living within me; one who expresses himself only in the form of written words.

This stranger, this obscure and murky presence, lives inside me and in a place that I didn't know existed. I'm still not sure where that place is and I certainly don't know how to get there, and maybe that's good. You see, I accept the idea that this stranger lives there and I've grown to accept that; but, what if, I mean suppose there are other strangers living there, strangers who I don't want to meet.

This stranger first came to my attention nearly eight years ago. At first, I didn't think much about his emergence but then, and when I realized he served a purpose, I welcomed his presence. This stranger created things on paper that I never could have imagined. The ideas he created were like nothing I had ever considered. However, I liked what the stranger had to say and he acted like a release valve, getting rid of all the things living inside me, those feelings that needed to be released.

The stranger knew about the summers I spent in Noel with my grandfather, grandmother and great aunt when he wrote about my fishing experience with my grandfather.

"I cut the article and photograph out of the newspaper and placed it in a shoebox where it remained for years until it eventually found its way onto a page in a scrapbook. Whenever I look through that scrapbook and come upon the article, a smile comes to my face as I remember my grandparents, the summer I spent with them in Noel and the fishing trip with my grandfather when he caught the four bass at a pond in Maysville, Ark."

The invisible person knew stories about Noel's past and a doctor who once lived in Noel and the old Main Street pool hall.

"It appeared as though the doctor's examination of the fallen man was complete as the doctor declared; "That son-of-a-gun is dead." The physician took another sip of beer and slowly retraced his earlier walk across the pool room, returning to his stool."

He was somehow familiar with McDonald County murders from long ago.

"Seven days passed and, on Saturday the seventeenth of the month, a search party was organized. The river and its banks would be the target of the search. Lula's sister wanted to know what had become of Lula but she also was afraid of the answer. It was nearing 2 p.m. that afternoon when the question regarding Lula's whereabouts would be rudely answered."

This anonymous stranger somehow knew how I once prayed to God.

"If any spiritual presence was near, it failed to make itself known to the old man, and God's blessings for a longer mortal life were not bestowed upon the old woman. There was no thunderous voice from above and no chorus of heavenly angels filled the room. The only sound the old man would ever remember was that of the last breath of air leaving the old woman's frail body."

The person within me knew that I once had a son, David.

"David said, "I found myself in a bit of a quandary which forced me to be creative and think outside the box." "The situation necessitated that I make use of the socks in a manner they were never designed for." "As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention." David was widely recognized for his prolific use of clichés. "As far as I'm concerned, those socks sacrificed themselves for me and I offer the pair my thanks."

He was familiar with old tales about witches.

"Some of the people in St. Charles began spreading words of hatred about Molly. There was talk that something of a drastic nature needed to be done and done soon. So it came to be that one darkened and moonless night some of the townsfolk came to Molly's house and they came with malice in their hearts and they came with a length of rope."

This figure cloaked in secrecy was aware of my quirks when he wrote about my cat, then my undergarments.

"Now this is where my stupidity rises to a level which you may find hard to believe. After the passage of a minute or so, I repeated my previous action, you know looking just around the bend in the wall. I thought she had proven her point and retreated to the bedroom but I was wrong. I once again looked around the corner and as any sane person might anticipate, she slapped my face once more. She thinks she is so darn secretive and stealthy."

I swiftly removed each and every item from the dresser drawer and, using the new orange handled scissors, I cut the tags from every pair of underpants. Now, without the discarded sewn-in labels, I wouldn't be able to detect the orientation of the garments as they were removed from the washing machine. My solution to the problem was not only ingenious but simple as well. As the saying goes, "what you don't know about inside-out underpants can't hurt you."

He had detailed information about an old man I once knew, a man who questioned the value of life.

"I bent down to my knees and for the next few minutes gathered up the papers from the floor, sofa and table. I placed the documents on Earle's lap and, as he looked at me and without uttering a word, Earle put both hands on the stack of printed records and placed them into the metal box."

It finally came to me. The emergence of this person was actually a gift; a gift from my wife, Robin. I am so very grateful to Robin for bequeathing to me, giving birth to this stranger. I sometimes find that when the nights grow long and dark, and as I sit staring at the black-and-white-colored keyboard searching for just the right words, the stranger appears and I reflect on this gift she left to me. It is at those very special moments that I take a deep breath and softly say, "thank you."

The stranger knew my peculiarities, my hopes and my saddest of memories. He once summoned up one of those remembrances about a fallen wedding ring.

"After the passage of many moments, and while scattered thoughts raced through my mind, I decided to once again grasp the old woman's hand. I slowly retrieved the fallen ring and once again and after the passage of all those many years, placed it on the ring finger of her left hand. I then gently took her hand in mine, folded her frail fingers into the palm of the wrinkled hand and raised it from the side of the bed. With great care, I placed her hand next to her side and reluctantly released it from my grasp. I knew the moments of holding that irreplaceable hand had surely come to an end."

Now that I know of this stranger, now that I have stood on the edge of madness, where am I to go?

Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.


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