There are certain characters who will loom large, no matter where you encounter them. In their own worlds and their own ways, they, too have their circle of effect. Jeffrey was one of those characters at our library.
The first time I saw Jeffrey, I was walking to work from my parking lot. It was a lovely, sunny morning. Jeffrey is a tall, slim African-American man, and he was walking toward me in a yellow shirt.
Jeffrey was talking – at that point, I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or not. He seemed to be upbeat, so I wasn’t intimidated, just curious. He has a fluid dancer’s walk and he was quite animated, just enjoying the sun and telling himself something quite interesting, evidently.
After that, I began to see him more often, walking in his dark pea coat in winter, dancing in his running shorts in summer. I would see him upset occasionally, as though he were explaining something earnestly to himself, yet didn’t appear to understand. Always, he swayed gracefully like a dancer down the sidewalk.
One day I came upon a crowd at the front door of the library. “What happened?” I asked. There was an ambulance at the curb.
A colleague answered. “I saw a man lying in the gutter, so I called 911. While I was on the phone with the dispatcher, someone hollered in that they thought it was Jeffrey. The dispatcher heard them. I heard her say in a completely flat tone of voice, ‘Oh. It’s Jeffrey,’ and heave a big sigh. He must have done this before – he looks fine.”
I looked out again. The rescue guys were talking to him, but there was no response until they tried to put him on the stretcher. Then Jeffrey appeared to hear them, and rose in one lithe movement from the pavement. He stood there just a few seconds, then wandered off down the sidewalk. They shook their heads – we all shook our heads – and they began to pack up their gear.
Jeffrey came into the library occasionally. He would sit in a deep, cushioned chair, flipping through magazines and talking quietly to himself. The last time I saw him, he was being escorted out the door by the security guards. Evidently, they had found him in the men’s restroom, half dressed and displaying his manly equipment to those who entered there. This was not appreciated…..
Jeffrey was banned from library property. I haven’t seen him around, but I wonder if all the bids for attention ever got him any that meant something to him. How do you get through to a person that never talks to anyone but himself?
I wonder if he ever explained that earnest thing to himself successfully? If he did, I wish he’d come back and explain it to me.