My next interview was with my neighbor…a man named Kevin. He was a slight man, who couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds soaking wet. He lived with his brother and his brothers’ son. They had rented the house for six years, but were going to have to move when the owner decided to sell.
He was stand-offish, but friendly and gradually began to open up a little. He told me that his brother was an army deserter, who had been pardoned by Jimmy Carter in 1977, and was having difficulty receiving benefits.
He lived off Social Security and Marcus, his nephew, lived off of a settlement he received when he was hit by a driver and left brain damaged. I only met Marcus once, and he offered an apologetic, “don’t be offended if I don’t remember anything you said five minutes ago.” His older brother, Terry, stayed inside most of the time, and like Kevin, was thin and frail.
Kevin did all the yard work, and although the property wasn’t his, he took great pride in the landscaping.
He never disclosed his marital status and I didn’t ask. He was clearly bright, but I don’t know if he was formally educated.
He said he “landed here.” When I asked from where, he said, “Kansas.” He said he wanted to go back, but he felt he needed to help his elderly brother and nephew, and didn’t believe he would ever return. He didn’t seem to share my humor when I said, “click your heels three times and say ‘there’s no place like home, and you’ll be there’.”
I was saddened when he said that I was the only person in the neighborhood who ever spoke to him. Maybe because he was old, no one thought he had any importance. Maybe everyone thought he was just an ordinary “old” man.
He rarely smiled, and I never heard him laugh. He always looked despondent, or melancholy, or defeated somehow, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to be privy to any part of his life, other than where he wished to return, but that didn’t deter me from asking the question, “of what do you dream?”
He didn’t even look at me. He just stared off into space as he said:
“I don’t dream of anything.”
He was my last “interview.” I knew that I could never do justice to these remarkably “ordinary” people with my lame attempts at telling their stories, and truthfully…who would care? None of them invented the microwave, or found a cure for cancer, or garnered 10 million followers on Twitter. They lived…they will die…and most likely, they will be forgotten…these extraordinary, ordinary people.