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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

WHERE'S WALDO 2?

   The question - seemingly innocuous enough - was posed to me over Thanksgiving:
   "Hey ... how's ol' Wally doin'?"
   I mulled it over anew for three days - after mulling it over every day for three months - and have concluded that I cannot wrap my brain around a logical, sufficient, blanket answer to this Life & Death amalgamation with Lost & Found. So I'll offer this admittedly bipolar retort:

   Wally is irreparably and eternally lost.

   Wally has found exactly who and where he wants to be.

   I knnoooowww, right?
   This isn't black and white, but rather a complex conundrum colored with intertwined layers of gray, gloom and grossly distorted perspective.
   From what I know at this point, Wally is safe. Otherwise ...

   Wally is Lost
   More proof that sequels are never as good as the original, Wally Lynn is gone.
   Poof. Vanished. Dissolved and wholly camouflaged, into a faint world decorated with anonymity and devoid of addresses.
   I'd love for this to be a warm-'n-fuzzy Hallmark-for-the-holidays update on my long-time great friend turning life's corner. For it to be a Christmas miracle, starring me as Clarence the angel who showed Wally a glimpse of his goodness and switched on the light bulb of his do-over.
   Alas, this isn't "reality" TV. It's reality. Truth: We rescued a man that didn't want to be saved.
   After my story helped locate Wally in June 2016, the responses poured in. Emails. Twitter DMs. Facebook messages. Donations. Yes, money, to the tune of $5,000+ via a GoFundMe page aimed at helping him get back on his feet after a couple of life's nasty turns, two alcohol-induced comas and 40+ days homeless on the streets of Dallas.
   He moved in with his brother. I regularly drove him around. We bought him clothes, shoes, supplies, luggage, groceries, a cell phone and a laptop computer. We paid down debt, and lifted up his spirits.
   I printed every one of the responses from well-wishers, and assigned him the homework of reading them all. To refresh his memory on how good he was. To re-boot his belief that - despite bad decisions and worse consequences - a lot of people were still rooting for him to be the best he could be.
   But before I could get a feel on where he had truly been and where he might want to eventually go, he was in jail.
   Picked up on a warrant for numerous outstanding and varying transgressions, he spent a couple weeks behind bars. I visited him a few times, and - with his blessing - attempted to broker peace between him and his sons, and tried to help re-build the bridge of trust to his extended family that had been decimated during his previous drinking binges and accompanying disappearances.
   When he was released, there were flashes of the Wally I remembered. We laughed at a Christmas party. We drowned our sorrows in song with my family early into the morning after the Cowboys' crushing playoff loss to the Packers. We went to the movies. We got him a job, and a place to live.
   What I couldn't locate, was his motivation.
   We had long talks at El Fenix and Whataburger, but I soon discovered he wanted nothing to do with the past, or the future. He squirmed when I asked about life on the streets. He changed the subject when I brought up jail, old memories from better times, or a potential tip-toe back into the media world via podcast. He was comfortable talking about last night's Rangers' game or next week's Cowboys' game. His present. His moment. Anything else was a murky, mumbly mess.
   For most of last Spring he lived in a mutual friend's mansion in McKinney. Had his own room upstairs, complete with a giant-screen TV and private bathroom. Rent-free. His only responsibility was to check-in with his friend/boss before 9 a.m. each day to see if help was needed. Some days it might be to run errands. Some days it might be manual labor on a ranch. Some days it might be to sit in on a brainstorming meeting. And some days it might be absolutely nothing.
   Just check in. Be involved. Act interested.
   Over a 3-month period in that mansion, Wally met his check-in obligation less than five times.
   I reminded him in person. I reminded him over the phone, and via text. He listened. He agreed. He nodded. He ... rarely awakened before Noon. I have no reason to believe he resumed drinking alcohol, but one night the owner of the house caught him smoking cigarettes in his room. There weren't many rules in the mansion, but not smoking was one of them.
   In August the house was put up for sale, and the friend/boss had long ago grown weary of wasting energy and expenses on Wally's general aloofness. He didn't care about existing jobs. Or job leads. Or anything. One of his friends bought him a new bicycle to help him be mobile and search for new employment. It merely collected dust. I drove him to look for a new place to stay. He repeatedly re-coiled at un-mansion options, and I remember being taken aback that he refused to grasp his predicament, his plight. He had nothing. He offered nothing. But, somehow, he deserved something.
   Out of money, patience and time, his brothers and I decided to exchange enabling for tough love.
   On Aug. 26 I rode Wally's bike to a nearby motel in McKinney. We pre-paid for two weeks, and put enough money in his checking account for another two weeks plus necessities. I then drove him around and identified potential jobs. I counted seven, all within walking and/or riding distance.
   "Wally," I told him sternly, "a lot of people have tried a lot of ways to help you and you've turned your back on all of them. This is it. When this money runs out you're own your own. Your job is to find a job, and you've got about 30 days."
   As always, he said he understood. He nodded. But he didn't take notes. Didn't write down names of businesses, much less phone numbers.
   For a couple weeks we stayed in contact. I texted for an update on his job hunting. And on Sept. 16 he left me a voicemail, saying his cell phone was dead and that he was changing rooms in the hotel.
   When I went to visit a couple days later, the front-desk clerk informed that Wally Lynn had checked out.
   I haven't seen nor talked to him since.

   Wally is Found
   While this update is therapeutic for me and informative for all those inquiring, it is in no way a judgment.
   In retrospect, I suspect Wally resented me for "rescuing" him off the streets because, well, that's precisely where he wants to be. It's where he doesn't get recognized. Doesn't have to re-hash his glorious past. Doesn't have to explain his dramatic decline. Doesn't have to map out any semblance of a future.
   He prefers life lived second to second and served meal to meal. Who am I to say he's wrong?
   The only way I can write this chapter of his saga with a (semi) dry eye? Wally is where he is today because it's exactly where Wally wants to be. I tried. I failed. I've made peace about that. You can lead a friend to water but you can't ... you know. Faced with a computer problem, we can fiddle with the hard drive, run anti-virus software or try the old re-boot. But those fixes are all hapless without a power source, and Wally is voluntarily unplugged.
   I honestly don't know where he is. And that's exactly what I told the Collin County Adult Probation office when they called recently seeking his whereabouts and informing me that a warrant had been issued for his arrest for violation of his probation. (Seems he stopped checking in with his officer, too.)
   I can only assume he's in and out of a homeless shelter(s). He has sporadically commented on friends' Facebook posts, so I know he has some access to a computer. I know he has my phone number, but has chosen not to use it. And that's okay. Living up to my/our standards and expectations - as spartan and fundamental as they seem to us - were more than he was willing to handle.
   I have an open mind about Wally's warped mind. He's a broken guy that doesn't want to be repaired. I get it.
   In his comfortable uncomfortableness, he has zero obligations. No pressure. Nobody is counting on him. There are no bills arriving in the mailbox. No expectations to live up to. Personal hygiene is optional. Time is irrelevant. Every day is Netflix 'n chill, and somebody else is paying for the Netflix.
   It is, of course, a dead-end existence. But when you choose not to look down the road, you can convince yourself otherwise. Destitution, after all, can indeed be a decision.
   Who he wants to be and who we want him to be couldn't be farther apart. Miss him or not I, as his friend, have to painstakingly accept that.
   Some hypothesize that the drinking binges damaged his brain, somehow permanently clouding his cognitive reasoning. I'm obviously no doctor, but I disagree. Could he use some serious counseling/therapy? You betcha. But I don't think he's incapable of bettering himself. I think he's consciously unwilling to better himself. After enduring his fall from grace, his mindset is that it's better to stop trying altogether than to try again ... and fail again.
   I don't think he wants to go back to jail, but it seems clear he's willing to risk it for the luxury of living without an identity.
   I know Wally will read this, and I hope he's doing well. I hope he succeeds in his daily, relentless quest for basic necessities like shelter and food and help. If he shows up at my door today, I'll gladly answer it. But if you spot him and pinpoint his location, I wouldn't go running after him. Why?
   Because 18 months after we found him, Wally Lynn clearly wants to play hide-and-don't-seek.
   So how's ol' Wally doin'?
   Perpetually sad.
   Peculiarly satisfied.

10 comments:

  1. Very sad. I had a alcoholic brother who behaved similarly. He died in 1990 at age 42.

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  2. So sad. There is absolutely no way to help someone that doesn't want to be helped. Sorry about your friend.

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  3. I woke up this morning cringing at the prospect of a 12-hour day at my shop alone because of two sick calls. I spent the weekend poring over data from a disappointing Black Friday and analyzing what appears to be an impending bleak retail holiday season for my category...while trying to invent a method to slow the roaring freight train that is Amazon. My high school senior seems to have no problem at all getting accepted to the country's priciest colleges while I attempt to figure out how in the world to pay for them. I have become a bit of an expert on antacids (Tums are handier and more effective than Rolaids, Maalox and Mylanta are overrated, Di-Gel is not bad if you can choke it down but nothing beats the old stand-by Phillips' Milk of Magnesia).

    Wally may be smarter than the rest of us...and is certainly smarter than me.

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  4. Tough story exceedingly well written. I wish only the best for Wally.

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  5. Thank you for the update. I will have to disagree with you though; You did not fail!

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  6. Freedom's juat another word for 'nothin' left to lose'.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    Replies
    1. Freedom's just another word for "Nothin' left to lose'.

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  8. You need to find an outlet to do more writing. Excellent piece.

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