Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Under the shadow

As I sit here at my desk trying not to give in to the despair threatening to invade my soul, I find myself thinking about Hanz. Or "Hantzee," as he was referred to by Mrs. Lipka.

When I was a little girl, I could be seen everyday either riding my bike or – if I was lucky enough to have a pair at the time – roller-skating up and down the road. I had a certain circuit I would follow with imaginary stop lights and traffic signals and "cars" to honk at or swerve to avoid hitting. I went around and around and around my circuit on our little street and grew to know every detail of it intimately, including Hanz.

Hanz was a German immigrant, ancient in my childhood. He was a little, shriveled up man with filthy, ill-fitting clothes, a rarely shaven face with permanent tobacco stains trailing down his chin from chewing tobacco drool that had never been wiped off when he spit. His few teeth did nothing to help to make his stuttering, heavily-accented speech comprehensible to people. Few people other than the Lipka's could interpret his speech. As such, he had no friends, and no one talked to him.

He lived above the Lipka Drug Store in the little town of Montague. He always seemed slightly dazed as if his brain was always about two steps behind everything that went on around him. His job was to sweep the sidewalk in front of Lipka's Drug Store. I have no idea what the financial arrangements were, but that little job was the only thing elevating him above bum status.

For years I assumed he was single, but I was wrong. The townspeople rarely saw his wife, a short stocky little woman with wrinkled ankles and a flat-brimmed black hat with a cheap, red plastic flower adorning it. On the rare occasion she would be seen outside the apartment, it was always with Hanz shuffling beside her struggling to keep up as she strode brusquely along. There did not seem to be much love between them.

The reason I am thinking about Hanz today is because he would frequently appear with cuts, bruises and abrasions on his face and hands. I have a clear memory of him sitting on the sidewalk with a jagged hole in his knee and blood poking out, him looking up at me with a vulnerably imploring expression. It was announced by Carol, a long-time employee at Lipka's, when people would inquire that he had fallen down the stairs again or fell down in the street. Everyone knew he drank continually by the tell-tale paper bag and zigzagging gait lilting up and down the sidewalk. He was rather an object of scorn.

As I began to grow up, Hanz fell off my radar. While I had always observed him with a slightly repulsed interest as a child, my life became busy and I forgot about him. One afternoon when I was in my early teens, I was in Lipka's Drug Store buying a chocolate ice cream cone. They had the best hard chocolate ice cream. The absolute best. Carol was talking about Hanzee.

"Oh, yeah, he hasn't had a drink since the wife left. She used to kick the tar out of him, poor guy, knocking down the stairs and everything. With his medication he was taking, he never should have been drinking anyway. And now he isn't taking that medicine, he isn't so confused. That was how he was finally able to learn to read. I always thought it was sweet of the librarian to help him out like that. Now I guess he spends most of his time reading. Opened a whole new world, he told me the other day. He's doing so much better. I'm happy for him."

As I began to contemplate Carol's words, I realized he was a human being who had been living under an immense shadow for all those years. What had he been thinking, as he sat there staring at the world with his small, vulnerable blue eyes? Was he thinking that if he went upstairs his wife would knock him about the apartment? Was he wondering how to get out of the trap that had become his life? Was he wondering how it was that the rest of the world moved by, never really taking notice of him, except to move to the other side of the sidewalk so as not to smell him?

His life must have been a lonely one. He lived years an isolated, lonely, cast away in the midst of a thriving town. But once the dark shadow of his wife was gone from his life, suddenly he blossomed. He quit drinking. He cleaned himself up. And he learned to read. His speech wasn't so slurred, and his accent smoothed out. Life had finally begun to include him.

Thinking about Hanz, I realize what a dark shadow hangs over you when someone in your life abuses you. I've been living under the dark shadow of someone who hurt and decieved me, culminating in an act of betrayal which finally woke me up to the fact that what I thought was love was not love at all.

I wonder what my life will hold now that I'm no longer under his shadow?


Melissa said...

I love you, Laur.

Beautifully stated. I can't wait to see the whole new world that is opened up to you now that you have freed yourself from the pain and deception that has held you down for so long.

Stand proud, be strong and know that I've always got your back.


shortensweet said...

I remember Hanz. I too, thought he was ancient, but he's still around, bless him.
This too, shall pass. You will learn and be stronger for this. Keep the prize in your sights. I know your thinking he was the prize...maybe the boobie prize. There is someone better than him out there just waiting to meet you, and to love you more than ever. The type of love you deserve, none of the waffling crap.
I don't remember Carol, but I remember Nelda.

bunnyjo georg said...

Who was Nelda? Wasn't it Carol?

You know the surprising part? It really hurts to have a bad opinion of someone you love. It really, really hurts.

shortensweet said...

I know, I've been there. It hurts even worse when you think.."If they loved me..then why could they hurt me like this"
Uncle Neil said it best. Some peoples love, doesn't do you any good.

Anonymous said...

these posts are so interesting, such profound statements when you all are in a serious mood. thank you for a wonderful read. Lessons learned are shared by you with such love.

Bonnie Blithe said...

You can use my defense: if it hurts, don't love it anymore.

Tried and true.

Easier than you might think.

bunnyjo georg said...

Wow, Grandma, it doesn't feel like I'm sharing it in love! I feel mean-spirited and bitter. I'm really glad you appreciate it, though. It bucks me up a bit!

BB: It's good advice, but Oooh, it is haaaaaard to stop loving. (feel free to insert incredibly whiney voice there)

Chill Daddy said...

ewww, this is the blog version of a chick flick.

(your memories of Hanz floored me, though, I haven't thought about him probably since the last time I saw him - 20 years ago? I'm an insensitive jerk with a terrible memory)

bunnyjo georg said...

Chill: HEY...a chick flick? I'm sorry, but I take umbrage at that comment. This is a blog version of a sociological statment, n'est ce pas, mes copines? And the memories of Hanz are remarkably vivid to me.

Marcheline said...

Better. It will be better, that's what.

How much better? That's up to you.

Way to go, you.

- M

Roo said...

I see Hanz every now and then. The kids and I have even said hi to him. He seems a very nice man. I hope that he finds the happiness he deserves.

Laura I have to say I agree w/Melissa minus the bitches part.

Mom said...

Beautifully written. I always said you should have your own column like Tracy or Hardiman. And I'm glad you weren't like Hanz. Waiting for someone to leave. I am glad you are proactive and never let this situation beat you down to toothlessnes, poverty, body funk, and despair before you picked yourself up.

bunnyjo georg said...

Marcheline: Oh, I plan on making it pretty damn good! :)

Roo: Thanks for having my back, there, old friend. The bitches part is a term of endearment.

Mom: :) It feels good to hear you say that. I'd LOVE to have a column like those two, but I need more experience under my belt, I think. And I'm really proud of myself for not getting beaten down, either.

DCveR said...

We have a saying here in Portugal that goes something like "if you lower yourself too much someone is bound to step on you". Glad you are someone who knows how to stand up with dignity.

Mom said...

dcver, I like the way you put that. Mind if we borrow your Portugese saying?

Guyana-Gyal said...

This was painful for me to read. But out of the shadows, there is light.

bunnyjo georg said...

DCvR: There is a part of my that is sad, but the freedom, peace and sense of self-respect I have now more than makes up for it. :)

GG: Light indeed. I'm more optimistic and amazingly, things are finally beginning to fall into place for me after several years of struggle. I was in the dark too long! It feels great to be out here in the light again!

brian said...

Hans immigrated to America from Germany. Couldn't speak a word of English.
My parents didn't like me talking to "the town drunk" so I made sure I talked to him a lot.
When he did speak English, it was broken and infused with german words. I used to talk to him a lot when I was kid.
He is legally blind now and still sweeps around Lipka's. I see him from time to time with his red tipped white cane. If you stand within 20 feet or so from him, you can see the cataracts that fog up his eyes.

My memory could be way off, I don't know. I don't remember speaking to him after my parents moved out of town when I was 11.

bunnyjo georg said...

Your memory of Hans seems pretty parallel to mine. I'm sorry to hear that he's blind now, but I remember his eyes being somewhat foggy when we were yooong'uns. Do you think he remembers you as the snotty-nosed red-headed kid who used to talk to him all those years ago? ;)