In some older Chicago neighborhoods there’s a ditch in front of residential buildings. Freddie, one of my roommates, claimed to have been sitting on a lawn chair in front of his house when an old friend burst into the yard and slapped him on the back. The force of the slap sent Freddie headfirst into the ditch; the impact broke his back.
He’d demonstrated the capability of walking behind his wheelchair while gripping the handles to support his towering frame, but most of the time chose to plant his skinny ass in the seat. I overheard a therapist ask him why he didn’t walk more often. He whined his answer: “Because I be all crippled up.” Plus he couldn’t stand upright when he was crocked—every day he knocked back plenty of cheap vodka.
Freddie became talkative and somewhat obtrusive after downing some liquor. One afternoon during one of his frequent drunks, he lie on his bed and cataloged his mother’s attributes for the ceiling. He stressed that the closeness of their ages—they were only fifteen years apart—enabled her to act less like a parent and more like a friend. It didn’t surprise me in the least when he matter-of-factly acknowledged that nobody knew the identity of his father.
He must have suddenly sensed my presence behind the drawn curtain next to my bed. I became a captive audience and endured the slightly vague story of his stint in the hoosegow. He escaped but the “mens” eventually recaptured him. His slurring swaggered as he explained that no “mens” could control him—“That’s just not me.” Freddie had obviously mastered the art of self-possession; maybe he even mixed his vodka with Crystal Light. He never told me why he’d spent time in jail and I didn’t ask, though it’s a safe bet the judge hadn’t sentenced him to prison for jaywalking.
Then Freddie decided to gush about what a great roommate I’d become over the weeks. He gravely informed me that he had never “taken to my kind”—he’d unabashedly expressed his opinions when he initially moved in—but had warmed to me because I would lend quarters and dimes to him (more like give and never see again). He spoke as if my fancy book-learned ways and race were shameful obstacles I had successfully hurdled by letting him mooch chump change from me.
After Freddie had been my roommate for several months, the administrator ordered him moved to another floor. A few weeks later an ambulance carried him to a hospital where he died. He had known he was going to die for as long as I’d been acquainted with him. According to the administrator, he hadn’t cared to discuss his fate with anyone.