Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mr. Grey (2/2)

“Thank you, Judy. I certainly think so! And while it happened many years ago, I still have not fully gotten over it. She was my soul mate, you see.” Lemoux paused for a moment. I couldn’t tell whether it was for dramatic effect or if he genuinely needed to get an emotional grip before he went on.

“I had to learn the hard way, however, that sometimes love isn’t enough. Such is life, no? C’est la vie. At the beginning of our lives, everything seems clear as day, the choices we make, the challenges we must face, the decisions required of us.  Most of us are born in a white, sterile room on white sheets, doctors and nurses in white uniforms standing at the ready, as if the road to our destiny is well-lit and our life's journey is pure.  Out we go, into the pristine world!”

As Lemoux spoke, a huge white puffy cloud came to my mind. Somehow the sun was still shining and droplets of rain permeated the virescent landscape below. Usually my thoughts are dark and depressing, so I savored this image wholeheartedly.

“As the years roll by and we mature, though, we find that life is not—to stay with the metaphor—so snowy white. Things become complicated, moral ambiguities emerge, the lines get blurry, and the bright white of clarity turns….”

“Grey,” I said, anticipating Lemoux’s train of thought.

“Yes, grey.”  He smiled.

“Huh?” Rob’s grunt of a response served as a kind of preface for his need to state the obvious, as if he were a narrator explaining to the reader what had just transpired. “So you wear grey to…um…uh...symbolize the ambiguities, the moral dilemmas that life brings our way?”

“Something like that,” said Lemoux. “I’ve used the example of unrequited love, but this greyness of life of course comes into play in other situations. Listen, if I had a nickel for the plea bargaining sessions I’ve been involved in, I’d be a wealthy man. Do you know the Roderick Rogers case?”  He read our faces.  "Yes?  You'll remember that this guy killed a family of four on a fateful autumn evening in an upscale suburb of Minneapolis. Rogers was good, well, good in a forensic sense, for he left little trace of his evil handiwork.”

As Lemoux took a healthy gulp of his coffee, I couldn’t help but admire his candid and gracious demeanor. He didn’t have to share these personal, heartfelt thoughts with us, but he did.  I don't know about Judy and Rob, but I initially considered Lemoux's "insights” to be a bit platitudinous, if that’s a word.  Yet something in his tone and earnestness made me appreciate his two cents.

“Rogers got his sentence reduced to seventy-five years with the possibility of parole for confessing to the crime and revealing the locations of the bodies.  We wanted closure for relatives of the deceased.  True, he'll never get out of prison, but the complications of the case led us to make this decision.  I know what you’re thinking, and rightly so. This sort of thing happens all the time. Yes, indeed. But there was something about this particular case that got me thinking deeply about the complications of life.”

I couldn’t help but wonder if the “complications” that Lemoux was speaking of are simply the result of immoral or wrong behavior and that we’re to blame. Evidently, Lemoux noticed my quizzical look.

“Penny for your thought, Patrick.”

“What?  Oh. I was thinking that perhaps we create the grey in our lives or, to mix metaphors, muddy the waters. I don’t mean any disrespect, but your relationship with this woman was a willful decision. And don’t get me wrong, I realize that you were following your heart and did not intend to cause harm by your actions. As far as these repulsive criminals go, well, we should just let the chips fall where they may. If we don’t have enough evidence to convict, then so be it. I understand that making a deal with the devil is necessary, or at least it seems to be necessary, but I think we go too far.”

In truth, I wasn’t satisfied with my response to Lemoux’s query, but in my defense I was still working through some of the things he was saying.

Judy piped up at this point: “I wish we were given a handbook for living, you know?

“Yes, it’s called the Bible,” retorted Rob with a devilish grin.

“No, I’m serious. I feel like I’m just now figuring out how to function in life, two marriages later and at the age of 29!” She laughed obnoxiously at her own witty remark. I’ve known Judy for almost a decade and have attended her 29th birthday for years now. Rob and I looked at each other as if to say, There she goes again with the laugh that killed many a conversation!

“Yet it would be a mistake,” continued Lemoux, “to presume that if we lived our lives in accordance with prescribed rules—whatever the rules happened to be—we’d live happier lives and avoid the all-pervasive Grey that,” he gestured toward his chest with poetic hands like a polished showman, “my clothing is meant to symbolize. First off, we more often than not follow the dictates of irrational forces…”

“Freud’s subconscious?” suggested Rob.

“Something like that.” Lemoux’s mild response to Rob’s contribution, I knew, left Rob feeling dejected.

“I’m not knocking rules and regulations. If we didn’t have moral and ethical guidelines we’d be just a bunch of apes. But we should acknowledge that while we use our intellect to conduct and plan our life, we just as easily override reason when it gets in the way of our desires. Moreover, I don’t think we create our own destiny entirely, which your comment implies, Patrick.”

“What do you mean, Mr. Lemoux?”

“Please, you can call me Jim, all of you. What I mean is that we can set out to live our life a certain way, obviously a way that we find to be fulfilling, ethical, rewarding. But even if we were to adhere strictly to our own guidelines, we’re not in control of outside forces.”

“Well, yes, I understand.” Lemoux, or Jim rather, had a way of communicating his thoughts that put me at ease. Social convention and my ego would normally prevent a young man informing his elder about life’s lessons. I’m guessing that Jim is about ten years younger than I. He seems respectful of other viewpoints, unlike most people that work at the courthouse. Moreover, whereas I feel as though I’ve glided through life until recently without a clue, without much reflection or contemplation, even less method and calculation, Jim has given much thought to humanity and his place in the world.

“It looks like the half hour is up,” he said, with his eyes on his watch.  1:00.  Lunch was indeed over and we needed to get back to the courthouse.  I do not claim any extrasensory powers, but for some reason I had a premonition at that very moment that Jim's days, be they white or grey, were numbered.

Sure enough, less than a month after our conversation Jim died in a car accident on I-59.  A girl texting on her iPhone slammed into the car in front of her, forcing Jim to swerve into the center divider.  His vehicle, a grey Toyota Venza, flipped over and landed upside down on the middle lane.  He died in the hospital later that evening, I was told.

We never really talked again in depth after that afternoon at Geli’s Deli. He would stop by the booth on his way to court and chew the fat briefly. I think Judy took his death the hardest, for she liked Jim more than she would let on. Rob was glum for an entire week.

This won't be easy for me, but I would like to close with a few impressions of the wake and funeral that the three of us attended.

Jim looked so restful in the casket, though I’m aware that his facial expression and the placement of his hands—the same poetic hands that animated the discussion and sucked us into his thoughtful reflections—owe more to the skill of the mortician than to any posthumous indicator of Jim’s contentment in life or his current spiritual state.

The pangs of “unrequited love” and whatever other complications Jim experienced in his short life and led him to wear his heart on not only his sleeve but his shirt, pants, shoes and jacket, would no longer trouble his mind.  I envied his ability to take stock of his life forthrightly and analyze even the seemingly trivial details.  I learned something when I spoke with him, even in our brief exchanges at the courthouse, about breaking things down and drawing out the kernel of truth.  Nonetheless, at the wake I questioned the usefulness of his keen and profound take on things, for Death appears to be no respecter of persons.

What most struck me was his black tux. It was the first time I saw Jim in anything other than grey. In fact, the black hearse and the black garb and dark glasses of those in attendance, not to mention the overcast sky, turned my melancholy to depression. I did not see the white puffy cloud that Jim, Mr. Grey, had planted in my mind.  No, the day was black.