Work still smelled a little like blood today.

Since May, or whenever i got my current job, I've worked on and off with a sickly, benign phantom named Jimmy. I say "on and off" because Jimmy was gone a couple of times for extended sicknesses. It was a blessing when he was gone. He was very hard to work with and had run off everyone else that had worked in that shop.

He was sick when i first started. He was out because of some kind of stomach surgery. That surgery--or his own aftercare of himself--had gone awry and left him with an small, leaking wound in his abdomen. I wasn't there for this part, but evidently identifiable pieces of things he ate would emerge from it. He took care of this with paper towels held on by duct tape. He didn't want to go back to the doctor, and it took a really long time for anyone to get him to go back.

I'd been at work for about two weeks, i guess, when he came back that time. I had started making plans for how to make myself at home in the shop, moving things around, making notes on a dry erase board, e.g. bandsaw, sunlight, stereo, etc with bullet points. Jimmy helped annotate my list when he came back with adjacent comments like: already got one, go stand outside, bring your own from home, etc. He told me to not touch any of his stuff. Then he told me to stop singing. When i told him i liked to sing he told me to go to hell. I tried to be nice because i knew i was invading his space--he actually lived in the shop. He had a little cot back in a corner he'd partitioned off with a shower curtain. On my first days there i peeked behind that curtain out of curiosity and saw how he'd made little shelves on the walls for things like a tiny battery-powered radio, a drinking glass. His clothes were folded perfectly and lay on a table he'd made out of the top of a console piano. I knew that these were the habits of someone who'd probably been to prison, or had become institutionalized in someway.

I wasn't going to find out about this conjecture, however. The only two things that Jimmy ever told me about himself were that he used to be an electrician and that he'd seen Bachman Turner Overdrive at a concert hall in Jersey. He enjoyed the show.

Other people knew more about him. My boss, for instance, had been taking care of him for years. Had let him live in his own home for two years (until, as i heard it from a third party, Jimmy began to leer at the teenage daughter and made it time to go). Jimmy was supplied with a new apartment he shared with another guy from work (also supplied by the boss). It was too difficult to live with him, though, so his roomy kicked him out and Jimmy moved into the shop with his good pay and health insurance and drank water from the hose outside and peed out back and shit...well, jimmy shit in a cardboard box inside the shop. I found it just the other day while i was cleaning up. Evidently he'd had people in his life: he was married one time and one of the bookkeepers at work told me that a grandfather had died and left him $50,000 a few years ago. Jimmy took the money, left the boss's home, quit work and disappeared. He returned a year later, broke, looking for work.

I disliked Jimmy very quickly, but mostly i just stayed away from him and everything was pretty cool. The run-ins were limited and mostly mild. For example, one day i was spraying some real toxic crap and took some solvent rated cartridges off a mask that I'd never seen Jimmy use. The next day i came back in to put on a second coat and found that the cartridges were now back on the old dusty mask, on the same dusty shelf as they'd been the day before. I didn't say anything, but gave him the evil-eye when i told him i had to go to the store for a new mask. Later he kind of wandered in and, staring at the floor, told me that he worried about people touching his stuff because he had hepatitis. He didn't want me to get sick.

For some reason i never lit into Jimmy. I don't know why. I'm glad i didn't now.

Several weeks ago we noticed his work pace, which had never been faster than entirely ineffective, had slowed to a crawl. This was because he was hardly able to walk. His legs, for reasons unknown, had swollen to at least twice their normal size. This was a startling thing because his legs were normally the size of pencils with thin blue skin and bleedy scabs on them. As it was, they had turned into fluid-filled bags. You could practically see the liquid under his moon-colored flesh. I figure Jimmy weighed about a hundred pounds and he was my height.

One morning while this was going on he went to the McDonalds across the street for breakfast--like he did every morning--and only made it back half across busy Montague before he figured out he was able to go no further. He stood there in the middle of the road, supported by his swollen legs and a stool that he was using for a walker, until someone in the store saw him and drove a car the few yards out into the road, lowered him into the passenger seat and drove him back to his shop.

Later in the week, when the fluid had begun to leave his legs, he started to feel a terrible pain in his hips. I caught his paper thin body one day as he fell trying to navigate the single 6 inch step into the shop, and said "that's it, man. I've been quiet long enough. You need to go to the damn doctor. I'm sick of looking at you." He said he didn't want to. He said they'd just cut him open and make him hurt and send him bills he couldn't pay.

What are you gonna do?

As he became even more immobile and grouchy, resolute about not seeking medical care and absolutely worthless as an employee, the boss finally had to start suggesting that Jimmy get his ass in gear. He asked me if i thought he should fire him. I think the boss loved Jimmy and didn't want to make him go, but the man was proving himself such a block to any real work being done--indeed, was actually make the work flow go backwards at points--that someone needed to make this sickly thing move along. After all, Jimmy had been given essentially 10 years of welfare from this man and maybe it was finally time to call him a lost cause. The boss gave him an ultimatum: finish up that Steinway on time or get out.

He didn't do it. He waited until days before due date and finally asked me for help. I did the work--i posted pictures of that piano on here, actually--and we said we'd done it together. We hadn't really, of course. I'd done all the work and Jimmy had diligently cleaned the spray guns i brought him. His behavior changed at this point and he went from an extraordinary asshole to an obsequious puppy. He followed me around--slowly, balanced on his stool--and asked what i needed help with. I suggested little jobs and he proceeded to never do them. I mean, he was truly no-count, but he was hurting. What are you gonna do?

Just a few days ago, Jimmy finally acquiesced to seeing the doctor for the pain in his legs. It turned out he'd broken his hip in three places. They replaced it with an artificial one just giving him a spinal. He was awake through the whole thing. He later told me, in a voice almost devoid of hope, "it didn't hurt, but it was really weird listening to them sawing through my bones."

For the next few days it was totally downhill. Infection set in. He ran off the physical therapist that came to the shop to see him. His speech was incredibly slurred. I knew he was taking enormous amounts of the painkillers they'd given him. He wrecked the boss's car out running a suspicious errand--and he didn't have permission to use it. When asked where he got the keys he said he's seen where the hide-a-key was.

And it got worse. Last Wednesday, i guess it was, Jimmy spent most of the day in bed, completely zonked on the oxycontin. I looked in his drawer and found that he'd filled a prescription for 30 of them on the 17th of the month. It was the 19th and he'd taken them all. Later that day he made it to his chair where he sat slumped over with his mouth open and a big line of drool reaching to the floor. I told the boss about the dope.

That evening--after 12 years of caring for him--the boss looked into Jimmy's drugged and bewildered eyes and told him he had to go. That was what finally did it.

Jimmy shot himself in the head later that night. He was found the next morning, lying in his bed by a couple of my co-workers. By the time i made it to work most of what had been Jimmy had been taken away. Only a few pieces of him remained on his shower-curtain wall, a pretty sizable pool of blood on the floor. What are you gonna do?

I mean, really? What was i supposed to do? I'm glad i didn't torment Jimmy. He was a screwed up person. I didn't visit with him, but i didn't think he wanted me to. I see now how i was wrong about that. Even if it was just someone to be mean to, he needed company. The boss had helped him in every way he could. People had tolerated him and tried to help him out. I reckon somewhere inside him there was still a pretty good person. And now he's dead and i'm not sure anyone outside of where i work knows about it. I don't think there's any family or friends to notify. No one to claim his body or to lament his passing except a few people only tied to him through employment. Damn, that sure is lonesome.


The Mom said...

Thank you for that, Walter. Your eulogy was very touching. I feel so much more than that, but don't know how to say it. I'm glad for Jimmy that you were there for him as much as you could be.

Sarah said...

I think you probably did more for him than most. You were decent, if not kind, to someone who made the lives of the people around him difficult. But I understand, the level of responsibility that we take on for the people around us is entirely voluntary, and you can always choose to take on more. I'm sorry you had to deal with the violence of his passing, and I'm sorry about Jimmy.

Blogless Reader said...

I'm glad you didn't torment him too; now don't torment yourself over something you could not change.

"What are you gonna do?" My grandfather used to say that whenever life vexed him in some way, big or small. The sentiment is still very true.

femme fortis said...

Damn. I know when things like this happen there are always questions the ones left behind have to ask. Like what should/could I have done? From your post, it seems you did more for Jimmy than most which is quite admirable. It just sounds like he was too far gone to "make better again". There's a song by Robinella called Man over which has the line, "Man Over and lost forever. Man Over and I think he's died. No need to throw the life preserver. He's already drowned himself inside." I think Jimmy might have given up on himself long ago and it doesn't sound like there was much that could be done to change that. Even so, I'm sorry.

Cate Bush said...

Dang. I'm really speechless at this point. I felt the hopelessness and loneliness in your writing. I'm thinking about you.


Kenneth said...

What a sad story. Thanks for sharing it. Rest in peace, Jimmy. "And no man dieth to himself."

joan said...

How sad that years of generosity towards this man had such a sad end.

claire said...

Those are good words indeed for a sad life. You treated him like a human being -- as did your boss. That is potentially more than many others did.

Syd said...

There are a lot of Jimmy's out there. I'm glad that he had a place to stay and someone to be around. Suicide is the final "Fuck You". There isn't anything anyone can do to stop someone bent on a path of destruction, whether by gun, drugs or alcohol.

Julie said...

How truly sad. At least you were there the best you could even if at a distance. Who knows maybe if you hadn't of been there, he could have gone downhill much quicker. You could have been cruel, but you were considerate to someone that needed the help.

I think all we can do at this point is pray for his soul and those who knew him most.

Quiche said...

His life was not in vain- he brought out the God-like qualities of mercy and compassion and undiscriminating charity in you and your boss, that is inherent in us all. You could have chosen to turn your back on this man, place blame and write him off, but you didn't, and that IS the point, and by posting this, hopefully it will inspire others to do the same when God sends a Jimmy into their lives. God bless you and Alison, your boss and co-workers.

The Dad said...


A hard story to tell... Thanks for sharing.

When I was much younger, mostly from my time in the Army, I knew people who would absolutely refuse to go to the doctor or get any outside medical help. They could be in terrible pain from sometype of injury or just their own negligence. They would say things like, "My Father never went to a doctor" or "I can take care of myself".

No matter what you did or said, even trying to physically take them to the doctor, it did not make any difference. In their mind, they were doing what was right for them.

It was hard for you to be in the middle of this. It's hard to "un-see" something even an illusion. Everything you did was right.

The Dad