I’d known Elgin Decatur since we were teenage sweethearts, and we’d been friends through all the ups and mostly downs in his life and mine. What was about to happen to him was going to end up hurting him, just like it did before. But this was the unfortunate reality he lived in. If you asked him, he’d tell you that his life was perfect. Did he live in denial? Was his brain permanently altered from the coma event ten years prior? Both were true in my expert opinion. What I struggled with was the pain and stress I chose to endure for his perfect life.
I watched him from across the street. A panhandler fist-bumped him at the entrance to the McHenry Shopping Center on Fort Avenue, and then said something that made them both laugh. That Elgin treated a homeless guy like a buddy was not out of character for him, but it was one of those tendencies that seemed to get him into trouble. You might say he was a sucker. He trusted too easily and he gave too generously for his own good.
The two of them walked into the McDonalds, bought breakfast, and picked a table near the window closest to the front of the store. On display for every passerbr-by, or voyeur sipping on her iced latte while sitting in her car, to see. I finished my Starbucks – an indulgence I needed to quit – and wondered how many homeless in that situation could imagine that the 53-year-old white guy springing for a meal and a sit-down had himself done two years in prison for murder.
They walked out, exchanged a few words, and parted. Elgin crossed the street and began walking the eight blocks east toward his unremarkable brick townhome on Hull Street. No sign that he had seen me, and no indication that he was aware of what awaited him right in front of his house. He waived at a pretty young jogger, exchanged pleasantries with an elderly couple sipping coffee on their front stoop, and patted a pit bull who strained against leash for his next fight.
This was Locust Point on a typical Saturday morning in July. It was one of those Baltimore neighborhoods formed in the 1920’s to support the mills and shipping industry spotted along the Patapsco River from the Baltimore Inner Harbor all the way to the Chesapeake. Fort Avenue was the main drag and it terminated in Fort McHenry, that historic bulwark and last stand against the British that inspired Francis Scott Key to craft what became our national anthem.
The neighborhood today was gentrified with lots of twenty-somethings and young families who loved the combination of waterfront views, restored brick townhomes, multiple pubs, refurbished parks, and quick access to Canton, Butcher’s Hill, Fells Point, and the Inner Harbor. The big money behind the Locust Point revitalization was Under Armour, which set up its headquarters in what once was a Proctor & Gamble factory. I liked it enough to visit, but I stopped by only when I had to, and I only had to because of Elgin.
I parked my car and followed Elgin as he turned onto Hull Street. It felt like high noon at 10 a.m. My skin was already damp, and I was thankful I grabbed my sunglasses from my purse before I locked my car. Elgin walked a block ahead with the lightness of a man half his age, and wavy blonde hair giving no evidence to the contrary. This was typical for him. He’d probably been out for two hours already, first for a good lap around the fort and then all the way west to Lawrence Street where I just happened to see him with the homeless guy. You could interpret his routine and his youthful gait as confidence, or fitness, or general health. I thought of it as blissful oblivion.
One more block and he stopped, hugged up close to a parked cargo van, and peered down the street toward the commotion he finally noticed outside his front door. He paused another moment, rubbed his hand through his hair, and started again toward his house. I was just about to yell to him when he stopped again, spun around and started walking straight for me.
“Forget something?” I asked when his eyes showed he recognized me.
“Kate! Hey, how ya doin?” He reached for my hand and leaned in to give me a peck on the cheek. “Stopping by for a visit?”
“Can you remember the last time I ever just dropped in for a visit?”
He didn’t reply as he released my hand.
“You get your morning walk in around the fort already?”
“I did, yeah. And then I got a bite to eat—"
“You were spying on me?”
“No. But when I drove down here and saw the—"
“Circus,” he said as he looked over his shoulder.
I sighed. “Call it what you want, but what did you expect?”
He paused. “So how did you—"
“It wasn’t through the media. It’s not out yet. We need to talk. Have time for another coffee?”
Ten minutes later we were sitting inside a new coffee shop four blocks east of Hull Street, fresh coffee in big white mugs, and looking anonymous enough for a man who struggled to live under the radar in spite of his gregarious nature.
“This is a nice little place,” Elgin said. “Just opened last month.” He reached across the table and rested his hand on top of mine.
“I know you like everything about the area. Been about two years now, right?”
“That’s about right.” His bright blue eyes looked through medefinitely checked me out, hovered and came toover rest on my breasts, before meeting my eyes.
“What about now, with this latest thing? You going to disappear again?”
He leaned over and kissed the back of my handlifted my hand and kissed it.
I hadn’t seen Elgin in months, and in spite of driving down here with a head of steam, all my molecules seemed to melt from his touch. “Is that a yes?”
He straightened. “Come on, Kate. I didn’t disappear when I left Carlisle. I just moved.”
“When your daughter and I can’t find you for nearly eight months, and you don’t call, or even send a postcard? That’s not what healthy people do when they move, Elgin. Also, why not get a phone? Most healthy people have a phone.”
He pulled his hand back and looked down as if that had stung, so of course I felt bad for my lack of restraint.
“I apologize. Low blow.”
“It’s alright. I deserved that.” He sipped his coffee and looked outside at the news van cruising in the direction of the fort. He set the cup down. “I actually have a phone. I lost the other one, so I got a new phone and a new number. I don’t use it a lot, but I have one.”
I left it alone.
“How’s Marie?” he asked.
“She’s okay. I hear from her at least twice a week.”
“Still at Hopkins, still in the program?”
“You don’t have to worry about that with her.”
“How about her money? Does she need more?”
He nodded, not questioning the truthfulness of what I reported about his daughter or the money, though it had been six months since we last spoke.
“Did she contact you about this?”
“No. It hasn’t hit the news yet.”
“So do you want to tell me what happened?”
He took another sip, as we both looked over at a crying baby on his father’s shoulder. “I run a little group out of the Catholic church in the neighborhood, Our Lady of Good Council. One of the regular guys had a lady friend with him last week who asked if I would attend a group meeting from her neighborhood, up in Hampden.”
“What kind of group?”
“Veterans for Peace, it was called.”
“So they wanted you to talk to them about peace?” I tried not to show my incredulity, but this was already sounding like such an Elgin thing.
“No. I wasn’t asked to speak. I was just in the room.”
“How many were there?”
He shrugged. “Maybe two dozen.”
I sighed. “So what happened?”
“You seem particularly agitated, Kate. What’s wrong?”
I checked myself and tried to grin. “I apologize. I’m fine. Please, what happened at the meeting?”
“There was a couple with their little boy sitting in front of me. They appeared to be visiting for the first time as well. The little guy was bald, so I figured he was in chemotherapy. Really sweet kid, and nice parents. Anyway, the gal who asked me to attend introduced me to the family when the meeting ended. I learned that the boy, Joseph his name was, had in fact just finished a third round of chemo for an inoperable brain tumor. I sat down next to him and asked him a few questions. We held hands for a few minutes. And that’s it.”
“That’s it? What do you mean, that’s it?”
“We all said goodbye. That was Tuesday night. Next day I got a call from the boy’s father, Nathaniel I think, who said something was different with his son. Actually, the first call came from the guy in my group whose girlfriend invited us to Hampden. He wanted to know if Nathaniel could have my num—"
“Different? Like what? Did he explain?”
“I asked him if he meant Joseph seemed worse, and he said no, just the opposite. He wanted to know what I did. I told him I didn’t do anything and that he should take the boy back to his doctor if he was concerned.”
“The dad called me that night and said they spent the afternoon at the hospital. The doctors ran a few more tests, a scan, I think he said.” Elgin shrugged and looked away.
“And the tumor was gone.”
“That’s what he said.”
“And the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Garcia, believe you healed Joseph.”
“I tried to explain to them, Kate. The little guy has benefitted from a lot of love, primarily through his parents. Love is what heals. And—"
“And medicine. chemotherapy, radiation, doctors—"
“Absolutely, of course.”
“But they think it was you.”
He nodded. “They’ll move on from that in the days and weeks ahead—"
“Is that what you’re going to tell the press?”
“I’m not going to talk to the press.”
“You’re going to disappear.”
“Kate, I’m not sure what you’re upset about. And how did you know the family name is Garcia?”
“Because Joseph Garcia and his parents are my patients.”
His mouth dropped open. “Your patients? But you’re a shrink. And you work and live in Annapolis, right?”
“That’s right. I am a shrink. I run a family practice in Annapolis, and my specialty is crisis counseling. And the Garciaes were visiting their PTSD-suffering brother, a Marine from Baltimore, who brought them to that meeting.”
Still a look of puzzlement in his expression. “You deal with divorces and job loss and—"
“Cancer diagnoses, depression, grief, suicide—"
“Okay, I get it. The Garcia’s were seeing you as they prepared for the worst.”
Elgin leaned back in his chair and raised his hands in half surrender. “Kate, I had no way of knowing—"
“Of course you didn’t. And you had no way of knowing that Nathaniel Garcia is a senator from Texas.”