Envy Takes a Beating
(A true account; names are changed.)
It was the beginning of Fall semester. I was attending college, full-time, and worked a few weekday nights. I lived in a pleasant, residential neighborhood, with winding streets and gentle hills, close to the college, in a county north of my hometown.
My resident-hosts were Richie and Carol Swanson, twenty years my senior, business people, and the son and daughter-in-law of long-standing friends of my parents: our parents knew each other before I was born.
I had the spacious second-floor bedroom and bath, along with kitchen, living room, laundry room and porch privileges, in exchange for weekly dusting and vacuuming, and being good friends with Susie, the Swanson's Golden Retriever, and 'princess of the house'.
Al Tulley lived on the other side of the street, and down two doors. From the front window in my room and from the porch, the curve in the road allowed an open view of the driveway-side and the front of Al's house, and the same-facing side and front of the house across the street from his. Al was a bachelor in his mid-thirties. He had a gorgeous sports car; he dressed in the best; and the outside of his place looked divine, compliments of the professional gardener he hired. Everyone else in the neighborhood hired teenagers, or did it themselves.
Whenever Al was in front of his place and I was on walks with Susie, he just had to stop me and tell me about himself. He worked for a top U.S. corporation, and he went into details: how much education he had, how much he made, his benefits, his great retirement package, on and on. During another walk with Susie, he told me he served in the military, and he went into those details. Another time, he went on and on about how proud he was to own the best house on the block. I could see he was proud, his gardener was inspired; but the best house? That was a stretch. It was one of the last starter homes in that neighborhood: a small, two-bedroom, one-bath ranch with a full, unfinished basement, an unfinished, low-ceiling attic, and on the same, modest-size property as all the homes.
I also noticed, or I should say, it was hard not to notice that Al criticized neighbors he felt didn't keep the outside of their homes as well as his gardener kept his. Al was mostly sarcastic, stuck on himself, and he smirked a lot. His conversations went only one way: all about him, except when he gossiped. He appeared to think he was better than everyone else. He behaved like an indignant, resentful, gossipy old man; already, at only around thirty-five. I tried to get Susie to take her twice-daily walk in the opposite direction, to avoid Al; but she was steadfast about starting her walks downhill rather than on the incline.
Across the Street
Darcy Parker lived with her parents and 15-year-old brother Kenny, directly across the street from Al. Kenny did yard work for hire. Richie and Carol were on his customer list. When he finished his work, he talked with me sometimes when I was sitting on the porch, and at other times when, I suppose, he had nothing better to do. I found out from him that I was a about a year older than Darcy. She was a nail tech at a local spa and was engaged to a guy named Keith, who I realized was the guy frequently at their place. Darcy and I hadn't talked, but we waved to each other in passing. The Parker family and Al appeared to have a nice, neighborly relationship; not close, but friendly.
One Saturday afternoon, I was sitting on the porch, talking with Kenny. He told me that a few evenings before, Darcy took the family's newly-adopted puppy over to show Al. But shortly after, Darcy came flying back into their house in a bit of a panic. "I took the puppy from her", he said. "She was fuming!" He went on: apparently, Al made a small, but unwanted advance. I said, "Oh, brother! What did your parents say?" He said they weren't home at the time, and Darcy swore him to secrecy; but she (intelligently) decided to stay away from Al. I said, "Good move."
A few weeks later, while Kenny and I were talking on the porch, he told me Keith broke off the engagement a few days before, and Darcy was devastated. I felt so bad for her. Shortly after, we saw Al walking up the street towards us. It was the first time, since I arrived, that he approached the Swanson place. I thought, "He has a lot of nerve", and said to Kenny, "I guess he doesn't know you were home that evening Darcy took the puppy to him." Kenny said, "I should tell him off!" I replied, "Not on this porch", and added in a whisper, "Do it on his property." He laughed.
Al stood in front of us, with his arms folded across his chest, and started in with his usual: mocking neighbors who didn't live up to his standards. Then he said to Kenny, "I hear Keith broke off the engagement." Kenny nodded and said, "It'll probably take Darcy a while to get over it." Al said, "If she doesn't start being nice to people, no one will marry her." Kenny looked at me, and then at Al, then back to me, and was about to say something; but I cupped my hand over my mouth for a second, clearing my throat. He took the clue and said nothing.
Out of Nowhere
Suddenly I said, "Oh, no", looking at Al and shaking my head, authoritatively; and I couldn't believe the authority in my voice either. Al's right eyebrow shot up, and he look at me with an indignant smirk; and, from out of nowhere, an onslaught of words came out of my mouth: "Darcy's going to meet a nice guy, perfect for her, and they're going to be very happy." I had no idea where any of it came from. It happened in a flash. I didn't know why it happened, or how it happened. I heard what I was saying, but the thoughts weren't mine.
Al laughed out loud. Kenny looked at me with furrowed eyebrows and said, "How do you know that's going to happen?" I thought for a moment about what had come out of me. It seemed to me to be factual, although I didn't know why it seemed that way. Then, I said, in the same authoritative voice, "It's true. It's going to be that way. Darcy is going to meet the perfect guy and they're going to be very happy." After a second or so, I added, "I don't know how I know that. It just came to me in a flash, so strong, the words flew out of my mouth; I couldn't stop them, and it was finished before I could have stopped them."
Nothing remotely like that had happened to me before. I was as clueless as anyone else would be. And there was more; so I said to them, "And while the words were coming out, I also saw a flash of the guy, the guy Darcy's going to meet. He has dark hair, a big smile, and somehow I know he's a little taller than Darcy and he has great sense of humor." With that, Kenny burst out laughing, and Al laughed even louder than Kenny.
Then Al turned, and walked back down to his place, chuckling all the way. As soon as he was out of ear-shot, Kenny cleared his throat and said, "Well, at least you got him to go away." I said, "I didn't say that to chase him off." Kenny said, "Ah, come on! You're talking like it's going to happen and like the guy exists." I replied, "Kenny, it will happen, and he does exist", because, somehow I knew it. But, needless to say, I wondered what caused me to come out with what I did, and how I seemed to know it.
Then he said, "I should tell Darcy. It might help her feel better." I said, "No. Don't do that." I thought for a few seconds, then said, "Let's wait and see what happens. It might be years from now, you know?" He nodded, and I said, "For now, when she's really down about it, just tell her it's going to work out because, one way or another, it has to; so it will."
In Indian Summer
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-October; a nice, 70-degree Indian Summer day. Carol and Richie were off on a leaf-peeping drive, and I usually made better headway with studies when the house was quiet. I was in my room with Susie when I heard laughter coming from the direction of the Parker house. Kenny's laugh was in the mix. Susie and I looked out the window. It was Kenny. He was in his backyard; but those with him were under the patio awning, blocked from view. I noticed an unfamiliar car on the curb in front of the Parker's house. I figured they had company. I noticed Al was in front of his house, staring in the direction of the unfamiliar car. I shrugged, thinking, "It's the same old Al"; and Susie and I went back to my studies.
About a half hour later, the front doorbell rang. I followed Susie as we hurried down the stairs. I opened the door just enough to keep Susie from running out. My jaw dropped. Before me stood the guy I described to Kenny, flanked by Kenny and Darcy; and all three wearing ear-to-ear grins. I froze, and looked at Kenny thinking, "The kid's pulling a prank, right? And he got his sister to go along with it." But, I had to admit to myself, he's the guy!
"See", Kenny said to the others, looking at my astonished expression, "I told you she told me", and I knew he wasn't pulling a prank. The other two let out slightly nervous laughs, giving me a few seconds to recover; and as Susie and I stepped out on the porch, Kenny closed the dog gate.
I was quickly brought back to reality the second I saw Al, standing on his front lawn, staring at us. Kenny introduced me to Darcy and Frank. Still in shock, I greeted them. We shook hands, and I gazed at Frank just long enough to be sure I saw right, yet briefly enough to remain polite. Then I shook my head, thinking, "It's way beyond coincidence."
We talked for a few minutes. Frank explained, with a beaming smile, "Darcy is my mother's nail tech, and Mom dragged me to the spa last week to introduce us." Then he looked at Darcy and said, "Huh, Darcy?" She giggled and nodded. Frank invited me to join them for a bite to eat at a nice, local restaurant; but I had to get back to my studies. We said good-bye; then, as they were heading toward the Parker's, Frank turned and hollered back, "Nice meeting you!" I smiled and waved, and Al was sitting on his front stoop, watching them as they got into the car parked in front of the Parker place. I assumed it was Frank's since he got behind the wheel. They went over the hill and out of sight.
I was dumbfounded. Shaking my head, I went in the house and upstairs, following Susie. I found it impossible to concentrate on studies. I needed to relax and try to figure out what just happened. I went out and sat in the backyard with Susie.
A few evenings later, I was sitting alone on the steps going up to the porch and gazing up at the stars in the clear, night sky. Something moving on the street below caught the corner of my eye. In was Al, on his way over. I thought, "Oh, no. Do I really need this?" I was in no mood for his obnoxiousness, and sure enough, he launched right in.
"You knew that guy, didn't you?", he said. "No", I answered, "I didn't. I met him the day they came here," and added with a wide-eyed look at him, "You know: the day you were staring at us."
He crossed his arms in front of his chest, turning his head away for a split second; then turned back and said, "Then, how come you knew?". I answered, "Like I said when it happened, I don't know how I knew." He shot back, "I don't believe you! How could you know and not know?" I repeated, "I don't know how I knew." Then I added, "And frankly, I don't care what you believe." Then I got real serious, "And what's more, I don't want what happened to happen again; and as long as you're around me, it might. So take yourself and your evil ways back to your place, and leave me alone from now on."
Both his eyebrows shot up. "My evil ways?!", he loudly exclaimed. I realized I had to make a decision: do I go in the house, do I argue with him, or what? I didn't want Richie and Carol to hear him. I decided to walk him back to his house. I stood up, hopped down the steps, motioned with my head towards his place, and began walking in that direction. He followed, a little sheepishly. I thought I should try to clue him in, while trying to match the force I felt during that incredible message.
"Ya know?, I said in a whisper, mustering up a little forcefulness as we slowly walked along, "Neighbors don't like you." He looked at me as if I told him something he didn't know. "It's true", I said, with the same authority that came out of me with the message. "And the reason is because you don't like them." He looked at me again as if I told him something he didn't know.
"Now", I continued, "I don't know how what happened, happened, but it did, and it brought us to this." He nodded, listening. "So, given the entire scenario, the way things came down, the best thing I can say is, stop bragging about yourself and gossiping about others."
He pulled back as if I hit him with ice-cold water. I said, still whispering, "Don't act that way with me! You came over to me, right?" He said," Well, yeah, but....". I interrupted with, "You're not happy with the way things turned out, are you?" He said, "Well", then he said, "I'm curious about how it happened". On the heels of that, I said, "But you didn't put it that way a few minutes ago", and I added, "And you as good as called me a liar, didn't you?"
He turned his head away. I waited. He turned back with his indignant look. I squinted my eyes in return, and said, "Well", there it is, Al", thrusting my chin towards his face. "There it is in a nutshell: that look; one of the reasons others don't like you." By then, we were on his front lawn. He stood, shifting is weight from one leg to the other, while I continued, whispering.
"It appears to me that you're not happy with the way things are for you." He just looked at me in silence, presenting me with a right-of-way, and I was on a roll. "If that's so, then, if you take some suggestions into consideration, then you will see changes for the better." After a moment, he said in anticipation, "Well?" I answered, "All you have to do is stop bragging and stop gossiping, and you'll be on your way to a happier you", and I repeated, "Suggestions, just some suggestions." He nodded, and I said, "I have to get back home."
He turned to go into his house; then, he stopped said, "It's really weird what happened, isn't it?" I said, "Yes, it was. But, there's a reason, as we can see." He asked, "How do you think it happened?" I said, "It must have been that ghostly guy, Al; you know? The One some call, the Holy Spirit." His face turned sober, and showed signs that he was slightly spooked. I laughed to myself and said, "Good night; see you tomorrow." He said, "Good night", and walked towards his front door, looking at the ground, and scratching his head.
A week or so later, I was on the porch, noticing there were more leafless trees. Al was polishing the headlights of his car. He appeared to have a very different demeanor. I hollered to him and said, "Hi!" He waved back, and with a smile, no less. He pointed to his car and hollered, "Wanna go have coffee? My treat!" I hopped up and over to his driveway.
At the cafe he said that he talked with Kenny a few days before. He said, "I asked him to let Darcy know that I'm sorry. I told him I realize how far down the wrong road I am; and I'm getting back on track. I mean it", and he looked at me with a serious face. "Kenny seemed to understand", he added, and then said, "I told him, if his sister never speaks to me again, I deserve it. I told him to tell her that I know she'll be happy, because of what happened that day. He understood that."
"Kenny's a nice kid", I said. "Yes he is," Al said, smiling. Long story short, Darcy and Frank got married and were very happy. Kenny and Frank became great friends. Al slowly but surely changed for the better, day by day. He came to realize he had options: he didn't have to brag because he earned well-deserved, personal achievements, and he could mention them 'in passing' when such subjects came up; he didn't have to brag about the gardens around his home; they spoke beautifully for him; he could replace gossip, and the risk of being sued for slander or worse, with helping neighbors shine their cars, or something like that, and maybe be invited to stay for a nice dinner, which became the routine. But his habit of being resentful took a while for him to get rid of. Most likely it stemmed from something in his childhood, or teen years. He worked on it privately; it's part of the 'root' cause, which is envy.
Nothing remotely like it has happened to me since; but if it does, I'll know how, and I'll know why: because the Holy Spirit Knows and I don't; and He wants me to help vanquish the next envious attitude happening before my eyes. I'll know to jump right in, to launch right back, without waiting for another one of His pure truth, authoritative, undeniable "Broadcasts', through which charity prevails. It's easier just to jump in; it eliminates the useless questions because: Who else can do it? Who else can It be? It's elementary. Everyone knows, or should know Who because, Who else can give envy that kind of beating?
Tina Irene Williams
From ©WilliamsScript, the author's private collection of writings
Copyright © Tina Irene Williams 2014 All Rights Reserved.
No part of this document may be reproduced without Tina Irene Williams' written consent.