Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Disconfirming Information

For the past month, he'd been there, every morning, limping out to meet me with his cane in hand.

His house had been notable on my morning walk with the dog.  The semi-cluttered yard.  The primer-painted 1960s pickup truck.  The large no-trespassing sign, and the chain-locked back yard, and the overgrown gutters.

A month ago, he'd stopped me and asked for help as I'd walked by.   I said sure, let's talk.

Visiting his house, and listening to his story, he was a complex mess.  The house itself was a warren of debris, with a basement so packed with old electronics, car parts, and junk as to be functionally impassible.  His mind was equally cluttered, as he spun tales of thieves and constant burglaries, legal troubles and lawyers who were out to get him, and elderly neighbors embedding malware on his computer.   He needed legal help, and help selling the vast agglomeration of junk in his home, or so he said.   He was sick!  Everyone was stealing from him!   He was abused!

His anger seethed and snarled, a dog tearing at its tail, superheated by the Archimedean mirrors of his isolation.

And as that isolation was perhaps the dominant cause, I listened.   I stayed, and I came by day after day, and offered what help I could.  I offered to review legal documents with a former contract-officer's eye...but that need seemed to disappear the moment I mentioned it.  There were no documents.  I offered to follow up on a letter...but no, no, he didn't need that, not now.   I offered to clear out several vanloads of stuff, but no, no, he was going to sell it, it was worth something, he knew it.

What he did want was for me to go with him to the mass media and the French Embassy with evidence of the plots against him.  I politely demurred.

I did manage to get up on his roof and clean out his gutters, which was desperately needed, and read through one letter from the court for him.  He'd also asked me to contact a few local churches so that he could get free legal aid, while simultaneously telling me he'd been helped...by Mormons, and by some evangelicals...but that all of them had tried to steal his stuff.

About six days ago, as he told...again...the story of how he managed to escape the clutches of a local social service agency that contacted him to offer free mental health support, I demurred.  "Are you sure they were trying to entrap you," I asked.  There was confusion.  "What do you mean?"  "Is it possible they were just trying to help you," I suggested, as gently as possible.

"NO," he said, taken aback.   "It is the way I say it is.  You have to believe it is the way I say it is."  I had stepped on the mine.  A long rant followed.

And now the house is silent as I pass.   On the outside, at least.

Nothing, but nothing, drives us so quickly to madness as the unwillingness to engage with disconfirming information about ourselves.