The more interaction I had with Kurt, the more I wondered about his story. I was beginning to realize that my initial impressions were off, many of them by miles. I remember commenting to Matt that Kurt “just seems like such a nice a kid.” To which my astute husband replied, “You do realize that guy’s 38 years old?”
Okay, so I’m not the most observant person in Summit County. In my own defense, I do tend to create images of people based on their application data and background check. Kurt first applied for a room with us in 2018 and I didn’t meet him until he came to get his keys. Any information I had before that came from the rental application…that he completed. And I did not look at his date of birth.
On paper, I saw a guy who was earning a reasonable income driving for Uber with a more than decent little Kia, no criminal or eviction history and only one speeding ticket, ever. His current address was local, and prior to that, he’d lived in Vegas. His emergency contact was a cousin who lived in our area. His car told me he was responsible enough to make payments, his squeaky clean background said he was too young to have made much trouble yet, and his emergency contact indicated he had no spouse or parents in the area. In my head, I made him a twenty-something guy who had fled from Vegas to Ohio, where his cousin lived. Perhaps he was exchanging the party life for a simpler one, and maybe a few classes at Akron U. It was a responsible decision for a young man.
Even I can do a bit of basic math (just not in my head) and things weren’t quite adding up between the Kurt I had created and the Kurt I was now getting to know. Driving for Uber can be great for someone working toward more (like an education) but he wasn’t. And the on-again-off-again thing with Bryn was junior high level lust at best. Not to mention he was borrowing money from his Landlord. (Where was this Emergency Contact Cousin?) There had to be more to this man’s story. So when he came to collect his loan proceeds, I gave him a cigarette and got to picking his brain a bit.
I started with Bryn and their love-hate relationship. His recent texts had been riddled with snippets of a self-centered nag who did nothing but bring him down, so I half expected him to tell me they had–yet again–parted ways. I was surprised when Kurt said they’d been together for two years. Their baby was due in June and they were planning to get married as soon as he got back on his feet. With a child-like grin on his face, he pulled out his phone to show a picture of a frumpy, plump faced girl with thick, brownish hair piled on top her head in a ponytail loop. Not even close to the image I had conjured. (She wasn’t blonde and she was not petite). If I hadn’t known she was pregnant, I would have judged her as overweight. She was caught off guard by the picture, a bulky men’s hoodie unfairly adding to her size. Her eyes held years beyond her age, but there were hints of pretty peeking through them.
Kurt said she lived with her parents (so how old was she?) about 40 minutes away. She’d been sick throughout her four months of pregnancy and wasn’t able to work. (So they both had no income.) Her parents were assholes, he said. Despite having the financial means, they offered no help.
But she was living with them...
And hadn't they just been looking at houses to rent?
Well yes, but then that whole “blow up argument” thing happened and Bryn’s “pill-popping” mother had physically come at her with accusations that she tried to take money from her purse. He said, “Her parents treat her like shit.” Like the flip of a switch, his face scowled and his chest raised a bit, as he spewed details of how they “do everything” for their other kids but “Bryn gets nothing. She has nothing for the baby and no one will even have a shower for her. Her parents can go fuck themselves.” This was not the talk of a 38 year old man. Then his whole demeanor flipped again. And again, it was like a switch. It was as if he suddenly remembered who his audience was and realized he’d been giving the wrong speech.
These ‘flipping switches’ were a pattern for Kurt, but it would be months before I could recognize it. In the meantime, I bought into everything he said and continued to see him as the sweet, innocent ‘kid’ I had concocted in my head. If I was questioning anything at this point, it was about Bryn. Kurt’s ‘flipping switches’ and nasty rants–about Bryn one minute, and the familial injustices they suffered the next–were red flags. And I rushed right by them to pass judgment on Bryn by deciding she must be the source of Kurt’s problems.
I still can’t define the sense of allegiance I felt toward helping Kurt and, eventually Bryn and their baby. At the time, I was so clearly being led by God to be a light and an example; to give something back in a pay-it-forward sort of way, that I virtually never questioned any of my decisions. Everything I did–physically, financially, emotionally–it all felt like it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. They were in great need and God had blessed me with the time, resources and financial means to meet most of that need. If I didn’t do it, who would? I never stopped to think about why they were in that position to begin with.
Instead, I worked diligently to avoid seeing what I didn’t want to see. And not just about Kurt; but about myself, and my priorities, and my own unhealthy boundaries. But mostly about my drinking. When it was finally clear that Kurt had a deeper problem, it never crossed my mind that alcohol was the source. Not once, until someone else brought it up. And even then, I discarded the thought. I would know if he had a drinking problem.
I would know…Because I had one, too.