(About a 16 minute read)
Butch was such a nondescript man that he surely did not need a crowd to be overlooked by most anyone of us. He was of average build, and just under average in height. There was nothing either ugly or handsome about his face. Blue eyes, a bit narrow. Sandy hair. Pale complexion. Not only was he easily overlooked, he was even more easily underestimated.
Had you seen him during the time we knew each other, you most likely would have thought, “janitor”. Arms too thin for construction, looks too unpolished to be a professional or even a store clerk. And you would have been right. At that time in his life, Butch was a janitor.
He was also one of those curious sort of people you sometimes come across in small towns and rural areas. An honest genius with no more than a high school education, and no ambitions for himself.
Butch had voluntarily enlisted in the Air Force during the Viet Nam War, and been stationed in Thailand. On his first leave, he joined a small group headed for Bangkok. Approaching the city, his group had passed seemingly endless miles of apparently impoverished and run-down hovels.
One of the men had said, “Look at them! They live like pigs”. That prompted Butch to think, “How can you condemn people when you really know nothing about them? I’m going to get to know these people before I make up my mind”.
That is exactly what Butch did. For the next two years, he lived among the local people when he was not on base working. He adopted their dress as his off-duty clothing, learned the Thai language passably well, and married a local woman.
Once he returned to the US, however, his wife soon left him for a man living in the Thai community in Chicago. When Butch told the story to me, there was not a hint in him of resentment, disappointment, or even judgement. Despite she had absconded with their savings, he simply accepted that what had happened had happened.
For awhile, Butch went through a period of odd jobs that were of questionable legality. For instance, he spent about a year ferrying drugs from Memphis to Chicago for the Mafia.
At least he suspected that was what he was doing. He would meet someone in Memphis who would give him a car with instructions to under no circumstances open the trunk. Then he would drive the car to Chicago and turn it over to someone there, receiving about a thousand dollars for his efforts — quite good money in those days.
The questionable jobs came to an end when Butch found employment in a factory. Very quickly, he was spotted by management and rapidly promoted up to the level of a supervisor making $50,000 per year.
Although that put his income considerably above the national average at the time, Butch was spending every spare penny of it on drugs. All kinds of drugs, save only heroin. By the time Butch got to be around 50 when I met him, he looked like a 70 year old man.
It was during this period that Butch somehow met Rae. Rae was sixteen, and both too shy and too bright to have an interest in high school. She had no friends at all at the time they met. That was due to both her shyness and her exceptional intelligence. She was simply too bright for most of the people in her neighborhood.
The two very quickly developed a platonic relationship as conversational buddies. Butch, too, was too smart for most of the people he knew. Each evening he’d show up at Rae’s tailor with a six pack of beer. They’d sip through the evening until it was time for Butch to leave.
Butch remembered their conversations as witty, uninhibited, and far ranging. The friends felt they could discuss anything with each other, and had near perfectly compatible senses of humor. Their laughter, Butch said, was so much fun that he even slacked off on his drug use.
Outsiders thought they must be having sex, supposing that Butch couldn’t resist the attractive, but socially naive Rae. But Butch swears they never more than kissed hello and goodbye until the night Rae turned 18 — the age of consent.
Butch had been told by a doctor that his drug abuse had rendered him infertile, so the couple never used protection. Rae, however, eventually got pregnant, and Butch had a decision to make.
As he saw it, he lacked the self-control to stop his drug use. If he had the money, he was going to spend at least some of it on drugs. At the same time, he realized that a drug using father simply could not be a good parent to a child. So he compromised.
A childhood friend had a janitorial business, and Butch arranged with him to be paid under-the-counter below minimum wages for his work. He wanted only enough money for the bare necessities plus a bit left over for cheap beer and cigarettes. That turned out to be no more than $400 per month.
Butch became instantly devoted to Amanda the day she was born.
In those days, I owned a small business employing 13 full time people and a some part timers as well. Mostly, we were a sales agency — that is, a company that sells products for other companies. But I had one lucrative contract with a non-profit organization to run their call center, which was devoted to renewing memberships.
Once or twice each week, I supervised the callers myself. The rest of the time, Kelly did the job. And that’s where I met Butch. He was the non-profit’s janitor. I would get off my evening shift just as he was coming in for his night shift. We’d chat for awhile over coffee in the cafeteria.
Like many men, Butch was more comfortable discussing his sex life than his love life, and more comfortable giving sexual advice than discussing his sex life. For instance, I learned from him the “best strategy” for persuading a woman to offer anal sex, along with several knowledgeable tips on how to drive her wild with it.
As it turned out, Rae was quite kinky. I have noticed that about many women who, like Rae, have been abused by someone while growing up. Rae had never been sexually molested, but she had been beaten and occasionally tortured by her father. Perhaps consequently, she was into bondage and exotic beatings.
Butch and Rae had been walking through an oak grove one day when Rae spotted a wild rose bush. She almost immediately suggested that Butch tie her face-first to a tree, lash her with the thorny bush, and then anally “rape” her. After discovering a length of rope in the trunk of their car, that is precisely what the couple did.
Rae’s family didn’t like Butch. For one thing, they didn’t trust him. The kind, non-judgemental way he treated her was beyond their experience, except as a ruse to get something out of someone.
Consequently they would from time to time introduce Rae to handsome young men her own age in the meddling hope of splitting up the couple. Occasionally, Rae would be attracted to one or another of them, and leave Butch, taking Amanda with her.
Invariably she’d return within the month, asking Butch to take her back. The second time it happened, Butch took her back on condition that she pose for nude photos. He wanted a stack of mementos for the next time it happened so that he wouldn’t feel so lonely when she left.
Soon after the third time Rae left — and before she could properly tire of her new lover — Butch showed up one night with a shoe box full of Polaroids. He couldn’t stop the tears as he sorted through them.
He was quite careful to prevent me from catching a glimpse of any of the photos, until he came to one that caused him to fondly laugh through his tears. “Take a look at this, Paul! See how bored she is!”, he chuckled.
Rae was standing at the end of a bed, looking at the camera, a cigarette in her hand, and topless in cut-off shorts. I didn’t think she looked especially bored, but then, I didn’t know her expressions like Butch did. She was, of course, perfectly beautiful.
In all that Butch said to me that night, he never once so much as mildly accused Rae of being a wee bit foolish, let alone call her anything worse than that. Instead, he tried his best to look at it from her point of view.
He was an old man, not in the best of health, and quite boringly familiar to her. The young man Rae was with, on the other hand, was athletic, handsome, and could share a long future with her. Butch was fairly convinced this time Rae would not be back.
He praised her, of course, for allowing him to see Amanda on the weekends.
She was back by the next time I saw Butch. “She told me young men aren’t nearly as good to talk with as me.” Butch cheerfully reported.
It was around that time that Butch shocked me. Honestly shocked me.
My wife, Tomoko, had for years looked out for a young black man, Sam, who she called, “My semi-officially adopted son”. Sam had gotten into trouble with Rae’s cousin, Shannon.
Shannon and Sam had been living together, but then broke up. Shannon sought revenge. She began lying to the police that Sam was stalking her, had broken her window in an attempt to enter her house, and so on. The police had believed her, arrested Sam, and charged him with various crimes.
One night I was telling the story of it all to Butch when he interrupted me, “I know about it. Shannon is Rae’s cousin. And I’ve heard about Sam. Heard he’s a good man. Because you’re my friend, I’m willing to fix it for you.”
I was so relieved I almost failed to ask for the details. But when I did – well, I was shocked.
Butch’s plan was to purchase some pure heroin, then sell it to Shannon, who was an addict, as impure and cut. The heroin, of course, would be strong enough to kill her.
“All I need is 200 dollars and the problem is solved once and for all.”
How was it, I wondered, that a man who could be so humane with Rae, could almost instantly decide to murder Rae’s cousin — and do so with not a drop of hesitance or conscience in his voice?
Of course, I declined the offer, but it took me the better part of the next six months to puzzle out Butch. In the end, I concluded that Butch — with otherwise uncharacteristically simple-mindedness — divided the world into two sorts of people. Friends. And all others.
Butch was capable of immense loyalty and humanity, but he reserved it exclusively for his friends. All others were treated cordially, but with suspicion. Except those who proved themselves enemies. Enemies he would — whenever he could — deal with ruthlessly.
I do not know today if Butch ever killed anyone, but I am convinced he was capable of doing so in certain circumstances. I do know of at least one instance in which he apparently facilitated a murder by selling a man a shotgun whose serial numbers had been ground off.
I think Butch was pretty much a hedonist in the sense that his goal in life was happiness, and that he hoped to find that through pleasure. But in one notable way, I suspect he was not a hedonist but rather sought meaning and purpose in life. That was through Amanda.
I met Amanda when she was five, and I was quick to note she spoke to me in sentences that were not only complete, but that her grammar could have been mistaken for a high school honors student. Only her vocabulary was that of a child. Naturally, I told Butch his daughter was a genius.
“Every parent wants to believe that about their child, Paul, but Amanda is just average or bright at most.”
A year later, though, I had my “vengeance” when Butch announced that she’d been singled out for her school’s gifted students program. Butch was painfully embarrassed to attend the parent/teacher conferences as the only lowly janitor in a crowd of well-dressed professionals, but he attended them religiously.
It can be difficult for people who are unfamiliar with folks near the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid in our country to fully appreciate how difficult it can be for couples to form and hold together a stable relationship. In the first place, poverty and financial stress are killers of relationships.
Beyond that, things get a bit more subtle. Many of your peers are as oriented towards seeking pleasures and avoiding pains in life as millionaire playboys. Drug use can be nearly pandemic, and couples tend to cheat on, or dump each other, for relatively light reasons.
Added to that, some people meddle in other couple’s business for the entertainment it brings them. And while that is true at all levels of society, it seems to have a much greater impact on couples who might be financially stressed or otherwise especially vulnerable.
Then to cap it off, good advice can be hard to find. I once asked Tara why she sought me out for advice when she knew nearly everyone in her neighborhood. Surely she knew at least a few people who could offer better advice than me.
Tara replied that I was the only person she knew, including her mother and step-father, who she trusted to give her practical advice. “Everyone else just tells me I should burn his house down and stuff like that.”
Much more than even their age gap, Butch and Rae had the dice loaded against them by lacking a social support group of sensible friends and family willing and able to help them through troubled times. Moreover, they suffered all the stresses of poverty and meddling family that you can possibly imagine.
Yet they made it. At least, last I knew they were going strong even despite Rae’s infrequent wanderings. I am convinced several factors played crucial roles in their success. One of those factors appears to have been genuine love for each other.
It might seem strange to suggest that Rae loved Butch even when she wandered, but Butch himself might have had insight into that. He once explained to me that he thought Rae’s infatuations coincided with her becoming “overwhelmed by her life”, and that they were her way of “taking a vacation”.
Whatever the case, Butch and Rae certainly had a number of fine years together in tough circumstances. And they might have had many more beyond the time I knew them.