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The Man Who Came to Talk and Talk and Talk and Talk and ...

David Sherman

He wrote to ask me when would be a good time to visit. While I pondered if and when, he wrote he was coming May 26. He’d stay as long as we’d have him.  It was a done deal. Our input unnecessary.

The Man Who Came to Visit had come to visit last year. He had spent several days with Reisa and I in fascinating conversation, exchanging views on world events, family histories, great meals we had eaten, parts of the world we were lucky enough to explore, everything from global warming to income inequities, politics to cars, good and bad we had owned. … Just kidding. In fact, when not hiding behind my guitar, rehearsing, The Man Who Came to Visit talked and talked and we listened. And listened and listened. His favourite subject, his only subject, was himself. Every sentence started with “I.”

Any attempt at dialogue was interrupted by The Man Who Came to Visit and, if he didn’t interrupt, he would say “Yeah, yeah yeah,” kind of like the old Beatles tune, after every three words Reisa or I spoke. Unless it was of a topic that he didn’t have an “I” for. Then he’d shut down waiting to find an opening for the “I.”

It wasn’t only his penchant for “I.” It was his amazing ability to talk continually about himself, hour after hour after hour, day after day, from morning till night.

But, last year, his wife had just left him after more than 30 years, telling him the marriage was a sham. “Death by a thousand cuts,” she had said. His son and step son wanted nothing to do with him and they didn’t want him visiting his grandkids.

His wife had walked out with a single box and told him he could have the rest. So, he was hurting but he insisted if that’s what she wanted, he wanted no part of her and told her to go and she did.

He said he had no idea what happened or why.

So, last year when he visited, the bruises were fresh and when not preparing meals -- kitchen seemed like no-man’s-land to him -- or playing guitar, we listened and empathized and listened some more. After his departure came email, always with the same message about his son and wife and grandchildren and how much money he was hoping to make off the sale of their $2 million-plus home.

Knowing what to expect this year, we gave him the floor the first day and asked questions and encouraged him to speak, get it off his chest and he did. All the day and all the night.

I’ve known the man all my life. A year older than I. We were close like brothers until we were 10 or 12. Then we grew up and in different directions – he couldn’t cope with French and headed west -- and we rarely saw each other during the ensuing 60 years except for the occasional funeral and a quick meal or coffee as he was passing through.

He would love to hear what I was doing, whom I was sharing my life with, what I did with my spare time. We spent hours reliving old times, the joys and tragedies of families, laughing about aunt and uncles, reliving the good ol’ days. … Just kidding. Rare to get a word in. The world was about him and where he’d gone and what he’d seen, jumping from decade to decade, recounting the irrelevant and the trivial.

I soon gave up trying to speak.

But, he was a generous soul, came loaded down with gifts and flowers and wine.  And, when we went out for a good meal or a pizza we had to fight him for the check. … Fooled ya. The Man Who Came to Visit brought bagels, never paid a bill, never asked for a check, never helped with a meal, bought nothing but orange juice, which he drank.

The Man Who Came to Visit sat and was served, wouldn’t make himself a cup of coffee, but did ask once if he could help as he stared at his phone and when everything was done.

His visit coincided with a crisis in Reisa’s family which hospitalized someone with attendant chaos. So, for a few days, we played host to a yapping dog along with The Man Who Came to Visit.

I love dogs but this puppy, we were told, despite my feeding him treats and petting him dutifully -- after all, he had no idea what he was doing here – had a bark that drilled through my eyeballs. He was afraid of tall men.

So, he cleaved to Reisa. And, after, I had a talk with The Man Who Came to Visit about his non-stop talking and continual interruption, he too, decided to stay close to Reisa, a woman with the patience of Job.

Reisa had the same talk with him. Could he try to perhaps listen, to stop interrupting, to stop talking only about himself?

His response was, “Just tell me to shut up. My friends do.” Not our style.

The Man Who Came to Visit had a horrible childhood. He lost his father and older brother before he was 10. His mother then made him the centre of her universe. She poured his coffee, she added sugar, she stirred it for him her entire life. When he flew in, she sent him back with frozen meals.

He had lived on a paycheque until he met a woman who had divorced a wealthy lawyer and The Man Who Came to Visit began to live the life of a millionaire. He bought a BMW convertible, “My dream car.” They flew around the world to watch professional tennis – Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, wherever, whatever, and loved cruise ships.

“I couldn’t live without my twice-a-year cruises,” he said. That would be challenging.

The separation left his pockets full so he bought a condo with a long list of amenities he catalogued for us several times.

“It has a pool, a Jacuzzi, a hot tub, a sauna,” etc., etc., etc. Also in heavy rotation is the departure of his wife, the estrangement of his son and step son.

The pain of being rejected by his entire family is incalculable and so the tune of The Man who Came to Visit was the same as last year’s with the addition of more memories from 50-60 years ago, he always centre stage.

We explained there was a health crisis going on in the family and that slowed him down for 15 minutes before we returned to the I-Go-‘Round.

Like the confused puppy, it was sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I had impressive patience and listened intently, He was, after all, a man borne of tragedy and rejection. ... Got ya again.

I had run out of patience. I was not the mensch I had wanted to be, the person I should’ve been.

He was like the barking dog we were entrusted with, something to avoid. Google psychoanalysis calls it conversational narcissism, conversational self-focus, ADHD, depression. There are as many descriptors of the condition as the number of times The Man Who Came to Visit said, “I.”

Reisa was more persistent when being “yeah, yeah, yeahed." She pushed on and when interrupted, she came back for more. She was Ali playing verbal rope-a-dope at the kitchen table.

The dog made it back home and after three days the Man Who Came to Visit was still talking. I was working by the livingroom window. I worked in newsrooms a chunk of my life. I don’t need silence to work.

I was crossing Ts and dotting Is on a piece and listening to The Man who Came to Visit talk and talk and talk. When Reisa got a sentence in, she was “yeah, yeah, yeahed,” but undeterred.

The woman had been listening to me play and sing every night for years and often asked for more, more a tribute to her live and let live attitude than my meagre talent. And, she had spent her career as manager and part-owner of a large restaurant. She was hard-wired to be hospitable.

I was not and finally, I lost it. I told him we had asked him to try and not talk about himself continually. He had been talking about himself for two hours and it was only 11:30 a.m.

He became enraged. Insulting.

I had folded the cards on screaming, insult and abuse years ago. I have no room for it.

I told him he had to leave. I told the Man who Came to Visit to leave.

Yes, he is a victim of a few common personality disorders. But, I have never asked a guest to leave. Especially a guest who is troubled. Maybe ill. I’m no shrink. I wish I could have been more tolerant. I wish he had not been suffering.

Comic actor Eddie Murphy told the New York Times that yesterday’s gone, “There is no tomorrow, you have to live in the moment.”

The Man Who Came to Visit I’ve known all my life. But yesterday’s gone. And I resented my moments being chewed up listening to him talk about himself.

Reisa and I talk now about how much we or I should’ve tolerated. How much patience should one have for someone beset with a variety of personality disorders? I berated myself for being selfish, despite my having trouble taking a deep breath, feeling like a boa had wrapped itself around my chest.

I fear I am selfish. So, I beat myself up. I called a cousin who told me he could only handle the Man Who Came to Visit for 90 minutes, tops. “Lunch, that’s it,” he said. He thought I was a saint for hosting him for four days, doing everything for him but his laundry.

The quandary remains. What do we owe each other? When does generosity to a small part of your past become self-destructive?

By coincidence, I had an appointment with my GP a few days later and I told her what had happened and how it had affected my physically. I was still having trouble taking a deep breath. My vitals were normal but her prescription surprised me.

“People like that, who won’t get help, will kill you,” she said. “Keep away from them. You can’t do anything for them.”

Helping others is what makes us human. Maybe it’s the definition of being human. In Yiddish it’s called being a mensch.

But, maybe sometimes, one can only take so much. I regret what happened. As Reisa suggested, I should’ve told him it wasn’t a good time to visit.

But, when would have been a good time?

The Man Who Came to Visit had been a psychotherapist, I told the doctor, until he chose the life of leisure. She looked up at me and smiled.

“I’m not surprised,” she said.

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