I turned back to press the intercom button. Again I watched the guard’s head swivel with alarm – and again, I took some devious pleasure from it. He turned to look at me in the booth; I shrugged and again he shrugged in response.
The door across the hallway swung open and through it walked Reggie, Reggie Witcliffe.
There was relief on my face, and recognition. My mother had mentioned that Reggie had spoken with her, and that he had wanted to come and visit. I had dismissed it, and so had completely forgotten that that was a possibility.
Reggie is a few years younger than me and had become a de facto member of the family as a result of his relationship with my stepfather who had died about four years ago. I say relationship but they were actually much closer than that and as a result, Reggie and I had grown a bit closer after his death. In a sense he, my stepfather, was Reggie’s mentor, and I, not really knowing people in Oakland, would check on him from time to time, not that he needed it.
Nonetheless, over the years we would get together, talk philosophically about life and women, and share a soda or two. Reggie had also had a liver transplant, and besides the fact that he was simply a good guy, I’m sure that that also served to endear him to us and our family.
“Hey, man, how you doing?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” I said, “what’s been going on with you?”
“Well, me and my girl finally broke up,” He said. “It was something that needed to happen. There was just no return on my investment.”
This was a conversation we had had many times before. Reggie is a simple guy with just a straightforward honesty and sweetness.
His “girlfriend,” however, was extremely complicated, a flight attendant, who – obviously to anyone else, especially my mother – was constantly looking for something better, more exciting. She certainly fancied herself as “deserving” of more than Reggie had to offer, and true to form, that was apparent to everybody, but Reggie. He knew he was not getting what he needed out of that relationship, but over the last year or two, he seemed to have resolved that that was the best life was going to offer him. She seemed to take the posture that “I’ll deal with this until something better comes along”.
I had always tried to remain supportive of Reggie. I had met his girlfriend, but really didn’t know her. My posture was simply to reinforce to Reggie that he had a right to make himself happy, either find a way to make it work or move on to something that did. One thing for sure is that I didn’t want him to feel like he was less, because this one woman had some unrealistic expectation that some guy with it “all-going-on” was going to want her. Hey, but clarity is power and in reality I had wished them both the best.
“That’s too bad,” I countered. “So what’s next for you? The one thing you don’t want to do is shut down. I mean, Mrs. Right is not going to knock on the door to your apartment.”
“I know,” he said, “but right now I just don’t want to put out the effort. I’m working a new job and I want to try and get back in shape.”
One particularly cool aspect of Reggie was his participation in a sort of Special Olympics. He really enjoyed running and the fact that he had had a liver transplant put him in a position to interact nationally with other transplant recipients. One such activity included track and field competitions nationally.
“Well, don’t lock yourself up in your house,” I added. But I really couldn’t believe I said it. Hell, here I was locked up (and as much as an escape, I had chosen it). I wasn’t taking my own advice, and for the first time I became acutely aware of my stripes, the black and white prison garb, that made you stand out in any crowd.
At that point there was a long silence between us. We both took the opportunity to collect our thoughts. Reggie was the first to break it. “So you’re sure you’re OK? There’s nothing that you need, or nothing I can do for you?”
“Believe me,” I said. “I really am fine. Who do you think is running this place?”
That prompted a smile from Reggie, a genuine wide-opened, from the heart smile. The type of smile I hadn’t seen on anyone’s face for a while. Certainly no one in here, myself included, smiled like that. “Just make sure my mom is okay” I said. “She’s the one who is worrying too much. I’ll be out of here soon and back to my life.”
“I know,” Reggie said. “Your mom’s keeping busy. She’ll be fine.”
“Well, I appreciate your coming. I’ll be out of here soon and we’ll get together.” With that Reggie and I hung up. I watch him return through the door and then, well then, I pushed that damn button and watched the guard’s head jerk around toward his console. I smiled to myself, I was indeed doing fine.