was in my 20s, living alone in Buffalo on the second floor of a big white house, very far from home. There was no laundry in the building, so I always put off doing mine, and now I was struggling down the street with three pillowcases stuffed with clothes-everything I had. I could easily manage 3 bags of groceries, but I kept dropping the clothes, and it felt like a miracle when a young guy appeared from out of nowhere and said, "Hey, I'll take those." He was short, dark skinned, muscular, very big smile, and he was proof that people are kind at just the right moment.
While the clothes spun around, he went somewhere and came back with drinks, and with his fingers wrapped around the cup I could read the tattoos-L.O.V.E. on one set of knuckles, H.A.T.E. on the other. I asked where he'd gotten them. "Attica," he said. I had done prison visitation in college, which involved getting through all the security and playing pool with a bunch of guys who seemed normal enough, and way more attentive to the girls than regular college kids. I only went once or twice, but that was enough to show me that prison doesn't mean you're not human. I was too polite to ask-them or this new guy-"What were you in for?"
We sat and flirted a little, and he stuck around as I folded everything, then helped me carry the clothes the few blocks to my house and brought them right up the inside steps to my front door. I didn't invite him in, but we talked a while in the doorway, and then, quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.
I basked in the glow of the kindness, and then I was back in the thick of things. I didn't see him around, and kind of didn't expect to until the next time I was staggering to the laundromat. After a while, I didn't think of him at all.
But I came home from work a week or two later and my front door was open. I stood there confused for a minute. Then I saw my stereo speakers were sitting in the entry way with the cords wrapped around them. I didn't go in. I ran back to work, the safest place I knew, and called the police.
The officer who showed up was fatherly. He walked through the place, asked me what was missing. At first I thought I'd been spared and someone had interrupted the burglar before he could make off with anything. It took a while to see that my camera, one of the only valuable things I owned, was gone. The officer pointed to the tree in the courtyard which I'd scarcely noticed and guessed that the burglar had climbed it and come in the window to the hall. He kept asking me, "Do you know anyone who could've done this?" I thought that was an odd question. How would I know a robber? But then I thought of the prison tattoos.
I didn't say anything. No, I didn't know anyone. That night, an older man I didn't know came to the door to beg me not to say anything to the police about his friend. He didn't say anything about my stuff being returned, he just opaquely asked me to keep my mouth shut. I triple locked the doors, pushed my bed against the bedroom door, and the next day asked if anyone at work could put me up. I wasn't going back to the apartment.
I moved in with a stranger, my boss's girlfriend Betty, who was an old-time society writer with big hair, stylish clothes, and the worst writing in the world, which I knew because I had to edit her columns. She and Doug had been having an out-in-the-open-except-for-his-wife affair for a million years, to hear them talk about it, and Betty was happy to have me as long as I needed to stay. I slept on a dog-hair covered couch and soon my legs were covered with small red dots-flea bites. I was sitting on the floor in front of the TV scratching when something caught my eye on the afternoon news, a murder suspect being taken away after some kind of shooting. I didn't own a TV, and it was the rarest of coincidences that I was there, looking at the screen long enough to see the suspect turn and flash a smile at the camera, then hold his hand over his eyes. L.O.V.E.
And then they said his name.