When good intentions backfire, sometimes it leaves you a smidge paranoid the next time around.
During my first marriage a long time ago in another chapter of another book of my life, I lived in a triplex. A couple and their baby moved in the apartment above us, and they befriended us instantly.
The husband was well spoken; his posture and mannerisms screamed “Prep School Grad”. She was … well … not. She was clearly born on the opposite side of the tracks from him, and she didn’t even possess all of her teeth. She had a tendency to misspeak, and to dress and behave inappropriately—like wear revealing clothing and brushing up against my husband.
This couple was so mismatched, we speculated that perhaps he married her because he got her pregnant. We later learned we were right. But that part didn’t matter. Their history was irrelevant in the here and now. They were friendly and personable and liked us. Since I assume no one will like me before they even meet me, when they do show fondness towards me, it comes as a surprise and shock and they’d have to do something terrible for me not to reciprocate.
Soon, however, we began to sense something amiss. The four of us were slowly evolving to just the three of us. We were seeing less of the husband. I felt as if he were in the role of someone hired to find a home for a stray and her litter. His job was done.
Her neediness made us pause. She didn’t work and would latch onto anyone who was home during the day. My husband had weekends off; I had Sunday and Monday. Her husband was gone every day. What he did every day remains a mystery. So she unwittingly became ours, invaded our lives. Every time I turned around, she was there. She was always asking for something, and we were always giving it to her. Either that or she’d help herself to whatever we weren’t offering.
She’d call my husband and ask for assistance in moving furniture around or for minor repairs. She’d flirt a little or a lot, he’d tell me later. Later we would find out she was only sixteen and a high school dropout. Her husband, twenty-three and a university graduate. We would also find out later they were both con artists. Her job title was Statutory Rape Blackmail. His was Lawsuits.
They didn’t just wait for opportunity to knock, either. They made it happen. And we learned of it before they had a chance to strike. We were their next target; our only crime was in our good intentions. And they weren’t happy to know we were on to them. They made out lives miserable for a while.
Even while all this was happening, I was writing the story in my head, filling in the blanks. My novel (the one I haven’t written yet) will someday reveal the mystery of their pairing, his and her upbringings, and all the whys of it, the wheres, and the what happened next.
Then I made a mental movie of it. I can’t put you into my head so let’s use Pacific Heights‘ yuppie horror film tagline: “It seemed like the perfect house. He seemed like the perfect tenant. Until they asked him to leave.”
Mine will be like this: “She likes anyone who likes her. He will help anyone who asks. They meet the couple. They seemed like perfect friends. Until they weren’t.”
Being the imaginative person that I am, I, coincidently, use the same actors. The con husband sort of looked like Michael Keaton, and my husband sort of looked like Matthew Modine. Melanie Griffith looked more like the slut in my story, so I assigned her that role. Angelina Jolie will play me of course. (stop laughing.) I might have a hard time erasing years off their looks enough to play sixteen to twenty-three-year-olds—details I’m still working out..
That was one of my more vivid memories of good-deed-gone-bad. There have been other times my good intentions backfired. But each time now that I perform a neighborly service, do a good deed, or befriend a new person, my suspicious mind triggers a story, an outcome with tragic consequences. I can’t help it; it just happens.
A few years ago, I found myself watering an Australian tree fern at a vacant, foreclosed house in my neighborhood. I was paranoid each time I crossed the grass and turned on the hose that somehow the house became occupied overnight and I would be arrested for trespassing or shot. My mind works that way. And I wrote a story about it titled Tree Hugger, published at The Earth Comes First.
Do you have any tales of good deeds gone wrong?
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