UXWorld shares this powerful guest blog post with us today. He gave this talk at a storytelling event — and I give him big points for bravery talking about the chump experience in front of a live studio audience! Way to be mighty! Without further ado — “The Stranger” by UXWorld.
This is a story I never in a million years thought I’d be telling, about a stranger I hope none of you ever have to meet.
On a January morning of this year, I learned that someone was going to be coming to my house. What did I know about him? At that point, I knew his name; his job; that he was married with an infant daughter; and that he’d already been in my house twice before — once while I was in Belgium on business, and again the morning after celebrating my 15th wedding anniversary. I learned that morning that he was going to be in the area around midday, and that he’d asked whether there was any chance of coming by for a third visit. He was told yes, that could be worked out. So I made the decision that it was high time we met, face to face. At the appropriate time, I put the dog in the basement, gathered up my work laptop and backpack, and locked up the house — to all appearances, I’d gone to work, a perfectly normal Tuesday. I got in my car, moved it to a vantage point close by, turned off the ignition, and waited. And waited.
His host arrived about 45 minutes later, parked in the driveway, and entered the house. Now it was a matter of waiting until HE arrived, at which point I would enter my house, and ‘introduce myself.’ But suddenly I was wild with second-guessing my plan. Because there was one other thing I knew about him — that he was licensed to carry firearms, and that he’d bragged that he did so at all times. Call it what you will — common sense, guardian angel, God, whatever — but a voice in my head convinced me that introducing myself in the way I’d planned wasn’t the smartest thing to do, for me or for my daughters.
So, I entered the house. My first question was, “What are you doing home?” I was told that someone was coming by. My second question was, “Why?” The answer I got was, “Because we have no place else to go.”
So I insisted that we wait outside for him to arrive.
About 20 minutes later, he drove by the front of my house, saw who was standing in the driveway, and kept going. He drove to the end, parked in a neighbor’s driveway, and sat there. I waved him down repeatedly, so we could have the chat I needed to have, but he didn’t move until I started walking toward him. Eventually he moved, and stopped his car in the middle of the street. The conversation didn’t last long — I asked him how long he was planning on sitting in that driveway before finally getting the balls to face the situation. I asked him if he understood that what he’d come to do in my house that day wasn’t going to happen. I asked if he had anything at all to say about what was unfolding. In the end he had very little to say — and eventually he got back in that car of his and drove away. Except for a video I found of him on Youtube in which he’s singing into a carrot, I haven’t seen or heard any mention of him since.
But he’s not the stranger this story is about.
I spent the next five days trying to get answers that made sense. Pleading for some recognition of the seriousness of the situation from someone to whom I’d dedicated 20 years of my life. My brain was in a frenzy, I could hardly think straight; my gut was turning over and over with the nausea of betrayal; my throat started burning as I began losing my voice.
All I got in return was a blank stare. And eventually I understood that the person before me, someone to whom I’d entrusted every one of my hopes, joys, fears and vulnerabilities, was in fact someone I didn’t know at all.
But that’s not the stranger this story is about either.
The stranger this story is about is the one I came face to face with later that night, when I looked in the bathroom mirror. Staring back at me was a person I thought I knew well, but on this day, whose sense of self was completely and utterly destroyed.
It’s been almost 9 full months since that January day, and I’m still learning new things him every day. Here’s what I can tell you tonight:
He’s reconnected with people who have always been his biggest boosters, and they have welcomed him back after years of virtual removal from their lives.
He’s found a community of people in the who have lived through the same hell as he has, and the only thing better than the support and validation he gets from them is the support and validation he’s able to give in return.
He’s said ‘I love you’ to his parents and sisters more in the past 9 months than he has in the last 30 years.
He’s found that rather than gaining clarity on what it means to be a stable and present parent for his daughters, it’s just a matter of reinforcing and following the example that was set for him.
And he’s able to stand in front of a room of strangers in Jamaica Plain on a beautiful night in October and say: “My name is Paul. This happened to me. And I’m going to be just fine.”