Tuesday, September 20, 2011
The Story of Burt - Part 3
See Part 1 Here
See Part 2 Here
The series of foster homes Burt was in remained a blur to him. All he remembered was getting angrier and angrier until it was like a huge ball of pain within him and then he discovered that booze and drugs would give him a short respite, that is when he managed to get his hands on them. He recalled his mother visiting a few times but he couldn't meet her eyes when she told him to be a good boy, that Mr. Benoit had his reasons for the breakup of her family and they lay between himself and God. She had no choice. He had no clue where his siblings were.
I always found it extraordinary that Burt never ever blamed his mother for her decision to put her four children into child care services and then on to foster care. I brought it up with him several times. Of course Edgar Benoit was a monster but his mother was complicit, no? Burt would become enraged, the only time I had ever seen him angry telling me never, ever spit on his sainted mother's name like that. Never. She did what she had to do, she had no choice. Door closed.
Mr. Benoit and their mother had moved into a small bungalow by a stream, far away from the town, where in later years her adult children would come and stay for a few days and fish in the nearby stream with her, circling Edgar warily, barely polite, not that he encouraged any kind of conversation, even at table.
One of his brothers joined the US army and rose to the rank of colonel during Vietnam. The other brother ran a garage in Ontario. The sister met an American friend of her brother's and moved to New York with him.
None of them ever referred to that night again or blamed their mother for condoning the disintegration of her family. Edgar became the focus of their rage and despair and hatred even though in later years he became completely blind and totally dependent on their mother and softened somewhat. They refused to speak to him. They spoke of killing him as if it were like taking him out for a beer. They invented plots where they all got their hands dirty and covered for each other. The elaborate plans for his death became pretty much their only topic of conversation when they got together over the years. Which was rarely. None of them had children, Burt by choice, and he was sure the others had made the same decision. He couldn't really tell you why if you asked him.
Burt had many years of pain and turmoil once he escaped to the vast anonymous city of Toronto. He couldn't hold down a job even though his charm and innate intelligence landed him a few good positions. The alcohol would win out every time, sending him teetering by turn from apartments to rooming houses to shelters all the way to park benches and bottles of rubbing alcohol. At times his pain consumed him, it should have killed him, he admits but for his rage at Edgar giving him a life force, a purpose. Revenge.
He recalled, one time, that in a fog, he managed to hitch all the way to New Brunswick and showed up at his mother's home, in rags, reeking of alcohol, many of his teeth rotted out of his head. His mother took him in and gave him some money and a rosary beads and bought him clothes and nursed him back to health after she insisted he go to the local parish priest and take the pledge and swear off the drink. His thanks was to rob all the valuables out of the house and find a hidden stash of cash in Edgar's tool shed and skip out of town without a goodbye.
As such men do, he found a simple loving wife to take care of him for a while, she worked hard and he spent most of her money on booze until they were forced, financially, to live with her mother. A miserable experience for Burt as his wife paid more attention to her mother's instructions as to how to run their married life and consequently withheld money from him for the first time. Which forced him to find a job yet again until the cycle started once more.
This time he was turfed out of his mother-in-law's house and there was no in-between residence in apartments and rooming houses and shelters. He hit skid row directly. Bridges and bottles, he said to me. His life was delineated by bridges and bottles. With maybe the odd blanket to keep him warm as he lay on a sleeping bag on some cardboard boxes. It was one of those charity workers that he despised who woke him up one night. These workers would come around and drop off muffins and sandwiches and hot cups of cocoa and coffee and blankets. Do-gooders. He hated them. The worker squatted beside him and said to him: “I was under a bridge a year ago, just like you, and I've not had a drink in a year and I got my life back.”
Burt told him in no uncertain terms to eff off and rolled over. The worker leaned over and put a business card in front of his face. “Now if you're sick and tired of being sick and tired give me a call and I'll be there.” And with that he got up and walked off. In spite of himself, Burt put the card into a pocket and a week later, after he fell down and bashed his nose in and lay all night in his own blood, he found a call box and put in the dime that would save his life and get him sober.