Closer to Home

By David Swanson

I did something worse than St. Augustine did when I was a kid. I must confess I broke into a house on the other side of town, and I did it just because it was such an ugly beat-down house that needed work so badly. Well, that and I kind of wanted to move out of my parents’.

I broke in at night and I started the renovations. I smashed a lot of the furniture up and actually knocked out a couple of walls. I destroyed the electric panel and stopped up the toilets. The place was a serious, serious wreck, and I was pretty tired, and the owners came home.

They were an elderly couple, and they threatened me and threw stuff at me, but – I’m ashamed to say — I got a little rough with them and put them in their place. The trouble was, there were two of them and the phone still worked. One of them called the cops, who showed up pretty fast.

I explained to the cops what a wreck the house had been before I’d gotten there, and that seemed to satisfy them at first. Eventually I had to slip them $200 before they would leave me alone. But they were the least of my problems. And when they left, I didn’t know what the old man had given them.

It turned out the old folks had installed video cameras in the house, so they had tapes of me busting in and destroying the place, and boy did I come off looking like an idiot, not to mention a criminal. They showed the things on the TV news a little. Then the public debate began.

Most people said I had a moral duty to stay in the house and make sure it didn’t get any worse, especially with those walls knocked out. It had been wrong for me to break in, they said, but now that I was there I had better stay until things were worked out properly.

But other people saw it differently. They thought the only way I could come out ahead would be to kill the old couple.

There was a third group too, although they never got mentioned on television. Those were the ones who thought I should just pick up and leave. Those were the ones who worried me. For one thing, if I ever did leave, I knew I would catch hell back home.

I didn’t worry too much, though. All I had to do was make sure people knew that if I left, things would get worse. That was what I told the nosey neighbors, and by that means I stayed in the house for several days.

But there was only a limited supply of food in the refridgerator, and I had to give SOME of it to the old couple as long as I was keeping them alive. So, I started selling anything of any value in the house to the neighbors so I could order food. I told them I was using the money to repair the walls so the house wouldn’t fall down, but…well… I wasn’t. And as if that wasn’t enough of a hassle, the old couple kept trying to poison me or electrocute me, even at the very instant I was giving them their dinner. I had to be pretty firm with them, but I could see that it was getting to the point where they just didn’t give a damn about anything anymore.

When I’d been in the house for about three months things really grew desperate. The old man and the woman by this point were both ill and coughing all the time, and they had it in for each other as much as for me. The beauty of that was I could tell my parents that I couldn’t leave or the couple would kill each other. I had to stay to protect them. And in fact I kept screaming at them to stop fighting each other, but they wouldn’t do it. So, I really did feel obliged to stay and watch out for them. Besides, how much could they really do for themselves when their wrists were chained to their ankles?

But I was running out of items to sell, so I began renting out rooms to homeless people and selling pieces of the house itself, like windows and railings, to neighborhood kids to play with. Then the police began taking an interest in me again. Plus the tenants began taking sides with the man and woman against each other and threatening an all-out brawl in the living room.

When I thought things couldn’t get any worse, two things happened. First, I promised the cops things would get worse if I left. Second, I stayed and things got worse. For one thing, someone in the house called my family and threatened to kill my brother. And I couldn’t get them to admit who had done it, so I had to torture a couple of the tenants before I found out. When I found out who had done it (or so I thought at the time), I tied the young guy to a stake in the front yard and burned him. I was sure that would end my troubles, and I wish that were the worst of my confession, but that’s when the whole episode began to escalate.

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