The final hearing is tomorrow. I will miss another day of work and suffer from extreme nervousness, even though the court case has very little to do with me. I am going to trust the cards, there is going to be a surprise event at the end of this ordeal. Lady justice, unblindfolded, also made her appearance in the final outcome position.I wrote this story more than a year ago, during the height of the escalation. It's a bit long, but so is this ridiculous and un- funny drama.
The House That Pete Built
A Tragic Comedy
By Stacy Sheer
This could have been a tragic comedy, except it wasn’t really funny, not at all. I am sitting on the waiting room bench outside of the musty old county courtroom in the rural county where I live. I am sitting with my harmless, Neanderthal ex-political protester, pacifist friend and neighbor, Pete. Pete has been our roommate for the past six weeks. It was unfortunate, for all of us. He has a beautiful house, which he built himself overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. When you sit on his wraparound porch at sunset, the origin of the name of the mountain range becomes apparent. Vast peaks and dips, blue as the ocean, cradled in sun streaks as far as the eye can see. The inside of his house is worthy of placement in one of those custom home magazines. Hardwood floors, cathedral ceilings, ceramic tile bathrooms with sunken tubs, framed in glass tile windows. A palatial retreat, idyllic surroundings and here he has been sleeping on the couch in our basement in his new world. The world of a refugee with nothing but the clothes he showed up in, and the few items he was later to retrieve in a little suitcase. She let us have those, for him. “Thank you for being his friend” she said. Thank you for being his friend because she was way too involved being his enemy at the time.
She had been his girlfriend for a few years. She convinced him to sell his house in the city, nearly two hours away and purchase this land, twenty five acres, prime real estate. She designed the master plan. Master Plan: Sell your house. Quit your job. Buy Land. Build new house. Fix my old decaying house. Sell my house. Live happily ever after. That was her plan. She left out a few details, they would come back to haunt him.
Poor Ratricia sits on a bench on the opposite end of the courtroom antechamber. Her long gray hair falls gently on her bare shoulders. She sits dressed for the first day at Woodstock, clean hippie chick, with her seventeen year old pregnant daughter, her main witness to the crime. Her daughter is respectfully dressed in dirty blue jeans, tied up with a shoe string and mans white undershirt tightly hugging her large breasts and belly. The belly is seeking escape and can be seen flopping out from the base of the shirt. Somehow I don’t think they understand. They have brought their game to court, to the judge and he is going to do just that-judge them.
I glance in her direction and see her sitting with her eyes closed as in deep meditation; she has something in her right hand. Briefly I wonder if she is praying for the outcome for the best benefit of all, the way I do when I meditate with a group of spiritualists once a month. But then I realize who I am wondering about, this is my ex-friend Ratricia. She is most likely praying for the outcome for the best benefit of herself. She’s shown herself to be a bit greedy lately.
I imagine her inner prayers sound something like this: “I pray the judge today believes my tragic embellished story and grants me the house that Pete built. I pray he takes pity on me because I am so helpless with my four bastard children. Sympathize for me because my daughter is handicapped. My daughter Kalina, 21 years old; has a six year old son. Poor me, my poor daughter and grandchild, I have to take care of everyone.
The community took up a collection shortly after the car accident which left Kalina paralyzed from the waist down. Kalina’s son was only four months old at the time of her accident, she was all of fifteen. The father of this child is a secret, no one will ever know, especially not their son, who has no right to know who his daddy is, even if he lives in the same town.
Someone must be protected from the truth at all times. Poor beautiful crippled Kalina and her helpless fatherless son.
Kalina travels in her car for hours , which is worth a lot more than the rice burner I drive, to slip backstage to rock n roll shows. The bands love her. Her devotion, her physical beauty, her dedication and charm. Yes she can travel for eight to ten hours to see a rock show, to hang out with the band, but she can’t stay in school for 2 hours a day, too much pain. Poor Kalina, poor Ratricia. Poor Ratricia for having to care for her handicapped daughter, and raise her grandchild. Now, Ratricias other daughter her key witness, seventeen and pregnant with a bi-racial baby. Another fatherless bi-racial baby, who will have to live in the house too, the house that Pete built.
After the argument, the big one, she told me she was tired of hearing it called the house that Pete built, that’s why I call it that. After all, she allowed Pete to live with her in her tiny cramped house with her four grown children, grandchild and four dogs over the course of two years while he built the new HOUSE WITH HIS OWN HANDS. She allowed him to sleep there, because he worked on the new house during the day, everyday.
After his construction loan had been exhausted, after he put all the proceeds from the sale of his house into the land, after he put all of his inheritance from the death of his parents into his house, Ratricia, poor thing, had to obtain a second mortgage in order to add the finishing touches to the new house. Before they could all move in. Poor Ratricia had to pay two mortgages for a few months while that worthless Pete, built that palace for her and her lovely royal family.
She whined about this expense often, so often that Pete went to the bank and obtained a permanent mortgage for the twenty five acres, house and barn, AND an extra twenty grand to repay Ratricia for all of her losses to date. He gave her the money; she put it in her pocket.
It was time to move into the palace, the beginning of happily ever after, but no.
“That favorite photograph isn’t going there!” She said to Pete as he looked down at the floor and carried his favorite motorcycle picture back in to his office.
“I don’t recall asking Pete what he wanted to put in my new house.” She would say as we discussed some old furniture I was hoping to unload on a less fortunate friend. She likes to collect stuff, Pete doesn’t. We walked out onto the porch, the one with the great view. Everyone was milling about moving into their new home. Our conversation drifted to the fact that I heard Kalina was contemplating moving to Hawaii and taking her son with her. She was laying the groundwork to become independent, as she should.
“If Kalina moves out, I won’t be able to keep the house. I don’t want her to move.” Ratricia tells me. She clarifies, “This house was built for Kalina, if she moves I won’t be able to keep the house.”
Wait a minute now I think to myself, Isn’t your house handicap accessible? Built for Kalina? Does Pete know this? You haven’t even finished moving into this house that Pete built, dust bunnies haven’t even had a chance to form under the bed yet and you are going to keep the house? My face must have gone blank. We walked back inside. I changed the subject. “Nice yellow, what’s it called?” Not waiting for an answer, I walked out the door and walked the half mile home, shaking my head in disbelief all the way.
Work the plan, work the plan. Build new house. Fix my house in order to make it saleable. That’s right, before you go to town and find yourself a job Pete, get on over to my old house and fix it up like new. Power washing and paint. Patch the holes in the drywall where angry teenage sons chose to vent, or was it a violent ex-boyfriend? Tear out old carpets and linoleum, replace them with brand new. Anything Ole boy, just make it look brand new. Two months, one injury and a trip to the hospital later, the house –Ratricia’s house is ready for market. Well, almost. She takes several months to move the hordes of junk she has collected out of the old house and into the new barn where the mice can enjoy it more comfortably.
Parties and cookouts became a regular occurrence at the new house. Friends of Pete would travel from the city to hang out in the mountains, go fishing and canoeing on the nearby river. With the regularity of a pendulum on a grandfather clock, Ratricia could be counted on to bust everyone’s mood with her nasty abusive public comments about Pete. How ignorant he is, how she just refuses to put up with him anymore. Now that the house is finished. Now that she has changed. She’s just not who she pretended to be when she met him. She really doesn’t like him anymore.
We stopped going to those cookouts, me and my husband that is. I guess some of their other friends kept going over there on the weekends, but they would end up wandering over to our house to drink a few beers, relax and escape the wrath of Ratricia too.
Six months after they moved in across the road, in the house that Pete built, Ratricia ambled up my driveway on a Sunday morning. She walks barefoot, gauzy skirt swishing with her dramatic waltzing gait. She looks all around as if lost in my driveway, abandoned child, poor Ratricia. I am weeding my herb garden. The pennyroyal has a way of taking complete control of the others; Machiavelli of herbs. She squats down and plays with a stick in the dirt and tells me the sad news.
“Now that I sold my house, me and Pete are breaking up. I don’t know why he LET ME sell my house. Now what am I gonna do?”
What is she going to do with the small fortune she just put in her pocket from the sale of her house; the house that Pete just renovated. He wasn’t compensated for his time or labor. Not even after the house sold.
“He’s going to have to move out. I’ll get a mortgage.” She said.
“You could do that to him? You could force him out of the house?” I asked.
“I absolutely could.” She said.
I shook my head, speechless.
Here we sit, me and Pete, on the bench in the courtroom. I’m his witness. I am here to testify to those comments Ratricia made, and the others. The others are especially interesting. You see, one evening, nearly a year after living in their new house, the house that Pete built, they got into a big fight. Pete came home from work and started cooking dinner. Ratricia made nasty comments to him, again. “I guess I’m eating dinner by myself again.” He said because Ratricia and her daughter were on their way out the door at dinner time.
“Who’d want to eat with you, Nasty?” She said.
He, having her engaged in conversation, moved quickly to the business at hand: I’m having friends come this weekend; we are taking my canoe out.”
“No you’re not” she said “I have plans for your canoe this weekend!”
“How’s your search coming for a car?” He asked her then, as she’d been driving his truck for months. She gave her car to her son; he took it across the country. She works nights; she sleeps in the truck, sometimes while she’s driving.
She said, “This weekend.”
“While she’s out in my canoe?” He’s thinking. He’s preparing chicken at the counter, cutting it into manageable pieces.
She turns back around to face him and throws her best punch, “It’s time you sell this house Pete, and we dissolve this relationship”
The paint is barely set on the walls of the custom palace.
With the knife in one hand and his finger of the other pointed at her, he makes his grave mistake. “You fuck with my house, I’ll fuck you up!” He shouts.
She slaps his pointed finger and charges at him like a bull.
“You have a knife.” She says.
He throws it into the floor. He shoves her backwards. “Watch out, don’t cut yourself on that knife, he warns her. They shove each other some more. His glasses get knocked to the floor. She picks them up and crushes them in her hand, and then she throws them back to the floor. The struggle ensues until the key witness, Anna, the pregnant seventeen year old, comes in between them and pushes them apart. The shoving match lasted an entire eight seconds. Ratricia stated indignantly,” I’m calling the police.”
Pete sits on the picnic table on the porch with key witness. Ratricia sits on the steps. They wait for the police to arrive. Ratricia and Pete tell a reasonably similar account of the battle to the sheriff. Pete goes for a ride with the police. Someone has to go to jail.
I get to pick him up at 11 o clock that night. We get to live with Pete for six weeks. Ratricia has a fantastic story of abuse that she takes to the magistrate time and time again in order to have a protective order filed and extended, while they all await a trial. “He waved the knife at me like a sword” We heard that well rehearsed line several times.
When it was stuck in the floor or when he placed it on the counter so you wouldn’t cut your foot on it as you attacked him?
Pete’s a nice guy, but he’s not the guy I chose to love or live with. Nevertheless, he was home before my husband, to greet me when I came home from work. He was in the kitchen, drinking coffee and sometimes farting, when I got out of bed in the morning. Six weeks, a bit inconvenient
I called Ratricia on the phone in the beginning of the epic drama. “Is this guy a smooth psychopath or what? Should I be afraid to let him sleep in my house? Are you afraid he’ll come across the road and hurt you?” This is the question I’ve been subpoenaed on. Well not really the question, but her answer.
She pranced around like a nervous race horse, not sure if I was on her side or not. Finally she said, “No, I am not afraid of Pete coming and harming me, but I am uncomfortable around him.”
Well if I was attempting to steal a man’s life under the false pretenses that she was adhering to I’d be uncomfortable too. I wondered how she could get a nonviolent man thrown out of his house for six weeks when she wasn’t afraid of him. In the past, I was denied one of those protective orders against a true psychotic man I had unfortunately gotten myself entangled with. I bought a handgun, a big one. I hoped I’d get the chance to use it. They don’t give those protective orders out easily, but that’s another story.
I didn’t see her pass in front of us in the direction of the court house steps, but I saw her on her return to her place on the bench in the waiting room. In her right hand she held a smooth red stone, a little larger than a silver dollar. She held it level with our faces, palm open, and then she cut her eyes at me. She was attempting to take away my personal power. Bad witch! I felt a wave of anger spread throughout my head from right to left and then: As I watched her pious march back to her place on the bench, I quickly surrounded Pete and myself in an impenetrable wall, a tower, a fortress. Within my mind’s eye, I called her to the outside wall of our fortress. I saw her there in her flowing white hippie dress, pure, like curdled milk. I tossed a bucket of kerosene over her head and then I torched her.
Do I feel guilty you ask? Well, I’m not the one on the stand; I’ve been accused of nothing. Enough was simply enough.
It’s nice to have our privacy back. I’m grateful Pete went home.