Twelve years ago my then college age daughter asked me to do a favor for a friend (not a boyfriend), a young man, ‘Shawn,’ who’d lost his home when the house he shared with several other young men burned to the ground. Could he stay the night and perhaps camp on our couch until he found his own place? We let him sleep over that night. He seemed ok. He worked in construction, was polite, he got along with me, my husband and our 12 year old son, and he could hold up his end of a conversation – an important virtue in our household. My husband is a much better judge of character then I am (he was a US Air Force brat and learned to size up people quickly because his family moved so much), so I deferred to him. He thought Shawn was OK too. A few days after Shawn came to stay with us, he was in a terrible car accident that wasn’t his fault. Someone blew through a stop sign at high speed and cut his truck in half. Shawn was lucky to be alive. Generally it takes about 8 weeks to recover from the kind of injuries he sustained and, as a family, we agreed that Shawn could stay and have the use of a guest room while he mended. We took care of him during this time. After he recovered we offered the following proposal if he was going to continue to stay with us: he could do some repairs on the property that fell within his construction skills, and pay 1/3 of the utility bill, which fluctuated, $40 to $100 per month, depending on the season. Less when we weren’t using heating or air conditioning. The heat and AC in our house is controlled in each room, so it’s not like we asked him to subsidize centralized heating and AC. Shawn accepted those terms. Repair work instead of rent, plus 1/3 of the utilities.
This wouldn’t be an etiquette hell story without things going very wrong now would it? He filled half of our 2 car garage with the contents of his storage unit – no exaggeration – floor to ceiling STUFF. He never completed the repairs, and he took it upon himself to knock down a fence because ‘it was going to fall down anyway’. He paid for his share of the utilities two times then stopped. He didn’t go back to work when he became able bodied. He didn’t need to: he got a healthy insurance settlement from the accident. He purchased 2 vehicles and took one of them apart in our drive way. Eight months after he came to us, we told him that we needed his room because my sister and her family were relocating for work and needed a place to stay (absolutely true). We gave him a month’s notice. During that month we caught him doing things like leaving up porn-ish stuff on my husband’s computer and trying to blame my son, bringing my daughter’s ex-boyfriend on to our property after being asked not to, and harassing my bi-racial niece (a college student with a full time job) about being lazy and collecting Welfare.
Once he was gone my son disclosed that Shawn like to play with fire, and had tried to get him involved with a game that involved small plastic soda bottles, gasoline, and our wood stove. We still wonder about the house fire that left him homeless. Then the phone bill came with $100 + charges for 900 numbers(phone sex). My credit card company contacted me and told me someone had tried to use my card number to buy the kinds of gadgets Shawn liked to collect. The order came from our home computer the day before Shawn left. The sale was denied. We think Shawn lifted my mail (back when your credit statement had your full account number on it). Several months on Shawn still had literally ½ as ton of junk in our garage. We moved it out and covered it with a tarp and gave him a deadline to remove it or it would go to the dump. He never came. We hauled it to the dump ourselves and paid for disposal, which is why I know there was ½ a ton of it.
At my husband’s request we took Shawn to small claims court for the unpaid utilities. We won a modest sum. I’ve never pursued Shawn for payment. Winning in court was enough. My family and I have chalked it up as a learning experience. My son learned that charming fun people may not be what they seem. We think perhaps Shawn has a personality disorder of some kind. We’ve continued to give shelter to people over the years and we are much more careful who we let stay with us.
The State of Delaware is a very small town. In the years that followed I ran into Shawn several times. Two years after the above occurred I was in a store. He didn’t see me, his back was to me and he was loudly discussing how he was messing with his current landlord. I left the store. Over the years whenever I see him I withdraw before he sees me. My son and I were in a café last year and he came in. He didn’t see us until just before we left. We listened while he talked nonstop for 10 minutes to the counter man about some money making schemes. He was still talking when we left. More recently he was at a farm auction. He said “Hi Giani.” I didn’t return the greeting. I have shunned him. I don’t know whether what I have is a classic ‘holding a grudge’ against him. I’m not angry at him. I’m not afraid of him. I never think about him when he’s not around. The best metaphor to explain how I feel about Shawn is he’s like a needy stray cat with ringworm. He’s pathetic, I need to keep my distance, and if I make the mistake of making eye contact and acknowledging him in any way, nothing good can come of it. 0410-15