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February 3, 2009 / Brittany Hendrick

The Man in the Black Coat, Pt. I: Who is he, what does he do, and where does he hide?

The Man in the Black Coat is a metaphor I use to describe when things don’t work out for me.  He was borne from a running joke between my sister and me, loosely based off our dad and his associations.  There are… questions… about what he was involved with in his life.  Which really isn’t a joking matter, especially when our dad’s second wife told me he had money sent to her from Langley.  Yet she swore to me that he didn’t work for the C.I.A.  Umm, OK.  That’s incongruent.  And creepy.

And our mom acts all weird and eventually gets pissy when Danielle and I drill her with questions.  “But he had a badge!” I argue.  My dad showed it to me when I was a kid; he carried it on himself.  Instead of qualifying me, instead of humoring me and at least telling me it was fake, my mom says, “I don’t remember him having a badge.”  ?!?!?!?!

And other examples.  Too many to list.

Ever since we’ve been old enough to think critically and ask questions, our dad has conveniently eluded us.  Danielle and I aren’t sure which side of the law he was on.  Either way, there is mystery– and it gives us The Man in the Black Coat.  I do not know what he looks like, really– I have never spotted him.  All I know is that he is always there, hiding, watching, waiting.

Originally, The Man in the Black Coat (I dare not abbreviate his name) applied to situations that involved men.  Not to my male friends– I’m allowed to have those– but to potential suitors.  If I’m with a guy I’m interested in (and who’s interested in me), after I leave the scene, The Man in the Black Coat steps out from the shadows, accosts the suitor and says, “If you even think about getting with this girl, I’ll fucking kill you.  And if you speak a word of this to her, I’ll fucking kill you.”  After that, the suitor is too scared to continue any sort of relationship with me, friendly or otherwise.  Most of the time, the guy abruptly ends communication altogether– after all, his life was threatened!  It must be within the demands of The Man in the Black Coat that the suitor does not talk to me anymore.  People tell me that men are afraid of me because I’m “aloof, intimidating and unapproachable.”  But those people haven’t encountered The Man in the Black Coat, so they don’t know.  He’s a little overprotective.

I think The Man in the Black Coat has been following me since high school.  Maybe earlier than that, but it didn’t become apparent until my senior year of high school.  For AP English class, we had a project in which we drew a name out of a hat and had to write something for or about that person, and we had to present it to that person during class.

As presentation day wore on, a few people and I hadn’t been read to yet.  And the most popular, well-liked guy in the 12th grade, Mr. Everything (every school has one of those) hadn’t read to anyone yet.  So, it was getting down to the wire on whose name he picked.

Then things got tense.  It was down to my friend Ms. Joker (she’d always joke and say, “Soooo, Brittany, what weird music are you listening to this week?”) and me.  Ms. Joker wanted it to be her– she wouldn’t look at me, but I could see the longing in her eyes– and she wanted to go to prom with Mr. Everything; he didn’t like her in that way, though.  The rest of the class wanted it to be me, because people were looking at me and smiling all hopeful-like.  I just wanted the silly impromptu contest to be over– and I had no plans to go to prom.

The teenage tension was unbearable; we all were aware of it.  Finally, Mr. Everything stood up to present.  Out of nowhere, it seemed, he produced a small vase of flowers.  Oh, this was going to be good.

“The person whose name I picked was…

no one in the class was breathing

…Brittany.”

The class aired sighs and squeals.

Mr. Everything walked over to my desk, gave me the flowers, took my hand and read me two poems– one in English and one in Spanish (we both studied Spanish).  I don’t remember my reaction– I probably just looked at him with my mouth agape.

Of course, I was paying attention to what he was reading.  One line in the poem in particular struck me as surprising.  It stood out, not only because of its odd phrasing, but because of what it implied.  I can’t remember the entire line exactly (and I’m not digging out the poem– I still have it, though), but basically, he was implying that he liked me but was afraid of me.  I wasn’t sure.  I could’ve interpreted it wrongly.  I planned to hold the vase ransom (it was his mom’s– I had to return it eventually) until he told me what he meant by that line.

Later, at the lunchtable, Ms. Valedictorian weighed in on Mr. Everything’s presentation: “Brittany, I just wanted to take off all my clothes, right there!”

Mr. Everything and I were friends, but he was friends with everybody (as Everythings are).  He was also a big flirt.  I don’t think he had a real girlfriend in those four years.  So, I never took him seriously, never pined for him, never really wanted anything from him.

A few days later, I brought the vase back to school.  After English class ended, we went to our lockers and I told Mr. Everything, “I’m not giving this back until you tell me what you meant by [that line].”  I held up the vase and shook my head.  “What did you mean?”

Mr. Everything refused to tell me.

We were standing in the middle of the hallway, students flowing past us, rushing to their next class, yet it was as if they didn’t exist; I didn’t see or hear them.   I pressed Mr. Everything to answer me.  He held my hand and nervously started swinging our arms.   He said, “You know when someone is up here [gesticulates with free hand], but you’re down here [gesticulates again]…”

“What?!  No!”  I protested.

“…when someone is on a pedestal… ” he continued.

“That’s not true!”  I exclaimed.

He was saying, without really coming out and saying, he felt that he wasn’t good enough for me.

“You’re wrong– it doesn’t have to be that way!”  I cried.

I can’t remember the whole exchange, but it was a back-and-forth-yes-no-yes-no-type of debate.  There wasn’t anything I could say to make him change his mind.  I know I didn’t do anything to make him feel that way.

Mr. Everything and Ms. Joker went to prom together.  But that was it.  He wasn’t interested in dating her.

On graduation day, at the moment Mr. Everything and I found each other on the football field and hugged and “wheeee!”d, a camera crew approached us.  A reporter asked Mr. Everything, “How are you feeling right now?”

“It feels good to graduate, and it feels good to have Brittany next to me…!”

I have not seen him since that day.

That is probably the first recorded incident with The Man in the Black Coat.  Little did my high school self know that I had a recurring problem on my hands…

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