The recluse

Published 9:28 am Wednesday, May 1, 2013

His tendency to withdraw was but a natural response to those events that extract life, like a syringe, out of one’s will to keep going. There was no one thing but rather the piling on of many things, as when one is young and another stick of firewood is tossed across the arms until it seems impossible to reach one’s destination. So it was with Henry L. Wiggins at 2638 Hyde Street.

As his age progressed, so did his tendency to reflect on those parts of his past he found least satisfying, as if their constant rehearsal somehow had the power of erasure when, in effect, the converse was true. They grew larger and more entangling.

Whereas Henry could once be found frequenting his neighbors and conversing about the matters of the day, his visits became more irregular and his conversations less animated. While addressing such trials requires greater interactions with one’s fellow creatures, Henry chose the opposite route and its tragic consequences.

He rejected the repeated invites of concerned friends and avoided conversations. His house became more of a retreat than a meeting place. Curtains were closed, blinds drawn. Dialogue took place only within his head. The one arena that had the capacity to give perspective, to suggest a different viewpoint, to examine from another angle, was avoided. That was simply other people.

Eventually his yard became overgrown, his shrubbery unkempt, his lot unmaintained. Visits to the mailbox became nonexistent as its contents overflowed onto the ground. Paint peeled, shingles blew away as Henry collapsed into his own world, retreating to what he considered complete safety by avoiding completely any activity that had the capacity to cause pain, failure, disappointment or hurt. Eventually, every endeavor met such criteria.

And so he sat, in his chair, in the corner of his dimly lit room, the world churning along outside his double-locked doors.

In the end he was found in that same chair as a result of a call to the authorities by a worried neighbor. There were no marks on his body, no sign of a struggle, no hint of impropriety. Upon examination and a thorough investigation, the coroner, under “cause of death” recorded two words. “Social Deprivation.”

REX ALPHIN of Walters is a farmer, businessman, author, county supervisor and contributing columnist for The Tidewater News. His email address is