My Encounter with Robert Garwood, Part I

Chapter 3

After he returned from his summertime trip Robert became a constant visitor at our house. When he wasn’t at our house, Marilou was at his, with me often joining her. We began to routinely invite him over for dinner and evening socializing. During our visits, Robert regaled us with endless monologues. When he wasn’t complaining about his former contractors, his various storylines included veiled, mysterious references about his time in Vietnam.

I listened to monologues which described him variously working with the CIA, U.S. Special Forces, Marine Reconnaissance and the Green Berets. He described even more mysterious references to military work he’d done in-country long after the Vietnam War ended.

He made fairly consistent claims of being a former Marine, but he never admitted to his rank when he left the Corps or how much time he actually spent on active duty. When I asked him when he retired, Robert made some vague answers of “a long time ago” and changed the subject.

To listen to him talk, I could easily have thought he honorably retired from active military duty after 20 years as a senior non-com or junior officer. Despite the many stories he told about Vietnam, he never once talked about being a POW. He also talked at length about working in Hollywood after he left the military.

Robert told many stories about working with Kirk Douglas and the Douglas family. He continually dropped names of other actors, actresses, directors and producers he claimed to have worked with, met, or were close friends with. He talked about movie productions he claimed to have worked on. It wasn’t too long before he started slyly telling Marilou and me that he could introduce us to “the right people” and get us good jobs in Hollywood “if we were interested.”

Robert routinely complained about the family of his late wife Cathi, describing them as evil people who expected to gain more inheritance than she left to them. Robert claimed they were filing lawsuits and legally harassing him over the inheritance, and were doing everything possible to make his life miserable instead of honoring the wishes of his deceased wife.

Robert also started complaining about a Vietnamese lady living in Biloxi who was harassing him and attempting to force Robert to marry her. Robert claimed he had befriended this woman because she was lonely; she misunderstood his intentions and “somehow” developed the idea they would marry. In Robert’s stable of canned monologues, her attempts to harass him into marriage just became one more somewhat amusing (to me) story line.

The more time I spent around Robert and heard his canned complaints and monologues, the less impressed I became with him. His stories seemed to contradict each other. For example; based on his various accounts, Robert was simultaneously working for the CIA, Army Special Forces and Marine Reconnaissance in Vietnam while simultaneously working in Hollywood for the Douglas Family. Significant details of his stories changed with each retelling. Robert always seemed to be victimized one way or another as a result of selflessly assisting someone. All his stories began to sound the same and they all sounded phony.

Another annoyance was his not paying attention to the time while talking in monologue for hours on end. Several times Robert droned on until 3:00 AM on a weeknight when I had to be at work by 7:00 AM in the morning. As much as I always try to be a good host, I finally started running him out of our house on my schedule, not his.

We were not the only family Robert socialized with. His other neighbor Valerie was also constantly over at his house during the day with her son. Between Marilou and Valerie the two ladies were almost in competition over who would spend the most time with him. At first I was bemused, as I had never seen Marilou act this way for anybody. But then she was spending so much time next door I began to feel annoyed.

Marilou was spending so much time at Robert’s it was difficult for me to even call her at our house during the day. Marilou “solved” that problem by purchasing a wireless telephone with a range that could pick up our calls all the way down to Robert’s pier, or from inside his house. At Marilou’s suggestion, we also purchased a cell phone she could keep in her car, for her given reason that she would have some security on her drives home from work late at night.

Looking back on this period of time, it seemed as though Robert had taken over our lives. Somehow, whatever he needed at any given moment became the goals and responsibility of everyone around him. More than once, I found myself dropping whatever plans I had made to help him out with some sudden crisis, or stopped whatever I was doing just to listen to his endless monologues about Vietnam, Hollywood, or the latest person who was cheating him.

I observed Cris and Valerie, especially Valerie, doing similar things for Robert. I began to hear from Beth that Valerie was spending at least as much time with Robert as Marilou was. Perhaps even more time, as Marilou was working as retail sales associate and Valerie was always home during the day with her son. Robert apparently became a hero to Valerie and a “bigger-than-life” figure to their little boy.

For me, Robert went from being a welcomed guest to an annoyance. Had it not been for Marilou I would have stopped socializing with him. Unfortunately, Marilou was still impressed with him and kept inviting him over. Despite my annoyance I decided not to speak out. I still never suspected anything was going on other than Marilou spending all her free time socializing with a neighbor. After the years of navy life we had, and the years of trust we had built up, I didn’t feel any reason to be suspicious of her.

I also knew that Marilou would need to figure out for herself that Robert was not what he claimed to be. I fully expected that she was capable of seeing for herself the same things I had seen in Robert. That thought proved to be so very wrong.

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