It’s about 3am. I can’t sleep. I could try, but I just can’t shake this vision from my head.
Earlier today, Phillip and I went to the supermarket to get provisions for the weekend. Apparently, this winter storm is dipping just a few degrees southern than it ought to. Today it was 80. Tomorrow, it will be 50. So, with the idea of making a big pot of minestrone for the weekend, we went to the store to get what we needed, so that we wouldn’t have to trudge through the hardship of 50 degree weather. (That was sarcasm, you know). And on our way there, we passed the homeless men. They’re always at the bus stop outside Publix (little known trick: you can’t get busted for loitering if you’re at a bus stop). Now, they usually don’t even speak to me. Phillip says, “Sorry, sweetheart, but you still look like one of them….which is why the people at Publix freak out when you buy brie and Perrier…..”
It’s true. The homeless guys still don’t ever ask me for anything. They look at me and see….one of them. (And please, no comments about the Perrier. I love its crisp, cold, bubbles….and the brie? Well, it was on sale for half off! Who wouldn’t enjoy a luxury when it’s somewhat affordable?)
However, in the corner of my eye, I saw this guy I’ve seen quite a few times. Shopping cart with a cat that walks proudly beside him. I’ve seen him before. Hell, I might have even wrote about him once or twice. But, there he was again, off in the distance. Always too far for me to approach. And whenever I do make the attempt, he takes a turn down this street or that and he’s gone. Poof. Gone. As I was spying at the homeless man with the loyal cat, another homeless man to my right asked for a couple of bucks, “or maybe some chicken,” as he said. He was bent over a wall, teeth falling out, clothes that screamed of human waste, eyes that begged for contact. And do you know what it’s like to be denied that? When someone won’t look you in the eye? It’s like your soul doesn’t exist. Imagine that for a minute….that you’re treated not only that you don’t exist….but, that your soul doesn’t exist either.
I had one eye on the guy to my right, when my other eye went searching for the man with the cat. And as planned, they were both gone. I told the homeless man to my right, “Gimme just a second. I’ll have something when I get back.”
(Phillip just woke, asking why I hadn’t come to bed…..I told him I couldn’t stop thinking about the man with the cat. And I’m doing what writer’s do. We let it go in and with words….)
We got what we needed in the supermarket, got the guy outside a huge Cuban sandwich, a bottle of water, a pack of cigarettes (that’s currency you can use for trade), and a couple of dollars….but, the whole time my mind was on the man with the cat.
That was me. I wanted to find him and tell him, that he was me. And could still be. One false move and….that old man with the cat is still me. Watching him, at such an advanced age, to push his shopping cart….with this scruffy old cat walking right beside him, that he and I….
I can’t shake it from my head. It was more than a remembrance of the past, it was more of a panic attack, a fear, a deeply troubling paranoia. I have often noted, without reasonable psychological impact, but with a good sense of what in the hell the world is all about, that I do experience some PTSD from when I was homeless.
And I grabbed Mario and squeezed and cried and said, “We can’t ever forget them….”
As much as that cat and I went through for so long, and as much we sure would like to forget…..that man reminded me of so much I always try to push aside. It’s true, we haven’t fully left the woods. Mentally, we’re still held in a certain place that keeps us wearing our boots constantly, afraid of being turned out of our homes, always fearful of impermanence. Financially, we wait each day to see how things will go.
I get terrified and stressed sometimes I mean, it’s already the first week of the month and rent hasn’t been paid. And it’s moments of reflection seen in a stranger that remind you of how connected we all really are.
And this that we knit is always for a greater purpose. And in my case? Not only to help myself, but to help those men in any way that I can.
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