I’m taking my usual trek on foot, back pack, scruffy face, tennis shoes (that now have holes in them, dammit), and the “look.”
Sir, my audience and I have discussed this “look” at length. I still look like a homeless man. I cannot shake it. Despite whatever success I may have in life up to now, I still carry that weight. Which is why the encounter between you and I was so jarring.
Officer, my morning routine is pretty much the same every day. I walk from my apartment in routine fashion to a Citgo Station about a mile away to buy my cigarettes. From there I head to Target to buy whatever else I need, whether it be food or toiletries. Then I head home, uninterrupted.
You and I both know that there is a homeless camp that lives around that Citgo Station…and that back end of the building can be frightfully dangerous. There is a man who lives in the bushes on one side of the building. He has a moldy, wet, ripped up couch shoved in that small space and sits with arms relaxed, as though he’s waiting for someone to come and enjoy his paradise.
There is a woman a few feet away that sleeps beneath a tree in a sleeping bag. She wakes every day, uses the bathroom at the Citgo, then sits on the median in the middle of the parking lot and speaks to small children that are not visible to rest of us. She spends all day pantomiming shaking their little hands and learning their names. She will spend the rest of her life in a psychotic breakdown speaking to children in her head….shaking their little hands, talking to them, while the sun bakes her. She is red, reader. Her skin, a leathery, dark red callous.
This back side of the Citgo is a sad and horrifying place.
Officer, I walked by your cruiser to get to the Citgo, then reappeared a few minutes later, actually paying you no mind…until you stopped me.
You’ll have to forgive me, but the only thing I could think of was that I needed toothpaste and my husband had a craving for ice cream sandwiches. Those were the only things ever present in the list of things I needed to accomplish at that moment. So, you took me of guard when you said, “Hey, buddy….”
I stumbled for a moment. “Yes?”
“You need something?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Is there something you need?”
I casually and slowly keep walking, but ultimately stopped. “No, I’m good, but….why do you ask?”
“You need a bottle of water? Something to eat?”
The minute I heard those words I just lowered my head, shaking it to no end….and smiled.
“Brother, thank you for that, but I’m not homeless. No, sir. I just look it.”
Your eyes and smile actually went bright. “WHAT???” You had this gorgeously comedic reaction! Even your voice went high!
“No, I’m not homeless, but….dude, that was really REALLY kind of you.”
“But, you look like that other guy with the beard and the-”
“No, I’m fine, my friend. I really am. But, I am so grateful that you felt concern, rather than suspicion. You have no idea how that makes me feel. Take care.”
And you just kept smiling beautifully. I could have said more, told you my story, told you where I am now in my life, the journey I’ve had. Could have handed you my “MAD MAN KNITTING” sticker and said, “Google it.”
But, at that moment, this was about you and knowing that people like you are looking out for those people at the dark side of the Citgo station. I knew at that moment that you were willing to feed me, should I need it. Help me, should I ask for it.
I never got to know your name, but I thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart. Our brief meeting gave me greater hope that the guy with the couch, and that woman with the imaginary children, can sleep safely at night knowing you’ll be there should they need you.
At the very end of this, I came home and told my husband the story. He said, “Well, maybe it’s time for a make over.”
To which I could only respond, “Not in a million years….”
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