What happens when the monster in your life…just dies? What do you do when you have hidden, when you have watched out, held out, held back, survived…but always known the guard must remain? How do you begin to think a different way? But then…
There is no need. There is no Monster. There is no one coming for that part of me anymore; The She The Monster made.
Never. Ever. Again.
Monster? Hey Monster, She died with you. Cause guess what?
She wasn’t me.
I didn’t really know.
But still…I might have screamed. A few times. Mostly silent..a grimace mask of jaw gaping horror with no sound. Eyes straining with disbelief…maybe another Ruse, perhaps The Ultimate Pose. Even maybe a Conspiracy. You did yet have a few Fans left, Poor Morbid Souls, and you were good at Pulling Strings. Who dares wonder What It’s All About? What Monster Game. You always had one.
Hey Monster! It’s Over. Even the Miles of Youtube Last Words, that will never Go Away, can’t touch me anymore.
I’ll Admit, I subjected myself. Yeah I watched it. You knew I would. Ironic. That’s what did it. I only could picture the Wizard Behind the Curtain in Oz…Nothing There. I really thought for sure, being The End and all…but Nope…Nothing At All. Just a Dude Pulling Levers. And some Smoke. So scary. Right?
What do you do when the monster dies. Mmm-hmm. A part of me dies. But it’s the part you made. She was never mine. I just didn’t know. I wasn’t a monster, I didn’t deserve you at all.
Having another chunk of me fall off the bone, sure it hurts. I can feel the tearing. But I can take it. It’s just a husk anyway. One you made me wear, a long time ago, like a bad dress. I didn’t know I could take it off. But now I’m not fucking around with it; It’s not my size. I’ve already burned it in the wood stove.
Monster? Maybe Somewhere, there’s Something Better for you. I always believed you Chose. But maybe some of us Can’t Change. It’s just Who You Were. So, Monster. Just…
She draws my attention, as does anyone who looks to be heading my way when I am in a vehicle. I am on the phone, with an earpiece, and am clearly talking. It may seem I am talking to myself, as I have long hair, but I am defitintely visibly moving my lips.
She is young, and worn looking, with no makeup, her hair scraped back into the hoods of two ratty hoodies. And she is now close to my window, looking directly at me, hands upturned, talking. A lot. She seems apologetic, but not of a mind to stop or leave. I am still having my own conversation. My window is rolled up, and it is pouring rain. I can’t hear a thing she’s saying.
I make eye contact and point at my earpiece and she nods. But she stays. The poor girl is getting soaked. I finally roll the window down. She tells me she realizes she had been talking to a closed window and sees my earpiece now and is sorry, but…and I ask her simply, Do you need help? And she lets out a breath, and says YES. And then her words ramp up and time goes by and I see this is going to go on for a while and then I do have to stop her and say I know it’s raining and I don’t want to be rude but I am still on the phone and this is really important, but so are you, and if you are out here when I am done I will talk to you. I just have to go. She tells me where to find her but returns anyway before I can finish and tries not to eyeball me but acts like she means to sit on the curb in the rain and she looks like a dog someone left in the yard and I can’t stand it.
She barely takes a breath. She is desperate. She says so. She tells me her full name, all three of them, and in one steady stream tells me everything she can before I can stop her or slow her down. That she knows what it looks like, that she hasn’t had a shower for three days because her pipes broke; that she knows what it looks like with her wearing the spangled jeans with the brand name I don’t recognize because I don’t spend that kind of money on jeans, that they are the last pair of pants and they can’t do laundry now or shower either and that’s why she looks like this, dirty; that she would pawn them if she could and will even give them to me if I want them if only I could spare any money at all; that she is not a druggy and is twenty six and only had the house for the pipes to break and the jeans she now is embarrassed by because she worked hard and had money but has lost everything; that DHS has ruined her and her small daughter’s life because when she needed help the most and couldn’t care for her at home they would not help them together but only place the girl with strangers and her somewhere else and now her girl lives with a trusted friend instead; that her husband has gone to the foodcourt at the mall to get her water because she is so thirsty she can’t bear it and he would die if he saw her ask for money and right now they need gas money so they can get to the top of Whatever Street to meet her old business partner to restart things again and he will be giving her money and she knows it and she will start her marketing business again but just now they don’t know how they will get the gas money and she is prepared to ask every single person if she has to because now her life depends on it and if she can look a stranger in the eye and tell the truth then by God she knows she is still okay and then she tells me her full name all three parts and tells me three more times and tells me I can still find her online and the state of Washington had to give her money because she was wronged by the state as a child but she refused it and no one refuses that kind of money if they just wanted money they’d take it regardless if it was from the state that wronged them.
And she says her little girl is named Lillian and her face contorts and she cries.
The phone call I am on is still live and he can hear Rebecca and he is silent. A moment ago I had finally had the courage to have the conversation I have put off for too long; papers must be filed. Threads left hanging must be cut. It’s the end of the beginning of the end, and the beginning of the end of it. We will be divorced. It is a painful conversation. The end of a life, together. I know I have chosen this, but as I’ve said all along, none of what brought it was my choice. The end was just the fall out. I cannot fix this, there is only going, and going on. I have aleady done both. But there are steps to attend to make it right; as right as a thing like this can be.
The irony, the timing of Rebecca arriving, stuns me. We are both listening now, to Rebecca. Breathing quietly, waiting for her to stop. She won’t. We both somehow join in this quiet listening of her torrential words; the man with few words who couldn’t stand too many of mine, listening to the girl that won’t stop talking. We silently share our concern, and I finally cut in.
I am gentle. I ask Rebecca if she is manic right now. She tries to talk so much she doesn’t answer me until I ask her again. She says Yes, because….
I ask her if she needs medicine and she tells me that every single doctor that’s seen her wants her to take it but she doesn’t want to, that God made her this way, and DHS has ruined the things she was trying to fix herself.
I ask her if she understands my question, if she needs help with her manic state, if I can help her in any way besides money. That I have five dollars I will give her either way, and that I am not judging her jeans. I hurry up and give her the five dollars I don’t really have and don’t wonder exactly where it is going, so she won’t think I am holding it for the right answers from her. I care, but don’t care about her answers. She just keeps staring into my eyes and talking and she is so young. I can’t help wondering if she needs the contact more than the money. I decide I don’t know, and that I don’t know if she is truthful or not. I know some of it is, but it makes me tired to try and figure it out and who the hell am I anyway? The story was almost worth the five dollars.
She repeats all three of her names again and tells me to look for her online and that I will know she is telling me the truth and that people are judging her because she looks this way but she is not a druggy and she will look anyone in the eye and tell them so because she has pride still.
And she looks at me some more and tells me, I’m not what I look like.
I give her a real smile and say, Honey, neither am I.
As she walks away I ask her again if there is anything else I can do for her. And she says I already did. I looked her in the eye. And off she goes. She’s almost out of hearing range when I call her name and she turns quick to see me. I say, Rebecca, I will pray for you. And she asks me to pray for her daughter Lillian instead. So, I will pray for both of you. And then she bounds off down the lot. Before I lose sight of her I see her raise her fist in the air and hear a yelp of joy, but it is AMEN that I hear.
I sit back in the leather with the broken seat heater and let the tears roll down my face. The phone call has ended for now, and I wonder what is happening to me that I concern myself with the dubious stories of beggars and hustlers and the homeless, every day, when I can’t take care of myself. I am overwhelmed with sadness, and gratitude. Shaking. I know I have no idea who Rebecca really is, and only roll the words around in my head that we said: I am not what I look like/Neither am I/You looked me in the eye.
Yes, I did. I was not looking for the lie. I was looking for the person. She looked me in the eye, too.
And then I go to work and wonder why I feel crazy all day, like I’m in the wrong place, wrong person, wrong clothes. I think about a man who pointed out my boots once, another lifetime ago, when two of us panhandled on the Hollywood streets. They were too expensive. The man never knew that months later I would have no shoes at all and my feet would bleed in winter. I know why she apologized for the pants.
She has a story. I don’t know what it is, really. I don’t know how much is true, or what she left out. It didn’t matter. I just looked in her eyes. That part stays with me, and I am strangely shaken and moved. I don’t want to explain, because I don’t know how. It has something to do with everything, and yet it doesn’t seem to mean anything in particular. There are just the words that stay in my head, hours later on a rainy day. The day that I began the end of an ending. I am not what I look like…Neither am I…You looked me in the eye.
Posted in In Their Words, Musings | Tagged Angels, Depression, Endings, forgiveness, Grief, heartbreak, Homelessness, Hope, Loneliness, Loss, Love, memories, Mental Illness, Personal Journey, Solace | 6 Comments »
I know who I am. I may not know all I am capable of yet.
I know I don’t possess a large amount of confidence…at least I have never thought so. I am often scared, unsure, worried. Sometimes, just flat out sick with fear. I fly by the seat of my pants with no mat and no net, well aware of the risks. I don’t do this because I am secure, or love the thrill, or have hidden resources to draw upon should I fall. I have none of these. I don’t reach for things beyond my comfort zone because I am brave or daring or have a lot of balls. I am a natural worrier and I don’t enjoy the sleepless nights this has caused me. I will never be comfortable with the kind of risks I seem to need to take. I have too much need to know what’s happening, and safety means too much to me. I dislike the unknown.
The reasons I can do what I do is simple. I know if I don’t, I will never have, do, or create a thing. Because the willingness to risk and my imagination is all I have. That, and my instincts. My ability to smell an opportunity and my tendency to connect with other people and read them well puts me in the way of too much to ignore. I am not calculating; just transported by possibilities. Really, possibilities are my toolbag. I am not optimistic; just memerized by ideas and things and people. The stories we are living are what makes me tick. I look at all the captured moments in photos, movies, song. They are real, whether fiction or not, and we are all living moments and pictures and songs, every day. I cannot resist making the moment, and cannot turn my back on the beauty of it.
So, I reach. For the moment, the person I will learn from, the buy I cannot afford but may profit from, the beauty that won’t be lived without being lived, seen, and felt in a rush of possibilities and chills and spills. I reach for the opportunity, the chance, to be and feel and know; I did something, loved someone, made something good or awful, but I was here…
This creates for me a frequent condition of being in over my head, unsure that I have whatever it takes to do the job, whatever that may be. Often, I have no flight plan or toolbox; I am just following my nose and making it up as I go along. A very smart friend tells me the best things happen this way. But I am not so sure. I just don’t have another way yet. If I’d waited ’til I did, I’d have never gotten started. When the instruction manuals, maps, tool bags and sack lunches were passed out, I may have been around the other side of the shed, smelling wildflowers, because I never got any of those things. I think it may be too late for that sort of thing now. Everything I learn now makes me feel like the large kid who is too big for his desk. It’s awkward and embarrassing sometimes that I haven’t learned some of these things a long time ago, at least if I was going to end up doing the things I do, because now they are hard lessons. They are like breaking bones when you are older…it’s not like when those bones are young and soft and heal quickly. Now, I fall hard, and heal slowly. But I cannot keep from the jump. I put myself in the arena, and it hurts like hell when the bull throws me off. And he does. And for some crazy reason, when I am done crying my ass off, I do it again. I just don’t want to sit in the stands.
What does this say about me?
I was born an introvert. But I am not one. I was raised to never take chances, taught to listen to the others that knew better, but I have become unwilling to let others choose for me. I must choose now, regardless of the choice being a good one in their eyes, or a bad one. Because the choices of others have never been the right ones for me, and have never been the ones I could live with, in the end. No, I will take the bumps for choosing badly when I have, for at least I have chosen to act. I don’t know everything, but I know enough to know what I know. What I know is what I want, who I want to be, what I want to give, what I feel, what I love and hate. No one else knows that like I do; how can they know what I need?
It is a new chapter now. What I do, right now, will be what future is ahead of me. I don’t know how much there is, but I no longer feel the future is endless; not in this life anyway. I don’t like to say I have wasted time, but I have spent so much time trying to adjust, to the world, to others, to the expectations of anyone who ever meant anything to me, and I am not your average girl, so there has needed to be so much of this. Just to keep people okay with who I am to them. So much that I could forget who I am. But I never have forgotten, because I cannot. I am a girl that dreams. This is troubling for people, sometimes. Dreams are okay, but I don’t know the difference between dreams and life. I want to live them, even if in moments.
So, I am a dreamer… and somewhere when I wasn’t looking, I guess I started choosing, rather than waiting. Waiting to be ready, waiting to know how, waiting for some kind of stability, waiting for someone to tell me how…
I don’t have much. I told you; confidence and resources and know how, I don’t really own. My gut, my passion and my eye and my connection to others; my imagination, my nose and my hunger and thirst for something more; my refusal to miss any more of my dreams; these are the things that drive me and keep me alive, keep me breathing in and out when I want to quit and there is no more. Something always shows itself to me, makes me imagine, and then to believe, the something more.
Along the way, there are the moments that forever live inside me and fuel me to try again. The look that lasts a moment, and says everything that’s never said. The impossible find that showed itself when I shouldn’t have seen. The words that were only for me, the ones that were so beautiful I could never make them up if I tried. The picture that I never shot, but I hold anyway, as if I did. The understanding that none of this matters; the toiling and lack of sleep and the throwing of the dice, the messiness and the broken heart and the loneliness, because it’s the journey I’m on that brought me here, and if I miss it I will miss everything. I don’t want to miss the ride, even while I know the bull is bound to throw me, even while I know I am still scared, even while I still don’t know how, even while I know it might end up hurting like hell and I might wish I was dead. Because I want the beautiful moment more than I fear the pain. I guess it’s that simple.
I’d like to say I am so evolved, I can choose to not see the painful parts of my life as just that; painful. But I’d be lying. There are things that still hurt, that still impact me so much that sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever fully heal. I have sore spots. I have phobias. I have nightmares.
There are things I struggle with and wonder why I can’t be like other people I see that sail through the same things with little difficulty, and I get frustrated.
And then I remember. I’ve come a long ways from the scared, broken person I once was. And considering where I’ve come from, I’ve come a long, long ways. There was a time when all I wanted was to figure out how to live inside, how to keep myself safe, how to avoid getting killed. There was time where my concern was how to get the next high, and a time I was only trying not to get high. For a long time then, my concern was simply how to survive as a person that only knew those things, and had never known different. I did not unlearn the fear that comes from the street very quickly. In fact, I will probably never unlearn it. You can’t un-see what’s been seen. But you can make peace with it, and learn to use it a different way. I am still learning both. I no longer feel the shame of the past, but am still aware that I cannot share it with everyone, and I share with few. Yet, I am not a secret. You can see me, if you really care to look.
People do look at me. They study me sometimes, and I don’t really know why. Perhaps they can’t figure me out. I stand out, yet am not trying to for it’s own sake. I am still pretty, and enjoy clothing and looking nice, but I seem to have a unique look, as people tell me. Maybe people are curious about me. Or maybe they do see some shadow flitting across my soul that confuses them in light of my playful attire. And some people just like me. Whatever the reason, some scratch the surface. If you want to know me, you probably will, just so long as you don’t decide I am just one thing. I no longer try to explain myself so much, so it’s really up to you if you want to know. Everyone who’s ever known me sees something different.
For a while now, there has been a difference in the people that draw closest to me. They are brave and strong and powerful people who get shit done, make shit happen, dream big and think outside the box. I appreciate these people more than they can know. There is a strong mutual respect between us, and when they speak, I tend to listen because there is always something in it that matters. And I hear the things they say about me. I do not define myself by what others say I am, but I do hear it and I wonder at it. I will admit to being perplexed at times when the words don’t align themselves to what I thought I was, and to what may have been said about me before I knew a different kind of person. To what I felt like inside. Some of these things the different kind of person says, sound like this…
Brave Confident Strong Exuberant Extroverted A life force Fun Friendly Creator Go-getter Tough Passionate [I knew this one] Good business sense [really?] A bad ass Infectious Creative Smart…Treat people well Make people feel good Able to talk to anyone Able to talk to men [Um, they are people...] You are the heart and soul of this place You are the reason people come here People love you You created this [I did not begin it] You make things happen…
The confidence word confuses me the most. I don’t often feel confident. And the confidence they see is not contrived, not a pose I pull on like a suit. I don’t even know how to do that and I wish I did. I don’t know what they see. I think it’s my spirit they see in it’s natural state, when I am at ease, when things seem alright in my world. It’s not mental, and it’s never been a thing I can turn on. It is my greatest weakness, the lack of confidence, yet everyone seems to see this in me, right down to my walk. Maybe I don’t know what confidence is. I know I enjoy people, and I am not afraid to approach them, and will talk to anyone. Maybe that’s seen as confident.
I feel awed by these descriptions. I struggle with them. I want to say, Don’t you see that I’m scared, that I have no idea what I’m doing, that I’m not smart enough strong enough tough enough good enough quick enough to pull this off, to make a business work, to make a relationship work, to make myself anything ever; that I am whistling in the dark and hoping for one last miracle, everyday? That I don’t even know if I can keep from going crazy? Because I’ve been scared forever, have never made anything work, never had anything, never succeeded. Every time I’ve tried to do something great, create something beautiful, in the end it has been ripped away from me, or I have broken. Why would this be different? How can you say I am these things, when everything, always, I have failed at? Ending in heartbreak, a more broken life than I had, a more broken person than I was. How could I be confident anyway, when I know this?
And yet…I listen, with one ear. My heart hears, and I come back, again and again, and they find me. These others, strangers, friends, who believe something I don’t know yet, but am willing to try to believe. I borrow their confidence in me and don’t tell them they lie, as I know they never lie about anything else. And I don’t turn my back on the things I do know. That I don’t want to miss the moment, the miracle, the shot, the love, the words I’d never hear if I quit.
I know who I am. I may not know all I am capable of. Yet.
This is what I started off saying. Maybe I don’t know that first part. I want to amend here, and say certainly I do know who I am, because I know my character. Someone once told me I did have confidence, in response to my issues with that. He told me that I had confidence of character, the most important kind. I knew who and what I was. And I understood. I had to agree.
But I am still confused. My character, my ethics, my knowing right from wrong, my intents towards others…I understand these to be character. The things others see in me; these are things I don’t know, or I didn’t. My fortitude, my ability to make something of nothing, the confident attitude that I don’t even see in myself, the fact that according to one person recently, I am A Force to be Reckoned With…
Perhaps I do not know all of who I am. Yet.
Posted in In Their Words, Musings, PTSD, Shit My Friends Say | Tagged A new chapter, abuse, addiction, Bravery, Broken Spirit, Confidence, Dope, dreams, fear, heartbreak, Homelessness, Hope, Personal Journey, PTSD, Suicide | 6 Comments »
Hebrews 13:2- Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
I saw the Ragged Man again. I was getting my coffee, he was sipping his over by the curb. It seemed almost funny, him sipping on that pretty white and blue paper cup, me waiting for mine, and probably neither of us can really afford the expense. But there we are, both doing the same thing. The same cup.
It made my indulgence seem weirdly more wasteful than usual. Seeing him with that steamy cup, I thought WTF? Are we just the same? It’s entirely possible that he has more money than I. The fact that I don’t look like he does, and I am not sitting on the curb in rags is not lost on me; I have never been what I look like. Maybe he is not either.
I see him there, I really do. I see that he is a crazy, scary, street person, one to be avoided. I don’t know why I don’t see him the way he must really look. He is undeniably filthy, rank, matted. There’s something wrong. No one leaves themselves this way without something being broken, unstable, devoid of a social intelligence. Because no one can really get near them, and he knows this. Perhaps he wants to keep people away. But he does not want to be invisible. So…I watch him.
He may be potentially dangerous. Not someone I put myself in the way of. I learned this the hard way, decades ago.
I see these things. Yet I see another, a different man, than the one reclined at the curb with the unlikely white cup. I see a man, a person, inside the costume of rags. He thinks, he relaxes and drinks his coffee, like me.
I think about who he is. I really don’t know, and can’t say why I care.
A friend gave me some pieces of the puzzle this week, yet I don’t even know if they are facts, or a sort of legend; the common knowledge people relay about things they know nothing about first hand. Stories become fact, are told as such, until they might as well be.
No one seems to know his name, but for some reason my friend seems to think it’s Rick, or Richard. He says he is an old vet. A Jarhead. I imagine this to be true, for my earlier guess he has a military background.
We both guess Rick to be in his forties. Not so very old. My friend is young.
He has seen Rick whirl around and snarl at people who got too close. I don’t know if he truly saw this, or heard about it. He said Rick is scary.
Maybe Rick is scared of people, being too close.
He says Rick soils himself, inside all those rags. There is a large patch of what looks like mud on his backside. He says that’s not mud at all, but the caked on layer of using his clothing as his bathroom.
I believe Rick sleeps rough. I don’t believe there’s any way he sleeps somewhere inside, bathroom or not. He is dressed for success in living rough, and we know he smells. Any place that shelters homeless people would have taken those clothes. Perhaps he sleeps by the creek, where it’s muddy and concealed. I think it’s mud.
I don’t know.
Yesterday I read about hospitality, about being kind to strangers, how a stranger can mean someone who is different. How we may be “entertaining angels, unaware.” And while I have always known this scripture, here’s what grabbed me:
I learned that the biblical word angel translates to messenger. Angels are God’s messengers.
I am not a theologian, no bible scholar. I don’t have a bible to thump, though I do have one. I am as likely to pay attention to the red tailed hawk that landed on my car twice a few years ago, to stare at me before taking flight again. I don’t try to look for hidden meanings. I pay attention to things that get my attention, and do not discard them as random. God speaks to me in any way he wants to. Why not a hawk, or a street person?
I don’t know what the message might be.
I told my friend the story of meeting Rick. He was first silent, then thanked me for telling him. He brought up the scripture I reference here. He told me he has a new picture of Rick now, and wonders if I see Rick the way he might have been before there was anything wrong with him. I don’t know why we are talking about Rick still, and I talk about what is going on in my friends life right now, as he is effectively homeless himself. I try to encourage him, but I am also tough with him. I know his life is turned upside down, but also know he is sane, and skilled, talented. He will be ok if he doesn’t spiral into a bottle or fall in with destructive people. It happens just like that sometimes…divorce, loss, illness, misfortune, PTSD…people lose their way, reach for comfort, become prey for users, become broken, give up. The fight back from that state is more than most people can bear. I won’t stand by and watch the spiral. I will speak the words that I know not where they come from, and if he doesn’t fight for his life, I will let go. I’ve had to learn to do this, but I can never harden myself.
I saw the Ragged Man, relaxed, at the curb. I don’t understand how he looks relaxed, and confident, yet coiled for action should it come his way. I have never seen him move fast, but I know he could. I don’t know how it is that he is an outcast, but moves correctly in his skin. Not furtive, not with the jerking movements I have seen in filthy lost people, not vacant, not lost looking. I wonder again who he is and who he was.
I see his new buddy there again, nearby. He is big, dressed in cammo, and very clean looking. Buddy has a very full, immaculately packed shopping cart. He reads the newspaper in the sun. It strikes me that he reads the whole thing. He drinks coffee too.
I’m waiting for my coffee again at the drive thru. I laugh, because the fact that I buy coffee here is absurd. I need to make my own, and save the money I spend here everyday. I’m not rich, in fact I’ll tell you, I am broke. I made a promise to myself that I would stop saying those words. That I’m broke. Saying it makes me hear every day that There is not enough. There won’t be enough. I won’t have enough. I can’t take care of things.
I’ve done pretty well with stopping those words lately. I’ve been saying the opposite. There will be enough. I can do this. I am being provided with everything I need to do my job. I don’t have too be scared.
I laugh at myself. I have to watch Rick, to realize that there’s enough. That I already know I choose to buy this coffee every day, as if I can afford it, so what difference does it make if I buy Rick a cup of coffee? I must feel rich, because I buy two, in case he wants to share with his friend. The fact that he seems to already have money doesn’t escape me. I don’t really think he needs me, or my so called money. Or me buying him coffee. In my world, we buy coffee for each other sometimes. Not out of pity, or power, or great intentions. It’s how I was raised. You make or buy coffee for someone, because it’s meant to be shared, and it’s hospitable. It is almost a communion, in some cultures. I was raised in the old school. Coffee is like a church, meant to be visited, and shared, not just consumed.
I ask the barista what he drinks. A double shot mocha. Sometimes two shots of espresso.
That is all I really know about Rick now.
Myself? I am listening.
He wears so many layers of pants, I’m not even sure they’re all pants. There may be parts of a sleeping bag; there is certainly duct tape. They meld together to form a single garment, like a street life space suit. I don’t believe he changes, but adds when necessary, or maybe just whenever a new acquisition comes his way. Winter or summer, he wears his pants in an extraordinary flash of tattered rags as voluminous as a man embarking on an arctic trek. He does not lurk or scurry, but sits and stands with a relaxed yet erect posture. I find myself wondering if his is a military background.
His layers of pants impress me more as regalia, than the filthy rags they must really be. Even in repose, he moves with a grace and pride that does not speak of the untouchable status of the homeless; the shrinking and defeated moves a broken person makes once they have learned to be unwanted; the lack of eye contact and retreat seen in the unwashed and the unseen. He moves in a powerful and natural way, like a healthy and untroubled horse. His tatters swirl and shake with his movements, like a horse’s long tail follows and catches the end lash of their intent, their direction.
No, he does mean to be seen, his pants say so.
He is dirty, it’s true. Or at least his pants must be. I have been told that in warm weather, he smells. I don’t imagine he’s welcome indoors many places, for very long. His dark hair and beard are wayward and unkempt. He looks like a wild man. Maybe in another time, another place, he would be one; a mountain man. But we are in a city, and it’s 2014.
On the rare occasion I have encountered him I have learned that he is handsome, and has a brilliant and easy smile, though I doubt many people see this past the rags. His dark eyes are warm and lively, and crackle with intelligence. He seems to radiate a force that I cannot put my finger on, but that never escapes me. An energy or ability that bears noting, one I don’t feel wise ignoring. It is not a menacing or dark thing, rather a soft and knowing thing that just waits, neither approaching nor retreating. But it is…powerful.
I have never heard a single bad thing about him. I haven’t seen anything repelling. There’s just those pants, and the life he lives in public, for whatever reason.
The day I stopped, it was with intent. It was cold. It’s pretty much never been that cold here, for that many days. My pipes were frozen, and I did what I do when I am not sure yet what to do. I went for coffee. Sitting in my warm truck waiting for my breve at the drive thru, I saw him sitting on a wall at the mall, surrounded by his tatters. I don’t know what I was thinking, or if I was thinking, other than, “Damn. It’s cold.” I do remember thinking, it’s too cold to be outside, sitting. The girls at the coffee stand saw me looking and said, almost apologetically, that he’s the only guy like him that’s allowed to hang around there, that he never bothers anyone, and that he buys his coffee with real money. As if I might not believe them. They also said he’s good looking, or maybe he would be, if only.
I circled the mall, knowing my shop would open late for doing so, and wondered what I had to offer him. I had no thought of fixing him, or even really talking to him for any length of time. I somehow doubted he was hungry, and when I got close, I realized he didn’t look cold either. It was just so frigid out, and it was Christmas time, and I was tired of the shoppers spending their money in the mall, talk, talk, talking about what they were buying and for who. Even though I need and appreciate customers, the shopping season is surreal for me, and I tire of it quickly.
I pulled up behind him in the lot; he had his back to me. I called out Hello and he stood up promptly and faced me, but in that same relaxed way I’d noticed that he had. Dignified. Poised. And he greeted me. He didn’t seem surprised to see me there at all, yet we’d had but rare encounters and I’d never approached him.
I didn’t ask him if he was hungry. I asked him if he smoked cigarettes. Is that bad? Some people might think so. I don’t and didn’t care. I had the feeling it was the only thing he felt he needed. Or wanted. Maybe it at least would spare him recycling other peoples butts for a few days.
He answered, “Yes, I smoke cigarettes.” And it then went like this:
I said “Do you HAVE any cigarettes?”
“Yes, I have some cigarettes.”
“Do you NEED some cigarettes?”
“Yes, I need some cigarettes.”
And I said “Well, here, I have some for you, if you can smoke this kind” and handed over my blue pack of Pall Malls. I had the feeling he was ready to hand over his last cigarette to yours truly before that, and that he had no thought of what he might ask me for. He was very gracious, and thanked me. It was nice. No bowing and scraping, no overwrought fake gratitude, no calculating what else I might cough up for him. Just a heartfelt thank you, and a smile.
I asked him then, if he had any money. He told me that yes, he had some money. Maybe he thought I needed some.
“Do you have enough money for whatever you need for today?”
“Yes, I have enough money today.”
I figured he knew what he had and what he needed. I wasn’t trying to change his life, or him. Just make contact, on a cold as hell day.
You never know who someone is on a cold as hell day, especially a ghost in rags at the side of the road.
He blessed me when I said goodbye. Not in that way that makes my skin crawl sometimes, when it’s thrown out there with no thought, because it sounds right, but in a way that made me feel warm inside. It made me feel warm all day, and I addressed the things I faced that day with confidence and a sense of ease and wonder.
I have only seen him once since that day. He was near the coffee stand, catching the heat of the sun. He had a little coffee with him. I’d been crying, trying to screw up the courage to call someone and say “I can’t pay you yet”, again, and I was so discouraged, depressed, I hadn’t slept. The people in front of the line ordered about a hundred smoothies, sending me into my own little private coffee hell, and for the hundredth time I wondered why these people don’t just go to McDonalds instead of clogging up the damn coffee line. Don’t they know how lame that is? I’m sure I thought I was dying of caffeine withdrawal and impatience.
I did not want to interact with people. I was trapped in the agony, and the blow to my pride, of having to make that phone call when I got where I was going. And then I saw him. My head was on the steering wheel, kind of sideways, trying to not make faces about the long wait caused by smoothies. He saw me, and would have known my truck, I am sure. He seems the observant type. And somehow, there was a silent exchange. The kind you can pretend didn’t happen, and that some don’t even know happened. But I knew. He knew. He knew where I was at. He stayed as he was, the ghost in rags, and I left it that way, incapable just then of more. On my way out I couldn’t help but grin, at his intelligence, his subtlety, and I lifted my littlest finger in the small secret wave that said “I see you” and I laughed. The dreaded phone call changed shape and size and I felt a little bit down the rabbit hole, but the day got easier somehow.
Perhaps we’ll meet again.
One of my people asked me recently if I’d given “Pants” my card, “or something.” I had no idea what she was talking about, or who “Pants” was. She explained. He had visited the shop. I don’t know how he could possibly know who or where I am, and maybe he doesn’t. In fact, he had not mentioned me at all, but she imagined I had made contact. I’m not sure what that says about me.
Maybe it’s random. But people who observe, always seem to know stuff. Who’s who, where they are. Stuff most of us don’t.
You never know who someone is on a cold as hell day, especially the ones in rags. Some of them are lost. Some of them are dangerous. But I do not fear this one. I think he knows better than I do why I stopped that day. I saw him.
Some of those lost ones are sent to help. Or teach something. Some are there to protect. I have a feeling he is one of these.
Or maybe it’s not for me at all….and it’s for him that I appeared. I did notice the pants first, but I saw. Him. No one wants to disappear.