Many years ago…what seems like a lifetime ago, I sang in a metal band. One of the last tunes we wrote was a song about homeless people. Very simple, and I called it The Nameless. I chose that title because homeless people often seem like nameless sentient beings, just floating through space. We often don’t recognize them, disregard them. We as a society get so caught up in the fast flow of life, that we don’t even bother to make eye contact with them, pass them by, and will sometimes label them as a nuisance, or a bother , rather than a person in need of help, in need of empathy. Please don’t misinterpret these words in a sense that I haven’t done these things. I have. I try not to, but I get caught up too. But, I’ve had times of sitting with homeless cats on a corner, and just rapping and shooting the shit, hearing their stories. Ultimately, I think that’s what many of us want; to have our story told. To have our voice heard, and to not be…nameless.
These thoughts all came into my head as the woman sat next to me. As I mentioned in my previous blog, Serendipity, my mind was already in a spin. Then the rain drove me to take cover at the bus stop, fearing the inclement weather would put me in a dangerous spot on my bicycle, with slick roads and impaired visibility to motorists.
The bus came by, and after exiting the bus, the woman ambled over to me and took a seat. The air around me immediately took on the scent of alcohol. She was a black woman, older , I’d put her in her 50’s perhaps. Well greyed hair, close cut and under a red baseball cap. Her clothes were dirty. She had a can in a brown paper bag that I later found to be an Icehouse.
She didn’t make eye contact. She just kind of turned her face towards me, but our gazes never met. She was clearly intoxicated. She leaned over and said, “Can I tell you something?”
“Of course” I said.
“I was in the Army.” “I saw things that no one should have to see.”
Her speech wasn’t clear at all times, but she told me how her experiences in the Army messed with her head. She recalled some instances…
“I always did my best…And we never left a man behind. We always brought them back.”
I never interrupted her. Only nodded and offered verbal agreements. She didn’t ‘t know this, but I understood perfectly everything she was saying.
As I looked at her face, listening to her story, tears began running down my cheeks. As I looked in her face, I just could see that her mind was gone. She wasn’t in the same time , or the same place that I was. That thought made my heart ache so badly.
This lady could be my mom. She could be someone’s mom. I looked down at the ground, not wanting her to see me cry. I couldn’t speak, I just listened, staring at her can of Icehouse.
When I was younger, I never could understand why homeless people would turn to vice…drugs and alcohol. I never could understand why you would make a bad situation worse.
I get it now. Not wanting to face life lucidly. Needing something to soften the edges of reality. I know that feeling all too well.
Many years ago, in what seems also, like a different lifetime, I attempted suicide. Very few people in my life know this. I’ve always guarded that secret . It’s something that I’ve always found shame in. But, I now know that it was a wake up call for me to change my life, which I did. I can relate so very well to the feeling of simply not feeling like you can face life. I tried vice too. For me, vice wasn’t even strong enough.
All of these thoughts swirled into my head as I looked into this woman’s face, and so many questions.
“Are you homeless?”
“How will you get out of the rain?”
“Do you have family? Where are they?”
But I didn’t ask. It was time for her to tell her story, as she chose to tell it.
Finally, I spoke up.
“I gotta get going ” was all I could muster, wiping the tears from my cheeks.
As I stood up, and waved goodbye meekly, she made eye contact with me for the first time.
“God Bless You Sister. Bye.
I wanted to do more. I should’ve said more.
And as I rode off, I thought about how appalling it is that we give billions of dollars to other countries, and yet I rode pass people under underpasses, awnings, and alleys trying to find a dry place to sleep. It’s not right. You’ll never be able to rationalize it to me . We could do better. We should do better. She should be enjoying her twilight years in a warm place, surrounded by love, not sitting on a cold bus stop in a rainstorm with me. It infuriates me now just thinking about it.
Also, as I rode home, I recognized how that experience served as a reminder. I was at a place today where I was beginning to feel bad for myself. At this point, I’m technically unemployed. Hustling up money to pay bills. Dealing with issues with my daughters…
…and I’ve been reminded that I’m ok. I have my mind, and my health. If I keep my head up, I’ll figure it out, and I’ll be ok. In the grand scheme of life, my problems are minuscule, and I feel ashamed for even being so self indulgent.
And so here I sit. I feel emotionally drained. I’m gonna go lie down, and I know that the sun will bring a brighter day. The woman will be on my mind. I hope she is ok.
Life is strange sometimes.