For Ms. Idella

So 2 days ago, a dear friend of mine said “You know, you haven’t blogged in forever.  I checked.” It struck me as a super sweet sentiment that she cares.  I promised her I would blog last night.

Promise broken.

I’m blogging now, before I head to bed.

So, I started this blog 2 months ago.  It originally was titled “Heartbreak and Lullabies”.   Continue reading

The Nameless

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.
“Bye”
“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.

Be thankful/Be humble

I’m a firm believer that a central purpose if life is to make connections with others. Scratch that…to make POSITIVE connections with others. We make many of them, but so many of them are negative.
However, stop and think for a minute…and answer this question honestly:
“Do you connect with those people who have nothing to offer you?”
In that question, I mean, we so readily connect with people who have something we want; connections, money, sexual appeal….but what about those people who don’t readily have something material to offer us?
Here in Chicago, we have a lot of homeless people. I don’t know exact numbers, but a lot. Now, I’m not rolling in dough, but when I can, I try to give some change, or a dollar here and there. Over the years, as you take time, actually take time to stop and talk with some of these people, you can hear some amazing stories. Often depressing, often shocking, but very telling of that other side of society that many of us don’t see. How people fall through the cracks.
I’ll never forgot one night I started chatting with a homeless guy down in the Loop on Wabash, about 1 in the morning. He asked me what I do, and I mentioned that I had just gotten back from my deployment and was trying to figure out where I fit in.
He went into his pocket, and pulled out a military ID. Told me how after getting back from Iraq, his life basically fell apart from PTSD…and so on.
But recently, I had two interactions that reminded me of some things.
The first was on a bus stop. I was heading downtown, and waiting for the bus, sitting on a bench. An older gentleman, with a suitcase, obviously homeless, came over and sat next to me. He then pulled out a bottle of Maddog 20/20, and after taking a swig, offered me some. I declined, and then he asked me about the magazine I had at my side.
It was a Graciemag, a Jiu jitsu magazine. Something on the cover caught his eye, and I handed it to him. He flipped through the pages, and seemed genuinely interested in what he saw.
He then looked over to me and said, “You know who was a bad man?”
“Who?” I said, genuinely interested in what was to come.
“Bruce Lee! Did you know that when they filmed the Green Hornet, they had to slow down the film because he was too fast!”
I laughed. “Yeah, he was amazing for sure.”
“There’ll never be another one like him.”

A few nights ago, a woman asked me out for drinks. I said sure. I got ready to head out, but hadn’t had dinner, so I decided to stop and get something on the way. I happened to come across Arturo’s a 24 hour Mexican drunk hut. I parked, and was heading in, when a man stopped me.
“I hate to bother you man, but do you have a few dollars, so I can get some good. I’m out of work currently.”
I don’t carry cash usually, so I said, “I don’t have any cash, but I’m gonna get some food. Come on in with me.”
“Really?” He asked.
“Yeah, c’mon.”
So I ordered some food for me, and he ordered what he wanted, and as we waited, we sat and talked.
He said his name was Casper. He’d been working as a painter and carpenter when his car was stolen, with his wallet and phone in it.
“I was paid in cash, so it really hurt, because I lost my rent money, and then I was replaced at work.”
He mentioned he’d been in the U.S. since 1987, born in Mexico.
” I learned English in Mexico, and then learned more here. I also have learned some polish, and I like learning that.”
“Polish?” I asked.
“Yeah, some of the guys I worked with were Polish, so they would teach me the language while we worked,” and he then exhibited some of his skills for me.
He then said something very interesting.
“Back in ’87 and the ’90’s, if you needed a job, you’d apply to a few, and boom, you could get one fast. It’s not like that anymore. You can, apply, and apply, and apply, and hear nothing.”
Wow…that says a lot right?
While at the time it didn’t ‘t occur to me, but I was having a shared moment with these gentlemen, exchanging thoughts and ideas…and I wonder how many people would never do that, simply because at first glance, they had nothing to offer, and even needed of us.
These moments reminded me to be thankful. I worry about so many things, but in reality, I have a roof over my head, food to put in my mouth, and people who care enough about me who would offer me either if I didn’t have them.
What have I to complain about?
And they reminded me to be humble, because in an instant, my situation could change, and I could be that person that people so readily will look past when I’m asking for a few bucks. Deep issues…deep thought…

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