The day had started normally enough. People went on with their stuff and didn't pay me any attention whatsoever. And I'm fine with that; in fact, I'm better fine. But sometimes it hurts. Sometimes I have to see things I don't want to see. Like that day. I watched as a young man was pulled into my alleyway by two other, bigger men. The young man must have been about eighteen or nineteen; looked like a college student. They pulled him into my alley and it was the bigger of the two, a bald black man, who slugged his fist into the student's gut. And then they took turns. They took turns beating their prey, one punch after the other. Blood spilled from his mouth and then his nose. I watched as his face tore. They slammed everything into him before the student fell to the ground, clutching himself in pain. The thieves took the kid's wallet, opened it, took the five dollar bill inside, and ran for it.
And that was that.
I didn't do a thing; I just watched. That's what I do. And what would I have done anyway? There was nothing I could have done. I'm just a frail, thin, old man. I have nothing and I could do nothing. Look down into your lap. I'll bet something's covering your legs that's less than a year old. Same thing with your shirt; it's probably good as new. I can't afford that. I've been wearing the same thing for more than twenty years now: the same coat, the same scarf, the same shirt, the same pants.... all of it the same; all of it dirty and scarred.
Or look where you are right now. Look above your head. There's a roof, isn't there? Or look around and there are walls. I don't even have that; I can't afford it. I live in a couple of boxes I duct-taped together. It isn't warm and it isn't comfortable.
And you're in one of two places, I'm betting. You're either full because it wasn't long ago that you've eaten or you're thinking about what you're going to eat next. I can't do that. I can only pray to God that I'll have food. Most days I get something or another, but some days I go without eating.
Get up. That's right, stand up right now. Go take a piss and then wash your hands. Go on, do it. Flush your toilet and hide the smell. You can do that; I can't. I pee on the wall and take my craps in a dumpster. That's just how my life rolls.
Now put yourself in my shoes. You have nothing, so what can you do but sit there and watch? You're probably thinking that since I had nothing to lose; I should have acted. But that's just it: I had everything to lose. All I had was my life. I didn't even have my dignity at that point. Just admit it, there are things you wouldn't risk no matter what. Well, my life is all I've got. So that's my thing. If you were in my spot, you'd understand. I don't think you can now, but just pretend you do.
I wasn't always a bum an an alleyway. In fact, I used to be somebody. I used to sit behind a desk and crunch numbers for a big shot company in Boston. They had me on the career track for maybe one day calling all the shots too. I could have been CEO one day. I could have made the big bucks and provided everything in the world for my family. Yeah, I was a family man too. I had a wife and a daughter. I loved them both so much.
Everything was going great. Everything kept slowly getting bigger and better too. I was getting promotions, buying bigger houses, getting nicer houses.... the works. But life is like a rubber band. If you keep pulling on it, you keep stretching it, then it will eventually snap. Needless to say, my life snapped.
I was an ambitious guy. I worked very hard at my job and I would have done anything to get ahead. So, you know what I did? I curbed my numbers. I would do a little rounding up, you know, to make myself look better. But I would also curb down everyone else's numbers. I looked great and everyone else looked bad. Saddest part is, I didn't even need to bump my numbers; I was doing great. But I did it anyway. Someone on the lower rungs noticed and they started an investigation. Believe it or not, I was looking at jail time.
But my boss was a good man. When he found out about the whole thing, he told me that if I turned in the slip, I could go. I did, of course.
How do you tell your family that just screwed everything up? You can't. I couldn't.
I didn't have to.
My wife was humping our neighbor. I came home a few hours early that day and I found her in my bed. I opened the door and saw it all. She jumped out of the bed and ran at me, trying to explain it or something. I didn't listen and I didn't care. I stormed down the stairs, wife chasing me the whole the way. She was screaming. But I didn't care at all. I jumped into the Buick. She was still trying her best to get me to stop. I didn't say a word.
I pulled out and watched as she cried.
Suddenly, my daughter, Jeannie came out the front door. She was nine when this all happened. I saw the shocked, confused look on her little face. How could I look into her eyes as I left her completely? How could I look at her and at the same time, abandon her to my whore wife? I don't know, but I did it. I never saw my family again after that.
Twenty years later, I'm living in a box in New York City. I sold the Buick and hoped to get my life working somehow, but it just... didn't happen. Everything slid down the slippery slope of hell.
And as I said, that day had started normally enough. I watched that kid get mugged about eight in the morning and fifteen minutes later, the skies burst with rain. It really came down and there was no warning for it. I don't care about being wet, and I didn't then, but my house can't take much. I worked hard to try and save it. Usually, I would pick it up and move it someplace where it won't get wet. I picked up my boxes and tried to move it over behind the dumpster, but I slipped. The boxes flew through the and fell into a puddle. The duct tape lost its stick and my house tore in half.
I sat there on the soaking ground just staring at it. It was just a pair of boxes, but they meant something to me. And just like that, they were gone. I worried because I no longer had a place to live. But it didn't faze me that much. I mean, I've had nothing for too long to let that hit me. And I knew that I'd have to worry about that later when it wasn't raining. So I came out of my alleyway and stood underneath the awning in front of Mr. O'Leary's, an Irish pub. It wasn't much more than dry.
But suddenly, a fat red-head came out the front and stammered, “Hey, you stupid piece of a lunt! You think I want ya standin' there turnin' away my business? Get! Go on, get out of here! No one wants ye!”
I didn't even bother arguing, I just started walking. I didn't go back to my alleyway, I just walked down the street. I passed a whole mess of a people. Most of them had umbrellas and the ones who didn't were trying their best to make it out of the falling rain. Not me though... No umbrella, no care. I just walked. Maybe if I got wet enough, I wouldn't smell as bad. There's always a bright side, isn't there?
I didn't see it. I just saw that I had a broken house and I was soaking wet with nothing I could do about it. The rain, to me, is a terrible thing. It completely ruined my day, more so than watching a guy get mugged even.
But there are some who would tell you how much they love the rain. I saw one such person on the side of the road. It was a kid, probably about five years old. He was dressed in a raincoat and rain boots; perfectly ready to take on the watery world. The kid was by himself; by himself with a puddle. He jumped from the curb and into the water over and over again. I stopped in the swarming drizzle and just watched him having fun. Sometimes he seemed to be trying to jump over the puddle, sometimes he just seemed to want to get wet. It didn't matter though; he was having the time of his life.
I envied him so much. The rain, as I saw it, is a terrible thing. But to this kid? It's bliss; total bliss. Seeing his boot-wrapped feet hit the water and slosh the world around him captivated me somehow. It was almost enough to make not say what I did, but there was something about this kid that made responsibility step in. I said to him, “Hey! Kid! You shouldn't jump in puddles like that!”
He completely ignored me.
“Kid!” I shouted louder.
He stopped, came onto the sidewalk and looked up at me without saying a thing.
“You shouldn't jump around in puddles like that, you're getting yourself all wet. What would your mother say?”
“My momma's gone.”
“I'm lost, mister.”
“Yeah, my momma's just gone. So I'm lost.”
“You don't know where she is?”
“Nope,” he turned away from me and went right back to the puddle.
“Don't you want to find her?”
His answer surprised me, but I quickly realized that he just wanted to be in his puddle. I was actually just about to give up, but decided to press on anyway, “I think you should come with me; I'll help you find her.”
“No,” he jumped right into the water. “I want to be here.”
“Hey, kid, come on, fun time's over,” I held his arm. I wasn't going to force him or hurt him or anything. I just wanted to help. “Let's go find your mother.”
“I said I don't want to go,” the kid jerked himself away, but I held on. “Hey! Let me go!”
“Kid, you need to-”
“Hey!” A third voice called. “Get off him!”
I turned around and saw a police officer running my way. I answered without letting go, “I'm trying to-”
“I said let the kid go, you filthy hobo.”
“Officer, hey, look, I-”
The policeman grabbed me and threw me to the ground, “You do what a police officer tells you! Now, get out of here!”
“Jeez, officer, will you please just listen to me?”
And then a woman came running over. There was something about her... “Officer! Officer! That's my son!”
“This your son, ma'am?”
“Yes! Kyle! What are you doing?”
“It's a good thing you got here when you did, this hobo was about to take him off to-”
“I was not!” I snarled as I came back up to my feet.
The policeman drew his nightstick, “Sir, you stay back!”
“Dammit, why won't you listen to me!”
The policeman raised his stick and was about to smack me, but the woman cut in, “Officer, wait! Let's hear what he has to say!”
“Thank you,” I said. And then it hit me. The woman... the kid's mom... she reminded me of my wife. I mean, she was too young to be her, but I could see it. “I saw the kid out here in the rain and I wanted to help him find you. I didn't mean any harm-”
“I don't believe it,” the policeman rolled his eyes.
“Thank you,” the mother said. I wasn't sure if she was talking to me or the policeman.
“I'm just gonna go,” I said as I turned to leave. I know I'm not wanted. I don't think I ever was.
“Good, go on-”
“Wait, sir!” the man rushed up behind me and grabbed my shoulder. She startled me.
“Yeah?” I shook. I wanted out of that rain. I was soaked and started to get real cold. But... I looked into her eyes. There was something there that I hadn't seen in years. I couldn't place it though.
“What's- what's your name, sir?” the woman asked sincerely. I wasn't sure what she wanted then. Maybe she wanted to return the favor. Maybe she thought she could help me. I didn't know.
“Walter,” I replied. “Walter Jackson.”
“Walter Jackson,” she whispered to herself and mulled it over in her mind. And then it was if a little lightbulb lit up above her head, “Dad?”
“Jeannie?” My eyes shot open wide. Dear God, it was her. That's what I saw... my God. “Jeannie!”
“Dad,” she said as she wrapped her arms around me; the filth. I didn't want to embrace her. Not for my own sake, but hers. I didn't want to get her all dirty and grimy. I was horrible... but I did it anyway. I held my daughter again. How many years had it been? I don't know. But she was all grown up. She had a kid... I had a grandson.
“Jeannie I- I'm so sorry,” I started to cry.
“Dad,” Jeannie let go of me. “You don't have to be. It's been too long to stay mad... I barely even remember you.”
“There's not anything worth remembering. I was worse than a bad father. I was a nonexistent one.”
“Is everything okay here?” The policeman asked.
“Yes, it is, officer,” Jeannie told him.
“I'll be over on the corner if you need something,” he said as he left.
“Dad, have you been living on the street the whole time?”
“Yeah, yeah, I have....”
“Oh, daddy, there's so much I need to tell you... some much- Dad... mom... she's gone.”
She was already dead to me, but I said, “That's too bad.”
“Hey, this is a pretty terrible place to catch up,” she said as the rain started to subside. “Why don't you come back with me to my house and we'll get you cleaned up?”
“I haven't been clean since... well, I don't know.”
“Oh! Wait!” She suddenly beamed. “This is Clark! He's your grandson!”
He looked up at me and put his finger in his mouth. I could tell he was too shy to say anything. Maybe he had no idea what was happening. “He's a cute kid. Got an attitude like you used to have.”
She chuckled, “Well, let's get you home. My car's down the block.”
I very briefly considered turning her down. I very briefly considered refusing and heading right back to my alley. It was all I knew. Leaving that was scary to me. It was just like my first few nights on the street: horrifying. But... I knew that wasn't the right call, “Okay. Let's go.”
And that's how my life turned around. That was the most unusual day of my life. It was also the very best one. It was rocky getting started at a new life. I was never able to hold down a job. Keeping myself clean was something I had a hard time adapting to. Just being in a better place meant bigger responsibility and I was used to none. But.... I would have it no other way. Is life perfect now? No. Can life be better? Sure. Do I want it any other way? Nope.