Sunday, November 04, 2007

getting on the bus

Many years ago I was a case worker for a diverse group of people. Often, they were the ones who'd slipped through the cracks of others. Needless to say we were a wild and varied group with myself as the pied piper of sorts, attracting lost souls referred by other lost souls. One lovely woman was severely mentally ill and deaf to boot, our communications consisted of long rambling letters on large white boards, a situation that could take hours on end. Another woman was convinced that rubbing butter all over her body was her only measure of protection so in between coaxing excess tubs of liquid gold out of her hands I'd be assisting with massive loads of laundry. Another, a man who is still dear to my heart was an honorable feeder of trees.

The other man I got to know during this time was a young guy, a Christopher McCandless before his time. A good looking man who had travelled the nation, hopping freight trains and camping, hitchhiking and squeaking by. Troy ended up in California after a bad patch, he'd been beaten up and his meager funds had been stolen. He showed up filthy, ragged and hungry. He had stayed in shelters on and off in the country and avoided them when he could in favor of finding day work and sleeping in parks. But it was winter and it was harder to do that and harder still since he'd been recently robbed. He started living in the shelter and cleaned up a bit and started getting day labor work. His goal was to save enough money to buy a bus ticket east, to head through the Rockies and end up on the other side. There was a part of the country he'd yet to see, a place he'd heard about that smelled like promise.

He was reticent to share much about his life but from the bits he offered it was clear that his family situation was a tough one, that he'd been all but orphaned. He was a dreamer and very bright, he had strong feelings about society and what being a good human means. He was also tender hearted, his loneliness was obvious even as he denied it was there. We fell into a routine of sorts, he'd wait for the rest of the folks to clear out and we'd spend an hour or so a day checking in on his status, his savings, his goals. I tried connecting him with more local resources but he was pretty clear leaving was his only option.

Winter wore on and my caseload grew larger, at one point there were 15 or so folks no one knew quite how to help, least of all me. But my interest in creative solutions coupled with a strategically placed office (in the middle of the sleeping area) managed to get a lot of game and kept the wheels turning, some times more successfully than others.

Troy started making plans. He had enough money saved now to hit the road again. We'd talk at length about the life he was choosing, one with less options and one with more. I admired his courage and acknowledged his sadness and waited to see how he'd go. One day he came in my office and sat down and told me he was leaving. And as he talked he reached into his back pack and pulled out an envelope and slid it across the desk and nodded his head. I opened it and pulled out not one but two bus tickets, the long haul greyhound type. He looked at me and said I got one for you too. So you can come with me. I was completely taken aback, nothing in our discussions had suggested I'd be interested nor had he ever made an untoward advance. And yet somehow in all those hours of talking and listening he'd crafted this plan without my knowledge, a plan where he'd spend his hard earned money on something impossible.

I looked at him carefully, knowing the risk this must have been and the pain my answer would cause. But I told him definitively that I could not go, that I did not want to go, that I had work to do here. And more so, how we could get his precious money back. He sat stoically as I talked, a glimmer of sadness behind his carefully disguised eyes. He seemed almost surprised that I was not taking him up on his offer and I realized then it may have been a question of a differing reality in more ways than one. We talked for a little while longer and he took out a small plastic robot and sat it on my desk. Then he picked up his back pack and walked out of my office, out of the shelter, and I never saw him again.

I remember being taken aback by that for a long time, how he'd perceived a reality so different from what reality was, and how living that way must open you up to so many more possibilities as well as so much more disappointments. And even now I wonder if he's still on the road or if he's eventually found a place to call home.

38 comments:

meno said...

Oh. How sad that he actually bought you a ticket, without even discussing it with you.
Wonder what he had imagined life would be like for the two of you.

thailandchani said...

What an interesting array of people! Some people... well, that guy... was probably so unaccustomed to having anyone behave toward him as though he was a real human being that he misconstrued it. Unfortunate that his goof experiences with other people were so few that he would make that assumption.

Family Adventure said...

Oh, my heart breaks for him. His loneliness, the sadness and disappointment that your refusal must have caused him. And I hope, hope he found someone.

Heidi

kristen said...

Reading this post, it struck me that it doesn't matter what situation we're in, that when we're lonely and craving love, how easy it is to misconstrue another person's intentions. And I agree with Chani, that kindness was not something T experienced, if ever, so it was easy for him to misunderstand your desires.
I hope that T has found his love.

Her Grace said...

It makes me wonder if no one had ever shown him kindness before, and so when he experienced yours, he mistook it for something more.

I hope he's found home, too.

QT said...

I have to agree with Chani and Kristen.His desire to be on the road must have had something to do with the fact that he was treated so poorly everywhere, except when it came to you.

I hope he is happy somewhere, too.

thordora said...

When I was a teenager, I did a fair bit of hitchhiking. What I remember loving the most was the sense of being on the other side, the side no one walked on, another reality. You were able to truly see who wanted to help, and who just wanted to hurt, and you were able to love through life a little less weighed down.

I miss those days. He may have been hurt, but he may also have treasured the freedom his life had. He wanted to share that with you-what a gift.

Tabba said...

oh, wow.
jen, i am speechless.

i hope his heart has found a home as well. i know you showed him more true friendship and concern than he probably has been accustomed to.

these stories and experiences.
just wow.

mitzh said...

So many people aches for human companionship, for friendship and most of all love...

I hope he'll find that someone and I hope he also found his place.

Julie Pippert said...

That breaks my heart.

He knew you were the sort of person he could trust with his heart, but you were not the right person to do so. I hope he found that person.

Julie
Using My Words

Julie Pippert said...

P.S. I am hopeful for him, because he has the right ingredients, I think, and he was looking in the right direction.

Julie
Using My Words

Bon said...

i found this beautiful, Jen, if sad for both of you.

little moments of extension - even when they are also the moments of clarity in which we see that what we think we share isn't shared at all - are still the loveliest things in life, i think.

i hope he found his way.

mamatulip said...

Wow.

This was such a powerful post.

cce said...

Do you still have the robot? It's like his Best of My Life letter to you.

painted maypole said...

Jen, I just love you more and more each day.

I bet that robot is still on your desk.

Joker The Lurcher said...

people. they are just so varied and so interesting. you do such a brilliant job, jen.

Christine said...

oh.

i hope he found what he was looking for.

Oh, The Joys said...

...why the gift of the robot, do you think?

Jennifer said...

Oh, wow.

Wow.

Momish said...

Ouch. I know that probably stung you as hard as it did him. I hope he could sense that and it helped.

And, I hope he is OK and riding buses with a companion these days.

Your work is hard jen, on every level and for that I salute you.

Jenn said...

Oh, my heart.

And yours...I don't know how you do it, Jen.

You're completely amazing.

Aliki2006 said...

He does sounds like a lost, restless soul--I hope he found his way.

Karen Forest said...

Wow.....

to have seen what your eyes have seen...

to have heard what your ears have heard..

flutter said...

Oof. My heart.

Arwen said...

About 20 years ago my best friend was a man. He was brilliant and handsome and athletic and was constantly being chased by other people at our college. He was a brother to me, I never saw him as more, I am not sure why but our relationship was much deeper than any relationship I was interested in having at that point in my life romantically. When he finally came forward with his true feelings toward me (which was much more than familial) I was taken aback as well. I was also crushed because my reality and his reality were so different and I, being fairly unconfident at that point in my life, decided that it was my reality that was wrong. I pretty much had the lowest part of my life after that. We didn't speak for 5 years because of it, now we are both married and are successful and friends again but there is a chasm between the two of us that will probably never dissipate.
Funny how those situations effect us.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

hey jen ~ just wanted to wave and say hi. My comment isn't relavant to the post because I'm still catching up on all of your posts. But I wanted to say hi!

Denguy said...

Yeah, that happens to me all the time. I befriend a woman and the next thing you know they're buying me presents. Sorry ladies, I know there's only one Denguy, but he's married.

Seriously though, that may have turned into a dangerous situation. Take care of yourself down there, Jen.

Lawyer Mama said...

I wonder why he left the robot? I mean why a robot?

Poor guy. As a misfit in the world, he probably wasn't use to simple human kindness. That can be very powerful.

crazymumma said...

...and the robot? I wonder. Do you still have it?

Mrs. Chicken said...

I'm not surprised that he wanted to be with you. I imagine you seemed like a home to him.

jen said...

hi all,
i don't know why it was a robot. and i kept it for about seven years and in fact, just recently tossed it during an office move. but before i did i paused and held onto it, surprised at letting it go.

Amy Y said...

Wow... He must have seen something special in you that thought it was worth taking the risk? Thank you for sharing that story...

Binky said...

I bet a majority of your readers want to run away with you, too :) You have that effect.

The Expatriate Chef said...

Beautiful. And what a difficult moment for you.

The butter thing? At the rest home I worked at, one woman would spontaneously undress if she was not kept busy all of the time. Another one we had was a deaf mute who had mental retardation. So sweet, he was a gentle soul.

Oh, the memories you bring up as you share yours! Thanks.

Ally said...

Wow, what a shock. This issue of differently perceived realities is such an interesting one, and one that spans across all lifestyles and socio-economic statuses.

b*babbler said...

How very sad - and how difficult for you to have to break that reality to him.

ms chica said...

That story leaves me feeling hollow. Deep down people need people, whether they want to need them or not.

Susanne said...

What a story. How sad and sweet at the same time.