I do not like my cell phone. It is the enemy. The only reason I have it is because a few years ago, before my life was ruined by constant communication, my husband was overdue fishing on a lake and I was worried inside out. He is the only person who calls me and most often he is the only person I call. He is supposed to call me a) if there is an emergency after he calls 911 or b) to tell me he loves me. Usually, he calls about work. I try to leave the damn phone in the closet where it belongs while I’m here in the Hinterland. I take it with me when I’m not here. I call my husband to report on news as it breaks. He is not supposed to call me about anything work related.
I was not here for one night last weekend. The morning I was to return I was walking up a cold city street, 47ºF, at 7A, talking on the dreaded cell to my husband when a shivering man approached me, to ask for directions to the library. He was so cold his teeth were chattering. I kept talking to my husband and motioned to the man to follow me. My husband ever on the alert to the potential for unauthorized adventures and uninhibited conversations with strangers inquired as to whom I was conversing with, “A little old lady who can’t find the library” says I, “gotta go, I’ll call you later, love you lots, bye.” Yes, I LIED. It was for his own good. We all know how he is, he worries about nothing.
My companion kept pace as I hustled along with the intent to generate heat by improving circulation. I asked, “You’re homeless aren’t you?” “Yes.” “Do you have a job?” “No.” “Well, of course not. You’re homeless. Come with me, we’re going to get some breakfast.” I took him to a little place I enjoy with good aromas and good food. I insisted that he get chocolate milk, juice, and coffee in addition to his breakfast. Chocolate milk has just the right amount of protein and sugars to replenish some of what has been lost in a night of heavy drinking.
Yes, my companion had spent the night drinking. His face was puffy and red from elevated blood pressure and fluid retention. He went to sleep in a parking garage only to be roused by the security guard. He moved next door to an office building, to sleep, where the same security guard made him leave saying, “You have to go, Pal. If I find you again, I’ll have to call the cops.” Carl is 30. He is an alcoholic. He is a stranger to the city.
Carl has a sister in the suburbs. She has a life and a family. She gave Carl a ride to the shelter. He was “deterred from staying there” when he saw a woman “poop on the sidewalk out front”. Carl and I exchanged a lot of personal information in the short time we spent together. I told him about Brian and Joe. I proposed to him that his sister has good boundaries, that she loves him and herself enough to have expectations for his behavior. He agreed, telling me his sister is very supportive of his efforts when he is not drinking. We talked about our birthdays and how they don’t mean as much to us now that our mothers have died.
I left Carl outside the breakfast place, smoking an after breakfast cigarette, while I went across the street to get him a Dunkin Donuts gift certificate. I tucked the receipt in with the gift card as I handed it to him and told him not to lose it so he’d be able to eat the following morning. I showed him the Time & Temperature building and explained that wherever he went in town, as long as he could see it, he’d be able to make his way back to the library just down the street. I asked him if I could give him a hug, he allowed it. He asked me if he could hug me again and I hugged him hard. His fingernails were dirty, his teeth were rotting, he smelled like old booze and stale sweat. He observed, “For an older lady, you walk pretty fast.” I responded, “I knew you were cold and I hoped you’d warm up. Sweetie, you can always change your life into something you want it to be. I hope I see you again and I hope when I do you’ve found a life that makes you happy.”
As I walked off I called my husband to let him know I’d had an unauthorized adventure and I’d survived the encounter.