A little over a week ago I was walking on my own in Mt. Tabor Park in the wee hours of the night, which I occasionally do. As I approached the top of the mountain on one of the steeper uphill paths, I heard a male voice call out.
To my right was the well-lit restroom building at the top of Mt. Tabor. There was a guy standing there holding a milk crate.
I walked over to him. “Did you call me?”
The milk crate contained a hodgepodge of random objects that I couldn’t recognize.
He affirmed that yes, he had called me.
“Do you need anything?” I asked. This was a bit disingenuous of me. It was clear he needed quite a lot. “Are you okay?” I added.
“A little lonely,” he confessed.
“Oh,” I said. And I stood there.
“Are you a little lonely too?”
I performed a rapid self-inventory. “Yes,” I replied truthfully. “A little.”
He seemed to be repeatedly and dejectedly trying to turn the knob of the restroom, which was locked.
“Are you trying to get in there?” I asked.
“Do you need to take a dump?”
“Kinda,” he allowed.
“I think the bathrooms are all locked at night,” I said. “But there’s a porta potty down by the visitor’s center that might not be. Do you know where that is?”
He did not know where it was. I thought about giving him directions but it was too complicated, even if I didn’t suspect – as I did – that he might be cognitively compromised. So I offered to walk him there.
We had to head downhill and the trail was slippery. (It had been raining, and I was mindful of the fact that I would be heading back shortly to my warm house, whereas he would no doubt remain outdoors.) I told him to watch his step and he assured me he was fine; he had good boots on. For my own part I had on tennis shoes that had seen better days, and at one point I slipped a little.
“Oh!” he said. “Are you okay? Do you want to hold my arm or my hand?”
I declined the offer though I appreciated his sincere concern.
I asked him if he was “without a home at this time,” and he said yes. I asked him how he had come to be homeless.
He said matter-of-factly, “Well, I never really got a good start in life. Both my parents were drug addicts.”
I learned that his name was Michael, he was 34 years old, and he had a 12-year-old son by an ex-wife with whom he had once shared an apartment. The son was now with his former wife. He told me all this dispassionately, one small factoid at a time, in response to what I hoped were not intrusive questions.
But he preferred to talk about the movie Independence Day (which I’d never seen) because, he said, I looked and sounded just like one of the characters. He described some of the more pyrotechnic scenes from the movie – the alien spaceship encounters – and he pointed out some lights on a distant hill that looked a little like a flying saucer. (“Don’t they?” he prodded me.)
And then he mentioned – offhand, it seemed – in a much quieter voice — that it would be Christmas in a couple of days.
I don’t hear perfectly, so I had to ask him to repeat himself, which he did. But he was still mumbling, and glancing away from me, so I still couldn’t understand him. I apologized, and asked him to please say it yet again, and he did, but I still couldn’t make out his words.
“Something about ‘crickets’?” I ventured.
“Christmas!” he said more clearly, and a bit louder. “In a couple of days.”
“Oh,” I said. I hesitated. “Yeah. It’s gonna be Christmas in two days.”
Then we were silent for a few seconds.
I asked if he’d be seeing his son on Christmas and he replied in a forlorn voice that they’d probably talk on the phone, and then he went quiet again, before perking up and resuming his description of an apocalyptic scene from Independence Day.
Our entire walk to the porta potty took about 10 minutes. I was afraid it might be locked just like the restrooms were, but it was not.
I asked Michael if he wanted me to wait and watch his crate of stuff while he used the porta potty.
He said, “No, that’s okay. You’re good.”
I asked him if he was sure. I said I wouldn’t mind waiting.
He said softly, “Actually I don’t have to go that bad anymore. I just want to do some drugs right now.”
“I’m not saying you should do it with me,” he clarified, a little apologetically, as he set his crate on the ground.
“I know,” I said. “But it scares me. I think meth hurts people. I should go home now.”
“Okay,” he said. “Thank you. You have a good night.”
“I wish I had money with me. I’d give you some.”
“Aw, that’s okay, Marc.” He had learned my name too. “You’re good. Thanks again.”
And so I walked off and left him there to do meth by the porta potty on the sidewalk of the visitor center parking lot, in the middle of the chilly, wet night.
Happy new year, and thank you for reading.
May all blessings flow to you in ’22.