Homeless Portrait

My father used to teach me about lines. Very thin lines. The line that separates the normal from the abnormal.

You see. We all have the potential to live on either side.

At a young age I used to go with my father to see a man by the name of John. I never knew of his last name, and never thought of it since he was always referred to as John. He would often be found walking the streets with a large black garbage bag slung over his shoulder. Shoes with no soul, pants clinging to the hip bones that held them up, and a shirt somewhere, but not often worn. Slicked, black hair, almost slimy. Stubble of beard hair along patches of air that was missed at the last shave. Dirty! Smelled like shit.

Approaching John you always knew it was him by the way he walked. His eyes had fallen long ago, and his face peered at the ground as if he didn’t need to see the path he had walked everyday for the past 10 years. Shoulders low, arms swaying to the motion of the opposite leg. Back hunched over like Notre Dame to cover his face, or shame, from the rest of the world. 

When we finally found him my father would yell “John?” “Hey John…come here John,” “It’s me Jerry”. It would take a few yells, if not more, for John to slowly turning his head toward out location without raising to meet our eyes. My father would get out of the car and I would watch my father and “John” talk with each other. The longer I watched the more normal it became. It was almost as if they were two young men talking about their approaching weekend, but I knew better than that. 

My father would always walk back to the car in the same way, with his head hanging low much the same way Johns did when he walked. He would open the door, slide into the front seat of the puke-orange Honda Accord, pull the seat-belt slowly over his shoulder, and sit. He would sit, and watch John stagger away. Silence.

“Don’t ever forget Devin, that we are never very far from the thin line that separates us from John. It could happen to anyone, and we all could find ourselves in the same place.” 

Many years later I learn that John went to college with my father, and had lost his family in a car accident, but the burden of tragedy proved too heavy for him to carry an longer. So he left the world, the society he had made home for the majority of his life, to sip off a bottle that would give him the temporary relief from the thoughts that were slowly killing him.


Think about John the next time you automatically judge someone walking down the street carrying a sack over their shoulder…for you may have to stay out of the rain one day.


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