John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise XV

John Michael continues his series, reflecting on life and people encountered, with two new stories about two remarkable people who are in his life.

 

Steve (At Least I Am Alive)

Things are all right now. Steve has a decent porch where he can smoke and watch the world go by, and a dog he can scratch. He has planted some flowers and succulents and takes pride as they grow.

It was a little strange maybe that he hollered out to me across the street and asked if I wanted some water. Honestly, I did not really feel like stopping as I was headed over to McDonald’s to enjoy a Coke, do some writing and some painting. But it was a hot day and he sounded friendly, so I wandered over to his porch.

I saw many people in very rough shape on the streets, so I seldom blanch when I see someone hurting in some profound way. And not that he was hurting, but Steve was shaking from Parkinson’s and had two titanium legs after getting his blown off by an IED in Iraq.

So maybe I didn’t blanch, or maybe my heart did a little. Mostly I just wanted to hold his hand while he sat and smoked and told stories. But I am not sure if that would be to comfort him or me.

The male psyche is a strange thing, I have met a couple of guys in bad shape physically and claimed it was service related and it turned out they were never in a war. Not sure why I mentioned that other than to point out the human condition and how we lie to ourselves at times just so we can stand ourselves a little. I never got the impression Steve was lying.

It is funny in our interdependence and need for each other most of us also strive to be as independent as possible. Steve is no different, and folks were suggesting that he may not drive again.

But he was not hearing that, and he now has a car with gas and brake controls on the steering wheel and drives himself up to Spokane every couple of weeks to see his VA doctor. He also has a scooter for getting around town when a car show is going on or to other events that may interest him.

 

He said, “At least I am alive.” I thought to myself, Honestly, I am not sure I would be had I been in his condition.

 

At one point in our conversation, he said, “At least I am alive.” I thought to myself, Honestly, I am not sure I would be had I been in his condition.

I ask him if there was a time when he was not sure he wanted to live. He said right after it happened, he learned that he had also lost some close friends from his company and to see the impact that had on their wives and kids. Well, that was the time he was questioning whether it was all worth it.

He gets some VA money but it ain’t a whole lot. He buys a pound of tobacco every month or so and rolls himself up a couple of cartons. I have honestly never seen tobacco rolled that tightly, and they grow old after a time I imagine. He was very happy when I offered him some of my class A elitist American Spirits.

Guys like Steve are vulnerable to grifters and hucksters and the like because he gets a monthly check. Folks always seem to know when it is arriving; this is a major problem for elderly folks as well. He had a couple of hobos even staying with him for a while, but he had to let them go as he did not want to mess with his lease or his HUD housing.

As I left, telling him that I would stop by again, it occurred to me that I used to have run-ins with people in need of kindness all the time when I lived on the streets, and honestly, for whatever reason, they provide me with some uplift. People starving for love and connection don’t try and hide their need. They may offer a complete stranger a drink on a hot day, just to get some conversation.

 

Lisa (In Jail Again)

I have a hobo friend. Well, I call her my friend and I suppose she is. Anyway, I have known Lisa for several years now; from when she was living in her car, living out of a backpack, living with her son, and through the occasional jail visit.

Lisa is as tough as they come, wants to be in control of everything. But she is also empathetic and affectionate and way too intelligent for her own good. She would spend an hour or so sizing up security at local businesses before walking out with a steak or a bottle of wine.

Lisa is approaching her 50s but could pass for much younger and her dimply smile can melt me every now and again. She has PTSD and had what I would call an unspeakable childhood. She also has an addiction problem; or what I call a lack of love problem. Some of you ladies think you have a problem with sexual harassment, try being pretty and living on the streets with a bunch of lonely, skittish men.

The reason I question friendship is that I don’t trust and am never sure I have any true friends anyway. But also, she generally only gets ahold of me when she needs something; be it a ride, some food, cigarettes, or the like. I don’t mind being used in that way, it keeps me in people’s lives for one thing, but I also hope for deeper, more trusting relationships as well. Although, I have avoided getting too deep with anyone my entire adult life. I am aware that intimacy is an issue for me, in other words.

 

You can no longer just show up with a book at a jail. They have to be mailed in, and only from Amazon or directly from another store.

 

Lisa is in jail again and wanted me to bring her a certain book to read which I did have a copy of. Not surprisingly, you can no longer just show up with a book at a jail. They have to be mailed in, and only from Amazon or directly from another store. Never know what you may have soaked those pages in.

The only advice I give homeless people, or most people these days—although I used to be full of all sorts of opinions about how other people should live their lives—is, “Love yourself through thick and thin.” Off and on over the years, I have passed that along, or something similar, to Lisa.

At one point during our face-to-face, over-the-phone visit, I asked her if she was going to be in there for a while, expecting her to say I don’t know. But she said, “Yeah, I think so.” Which I saw as being extremely positive, because it means she is starting to face her life a little bit.

Before hanging up, I asked her who loves her. Besides saying, “The great John Michael loves me,” she also said, “I love myself,” which means she may have been listening to me a little and not just playing me for smokes and sympathy.

I felt a little of my frozen heart thaw and there was a closeness between us for a moment or two. I am not sure, but I think people call that intimacy. It is a pretty lovely feeling.

 

John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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