I am up early on this day that is to be another scorcher. They say it will not quite reach ninety today, which is good. A heat index of one hundred is not my friend. I don’t tolerate the biological steam, outside and in. I grow weak and faint sometimes. I get angry. My temper gets short. Things irritate me. It happens.
Breakfast would be nice. It may be the most important meal of the day, but for me it’s the hardest to come by. The kitchens and churches are not open yet. Lunch, ah, yes, lunch will be no problem if my feet don’t fail me. If I can make it down the hill-wheeeeeee-pushing the cart that contains everything tangible, touchable in my life, I’ll get lunch. A hot lunch on a hotter day in a numbingly cold room. Why do churches think common areas have to be so freaking cold? Am I complaining? No, not really. It’s a mini-respite from the baking air. Sit in the corner, back to the wall, always know my exit. Keeping my ear to the ground, scouting out dinner. Always looking for the next meal. It’s part of the job.
I see the same cars come down this hill every day. Same cars. Some shiny and new. Some old and battered. Some middle-aged, slow and barely functional, like me. I wonder if they see me, those cars and their people. I stand right here, like I do every morning, one hand on the cart to balance me, stretching, stretching up to the lightening sky, stretching out the kinks that come from a night on the ground. The other hand clutching the tattered cardboard sign, my calling card, my resumé as I apply for one more day of life on the street. It’s getting warmer already. Calisthenics make me hungry.
My appointment book is full today. Social services, paperwork to fill out, deadlines to meet. Church, via the back door of course, never the front door, oh, no, never the front door. Discretionary funds can be lifesaving. I wonder if they are ever afraid of me, these pious friends and benefactors of mine. I read the papers. You’re surprised at that, aren’t you? I know about shootings at mosques and churches. I carry an old backpack everywhere I go. Do they look at me and wonder? Do they see Jesus in me, or do they see Dylann Roof? Do they cringe when I open it? Do they expect a gun? A bomb? A half rotten banana peel all mottled brown and musty smelling?
Soup at the kitchen for lunch, but I’ve already told you about that. Sorry. I like the soup and the company. The cooks see me and talk to me. My downtown stroll in the afternoon. The air is cooler by the river some days. The river is always peaceful. The shade under the old bridges is nice too. The stench not quite so. But the shade. In the heat of the day, the shade is cool gray friendship in a bright world of hurt. Mental health before closing time at five if I can get a ride there. Two strikes and I’m out. Can’t afford to miss this appointment. No show, no meds. They have their rules, I know. I like my counselor. My doc is all right. The one who knows the most about me at the mental health center? I’ll let you figure that one out.
I’ll have a dinner date on the square tonight. She’s usually there, and she shares. Oh, mind you, it’s just platonic. What? Are you surprised that I know that word? Via Latin from the Greek, I think. I’m not so different from you, in that way. My mind works just fine most days, if I take my meds. It’s just my community that fails me sometimes. You know.
It will be a very busy day. You’re surprised again, aren’t you?
Ah, my friend, don’t lose a minute’s sleep over it.
I’m not homeless, really.
Like my blue mental health center sticker says, I’m just a Visitor here. A wanderer. A wayfarer.
We’re not so different, you and I.