Culture Magazine

Nobody Special — A Human Interest Story

By Josmar16 @ReviewsByJosmar

Rick wasn’t anybody special. Just another homeless guy. Someone who lived on the street, begging as he went about his business.

He was soft spoken, quiet. He never got rowdy or violent. Rick was well behaved, unlike some of the other poor unfortunates we’d encounter in the neighborhood. He never bothered anyone. He was just looking for a handout or a pack of cigarettes — Pall Mall was his favorite brand. With the little money he’d get from passersby he’d buy cans of beer, maybe bum a smoke or two off somebody. He was no bother, really; never made a fuss, never complained about his life. He just shuffled along, minding his own affairs.

Rick lived under the overpass. It sounds like a joke, but that’s where we’d find him. For the last eight years my wife and I fed him, gave him water, and clothed him as best we could. He’d thank us. “God bless you,” he’d say. He was kind and polite. A perfect gentleman. He never disrespected us. He was grateful for what little he had and whatever he’d receive.

He was weather beaten. His face would turn beet red from too much sun. His beard and hair grew scraggly and dark. He couldn’t bathe every day. But he never smelled bad. Funny, isn’t it? He was good humored, and liked to laugh. He had a contagious chuckle in his tone. His teeth were bad, and we noticed he was missing one or two of them whenever he opened his mouth to talk.

He wasn’t tall. Maybe 5 foot 9, more or less. He had blond hair at one time, and the bluest pair of eyes you’d ever seen, like the afternoon sky. His grip was firm, although lately he couldn’t put much force behind his handshake. He’d often joke with us, and we fired the jokes back at him. He reminded me of Jeff Bridges, only shorter. Looked just like him too. He spoke with a drawl. We learned later he was from Charlotte, that he was married at eighteen, had two kids — a boy and a girl — and a young wife.

He left them after a few years. He said he committed some crime, spent time in jail. When he got out, he went to live on the streets. And that was that, no further explanations were necessary.

He rarely spoke about his personal life. If you’d ask him, though, he would tell you. We never asked. We respected his privacy. If he wanted to tell us something, he would. Otherwise, we never encouraged him. His life was his own. Some things should stay buried, unless he felt like talking about them.

He wasn’t anybody special. Just another homeless guy.

“I’m an alcoholic,” he’d whisper, sounding like Walter Brennan. He had that unmistakable inflection, a Western twang of sorts. He knew he drank too much. “I was a drug addict too,” he’d explain, when the mood moved him of course. But he had kicked the habit, so he told us. But drink? Nah, he couldn’t give that up. “Ain’t got nothing else to do,” he added. Yeah, we know.

Rick had friends. They’d help him find shelter, or panhandle beside him by the exit ramp. He’d hold up a sign that read: “HOMELESS, NEED HELP.” More times than not, Rick would stick out his hand. When he could walk on his own, he’d get around at a fast clip.

One night, Rick got so drunk he passed out beside the overpass. But he didn’t see where he was sleeping. When he turned over, he fell about twenty feet onto the street. He started to holler, screamed bloody murder. His friends, who were across the road in the woods, came out to see what all the noise was about. They found Rick on the ground, writhing in pain from the fall.

“My hip’s broken!” he cried. They took him to the nearest hospital. Boy, he really did a number on himself! He was a mess. The doctors had to operate right away. They put stitches in his side, set his hip, put him in a cast, and gave him some pain medication. Rick stayed in the hospital for a week.

Then they checked him out, told him he needed to go see a physical therapist. A lady, I don’t know who, took him to the sessions in her SUV. She’d pick him up at the corner and drive him to the therapist. Rick couldn’t do it himself. He was in a wheelchair now. Disabled, incapacitated. He’d broken his hip all right, even showed me the scar. He was lucky he was alive, after the fall he’d taken.

He loved that wheelchair. My wife tried to get him into a home, someplace permanent. Any place but the street. We’d bring him food, water, never money. He’d only buy booze with it, maybe injure himself again. She’d buy him his pack of Pall Malls, though, whenever she’d get a chance. He wasn’t able to buy them anymore. “The lady in the store always chases me out.” No one wanted him around. He was too much trouble. “Can’t deal with that,” they’d say. Even before he had broken his hip, Rick was persona non grata. Afterwards, forget it!

One winter, we brought him a sleeping bag. Someone at church had donated it, along with some socks, a pair of long johns, T-shirts, and underwear. Bu that sleeping bag was great! A deluxe model, fit for the outdoors. The police raided him soon after, in the dead of night. It was freezing cold, 18 degrees. They hauled him off to jail. And they confiscated the sleeping bag, left him with nothing. All the clothes and the food were gone too.

Why not? He wasn’t anybody special. Just another homeless guy.

We didn’t see Rick for a while. When we found him again, he didn’t look well at all. His friend, Steve, who had been with him through thick and thin, said his toes were turning purple. And his feet hurt. We talked to Rick for a few minutes, convinced him to go get help. We gave Steve some money so he could take his friend by cab to a shelter, or better yet the hospital.

A few days went by. Nothing, no news… Then we saw him, still in the wheelchair. “How you doing, Rick?” we asked. “I’m fine,” he answered. “They cut some a ma toes off.” “Your toes?” “Yeah, they were infected.” Not a good sign, I thought. We didn’t know if he was diabetic or not. He looked thinner. His grip wasn’t as strong as before. He was ill, going downhill. My wife, through our church, got hold of the names of some people who might be of help. Rick had refused the therapy, wouldn’t hear of staying stay in the shelter, either. After a week of therapy, he didn’t want to go through with it anymore. “It hurt,” he said. That was the first time I heard him complain.

We tried hard to get him to a shelter; a home for disabled folk. Someplace where they could keep an eye on him, take care of his needs. Give him a bath, a shave, a haircut. He looked more and more like Jeff Bridges in that movie Crazy Heart. But this was for real. No Oscars for Rick, no Academy Award for Best Performance by a Street Dweller. Rick didn’t need to act. He was a street dweller.

And he wasn’t anybody special, you see. Just another homeless guy.

The system failed him. The police, they hassled him constantly, put him in jail. He’d disappear for weeks on end. We wouldn’t see him for a month. Then, he’d turn up again on the corner, begging for money or food. He’d wave to us as we drove by. Smiling to us with that cheery grin — that Jeff Bridges face, with his hair growing longer and dirtier by the day. Oh, and his wheelchair? It was in worse shape than he was. He used it so much it started to break down. “Sure could use a new one,” he’d reply whenever we asked him about it. WE tried to get him another one, but no deal.

One day, we saw Rick walking — hobbling was more like it — but without his trusty conveyance. “What happened to your wheelchair, Rick?” “The police took it.” But he seemed to be no worse off without it. He’d make due no matter what. Now that he was on disability, he seemed calmer and cheerier than ever. Turned out someone at the hospital, or maybe it was that social worker I’d seen him talking to on occasion, had linked him up with the Social Security Administration. However it came about, Rick was getting money. He could eat and drink. He just couldn’t a permanent place to stay.

On the first of the month, he and Steve, or whoever they were with, would check into a hotel somewhere on Capital Blvd. They’d spend the weekend there, sleeping on soft beds with sheets, and with the air conditioner going full blast, keeping cool for once, instead of sweltering on hot, muggy streets. This went on for a few years.

It was in such a hotel that Steve told my wife about Rick. We hadn’t seen him in a while. We’d left his food at the usual place, but no sign of Rick. Then, my wife saw Steve on the corner, at the exit ramp where Rick would normally be. “Where’s Rick? How’s he doing?” “Oh, I’m sorry to tell you, ma’am, but Rick’s gone. He passed away.”

In shock, my wife pulled the car over and spoke briefly to Steve. Fighting back tears, she heard the story of how Rick died. It was two weeks ago. He was feeling feverish it seemed, and sweating profusely. Just a month ago Steve had told her that Rick’s foot was bothering him again. That he couldn’t get them into his shoes they were so bad. At the hotel, Steve had turned up the a/c to keep his friend cool, and went back to sleep. When Steve woke up the next day, Rick was no more.

He was downcast as he told his story. It made him sad to remember his friend, what he went through all those years ago, eight in total. He said that Rick always spoke of us with fondness and gratitude for what we had done for him. He mentioned that Rick had an older brother, who was well-to-do and had served in the army at one time. He was proud of his brother, Steve claimed.

Rick was asleep now. We learned that he is reposing at the Wake County Morgue, waiting for someone to claim his body, and a permanent resting place.

After all, he wasn’t anybody special. And he wasn’t just another homeless guy. Rick was our friend.

Copyright © 2014 by Josmar F. Lopes

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