Short Stories: The Strawberry Shortcake: A Story about Homelessness
I gave him a strawberry shortcake from Lucky's and he acted like I'd given him a four-star dinner. I'd often seen his type on the corners, looking pathetic, signs reading "Homeless, can you help?". Different faces but all looking the same - dirty, stringy, ragged with worn-out clothes.
But this man looked different. His eyes resembled my fathers eyes. The same color blue, the same wrinkles at the corners. Everything else looked like those street people though - unclean, long nails, the far-away look, here but not here.
I realized that by inviting this man into my life that I'd given him much more than a strawberry shortcake. I'd given him a little piece of his dignity back. Have you ever stopped to look at those street people? I mean, really look? Or do your hands recoil at the the thought of touching them? Or do your eyes look far-away from them, afraid to face their reality? Do you feel embarrassed by them?
This mans reality now stared me straight in the face. I wondered how many people even thought to themselves that these people had a mom, a brother, a sister or a child?
I knew that I had to do something different this time. 20 years of hospitals, 30 years of mental illness, a mind going in and out of the real and the unreal.
Everyone deserves dignity. No one can ever know what forces bring a person to the lowest type of despair - living on the streets. Do we blame ourselves, do we blame the system, or do we blame the homeless? Homelessness is troubling for all of us. Who knows what chance of fate could throw anyone of us into that place?
I want to give that man with the shortcake his dignity back. I want to see him stand tall and face the world again, broken once but whole again. I want to give that man with eyes like our fathers a better life. One filled with hope and excitement for the future.
After all, he is my brother.
@Copyright Dorsi Diaz 2011
My brother and I in July 1959
More about the author
This is a true story. I wrote this in 2001, the last time I saw my brother in the hospital. He disappeared when I went on a business trip and I have not seen him since. He is now 63, 10 years older than me and my only surviving sibling. My brother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in his 20's and has been in and out of mental hospitals for the last 35 years. He was in the Navy twice and served during the Vietnam war. Our family struggled many years to help my brother and to this day still love and care about him. Mental illness can tear a family apart, and cause the sufferer to end upon the streets, desolate and alone. No one ever wanted this for my brother. We all tried very hard to help him but like Hillary Rodham Clinton says, "It takes a village to raise a child". The system has not been kind to our veterans nor has it been kind to those with mental illnesses. Families need to work together, not apart, to help someone navigate the system to get the help they need. I miss my brother and have heard that he is still alive as of last year. He sent our parents a postcard with a short note saying he was OK. I wrote him back but he did not reply to my letter. He had probably moved on - again. I hope to hear from him one day, to have him show up at our doorstep. He will always be a part of my heart, and as long as he is out there, I will always worry about him.
(Dorsi Diaz, the author, is a freelance writer, photographer and artist. Dorsi writes on a broad series of subjects and most of her work is non-fiction)