Homeless..And He Had A Story
Bill and His Friend
As I Was Walking Through The Park
I went on a walk today. Instead of walking through my own neighborhood, I chose to walk through our downtown by the river. The particular walking path I took goes by several war memorials. There are memorials for World War II, Korea, Vietnam and our latest wars. They all occupy about a city block and are spread out. They are beautiful!
There were lots of people out and about today because the weather was beautiful for this late in November. People were checking out the Keeper of the Plains statue – a statue that was made by artist Blackbear Bosin in 1974. It has been adopted as our official city mascot. It attracts people from all over the world. Most of the people were staying close to the statue, not many of them were checking out the war memorials. I wanted to stay away from the crowds I went towards the memorials.
As I was walking down the path and taking pictures, I noticed something that is pretty common in our downtown area. Up against the back of one of the memorials was someone’s sleeping spot. There was a blanket and sleeping bags all in a pile. I took a picture, wondering who had to sleep there…although it was warm at the moment, the previous night the temperatures had dipped down to the low 30’s. Those few blankets and sleeping bags wouldn’t be much protection from that kind of cold.
I kept walking as I thought about this. Suddenly, I heard someone yell, “Someone’s coming!” I looked up to see a man carrying a backpack running towards a bench that held another backpack. There was another man that was half hidden by a half wall close to one of the memorials. He ducked when he saw me. I could tell he was trying to pull a shirt over his head, so I turned away and began to walk toward a different path.
After a minute or two, I walked back towards the memorial. I really wanted to take pictures of the flags that were above the memorial. The men were now sitting down on the bench. I wanted to talk to them – to get their stories. Was it their bed I had seen down the path? I decided I would at least say, “Hi.”
I walked up to the men, staying on the path. “Hello!” I said, “How are you?”
“About as good as ever,” one of the men replied. “Sure is a beautiful day, ain’t it?” I nodded in agreement. “Sure is,” I said. The man who was talking had hair that was beginning to turn gray. His face was slightly wrinkled and he had a warm smile. His companion was somewhat older, his hair was a bit longer and completely gray. His wrinkles were much more pronounced. He, too, had a friendly smile.
I sat down on the bench across from them. “I need a break,” I told them, “I’ve been walking all morning!” The younger man told me that he had probably walked over a hundred miles just in the last week. He told me that after a while you just get used to it. I told him that when I was younger, I walked all over town. I preferred walking to driving. He told me he used to drive when he was younger – never thought he would have to walk everywhere. I asked him what had changed. He began to tell his story.
It seems that at one time, Bill – the younger man - had a normal life. He had a fairly normal childhood. His mom and dad loved one another, and he and his sisters had a good life. Both of his parents worked, but at least one parent was always home with the kids. The children didn’t always have the best of everything, but they had everything they needed. Things had been really good until Bill had begun his third year of college. That’s when everything began to change.
Bill and his parents had been on the way back to his college – it was a couple of hundred miles away from their home. On the way, a semi-truck had crossed the center line and crashed into the vehicle he was in head on. His mother had been killed instantly. His father was severely injured. Bill was knocked unconscious. He didn’t wake up until two days later in the hospital with a back injury. He wasn’t allowed to go to his mother’s funeral because of his injuries.
Bill and his father recovered from their injuries. Both had several surgeries to get back to “normal.” Bill was put on medication to regulate his pain. And that’s when the trouble really started. He got hooked the pain medications and began to abuse them. Soon everything began to change. He stopped going to college. He quit his job. He got kicked out of his dorm because he wasn’t attending classes. This was the first time he was homeless. He didn’t tell his father about this because he didn’t want to burden him anymore.
After a few months on the street, Bill’s father found out that he was no longer at college. He went to find Bill and brought him home. He convinced Bill to go into rehab to get clean. After a thirty day program, Bill was clean again and his father thought things would be good for him once again.
But it didn’t last. Before too long, Bill started using the pain medications again. When his doctor refused to give him more prescriptions, Bill found ways to get the drugs on the street. The pain meds turned into harder drugs. Soon he was addicted to crack. From then on things just spiraled out of control. After a few years of this, his father kicked him out of the house. Bill stayed with one friend after another until they all got tired of him, and after about five years of that, he began living on the streets again.
In a way, this was a good thing. He still didn’t have a job, so there was no money. No money meant he had to stop using drugs. He decided that he liked that way of life. He was afraid that if he went back to work, he would go back to drugs. So he just lived on the streets. He went to the free diner for meals and slept in the memorial park. He got his clothes from donation bins around town. He had many friends and was as happy as he could be.
I just listened to Bill talk. It seemed that he needed to tell his story as much as I wanted to hear it. I was glad that I stopped.