I decided to take a second walk tonight. Walking is my latest happy place.
On my way home from Coffee Bean, I had a lot on my mind and glimpsed (about halfway between Coffee Bean and my apartment) a shadow sitting upright in the corner of a business’s driveway. I walked toward what was a man, older but perfectly lucid and smoking a cigarette. He was sitting on cardboard boxes wearing a knitted cap, scarf and jacket. I asked if he was hungry, he said no ma’am. He then told me that he was “like this” because his wife had left him. He was 60, had loved her since they were teenagers, and had nine children together. He couldn’t believe she had left him (she cheated). As he was talking, I took in the rest of the scene. A giant suitcase was lying next to him, he had relatively short facial hair. I wondered if this had been recent (he wasn’t familiar to me) – he said he had been out there (here, in Culver) for the last two months.
I asked him his name. Melvin. He asked me mine. Allison. Then he thanked me for stopping to talk to him because everyone else just passes him by. He thinks they’re afraid of him. He said he wanted to say a prayer for me. I said ok and he launched into a prayer like a seasoned preacher (maybe he is or was). I was mad that I couldn’t hear everything he was saying (Washington Boulevard is loud), but I knew it was genuine. Part of it was a wish for my well-being, and he ended by saying that I should take whatever was “positive” (for me) and give the rest to someone else; as he said that, he did a motion like someone blowing on a dandelion. The whole moment lasted maybe 10 minutes – maybe more (?). I don’t think it was long at all, but I was struck by it all. Melvin was an intelligent, caring, emotionally wounded person. There was nothing at all scary about him; in fact, more striking than anything was his normalcy. Like the other neighbors I’ve written about, Melvin was just another human.
At the end of the prayer, I told him I had to go, grabbed his hand and said thank you. He thanked me again for stopping and talking.
I made it about 20 yards before completely collapsing into a full snort (i.e. crying) as I made my way across an intersection. Why was this man on the street? Where were his kids? Did he live in Culver – before? How could he be out in the cold, alone? Why? I’ll never know why.
The reasons we meet people (to me) are rarely by coincidence. As for Melvin, I am sure he was another guide on my journey.