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Empty Concrete

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The night is cool. Crisp. The smell of saltwater is in the air. Hundreds of people mill around. Maybe thousands. Beautiful. Normal. Average. Some are rich, some achingly middle class. The pavement swells under them all. Hard. Cold. Unforgiving. Sometimes the concrete is as alive as the rest of the city. It has it 's own personality. Stretching out like a spider web. Sometimes it 's more alive. Dreaming. Living. Loving. Often, the cold concrete is all some have. Those who feel alone in the middle of a crowd.

_____


At night, downtown Seattle is like a dream. Maybe not for most people, but when you are a small town farm hick from Montana, the city feels like another realm. A different world, existing in a different time and place. Salt fills your lungs with every breathe. The myriad sounds hum monotonously, whirling around you. What constantly intrigued me was the people and lights. I have never witnessed so much of each at one time. Under all this illumination, individuals are like ants. Impelling about their business, going to dinner, attending a movie, hitting a club. Every skin tone. Every conceivable occupation. A swarm of people swimming in a sea of lights. Everything is overwhelming. A million miles away from a wheat field. From my home. From the life I have known since birth.


I have never known poverty. Sure, everybody gets stretched thin sometimes. Bills can add up. Kids. Lots of food. Intangibles. Most Americans think sacrifice is not being able to afford an extra tier on their cable subscription. As if STARZ held a special life and death significance to us all. I have always been provided a roof over my head and food on the table, if not by my parents than by my own accord. My closest concept of true poverty was seeing winos standing behind Ick 's in Browning, Montana, drinking liquor, Lysol or whatever they could out of cylindrical objects, hidden by brown bags in their hands. Somehow they all seemed anonymous to me. Humorous. At times laughable. I always imagined they found someplace to stay. A relative. A friend. Maybe the local church. They usually seemed more pathetic than pitiful to me. Maybe a bit of both, I guess. A person of compassion will feel sorry for those less fortunate, however, the winos back home never had an intimate hold on my emotions. They existed, and I felt sorry for them, but that was it. There was no commonality.


At some point during my first month or two living in Seattle, I ran into a young woman on the street outside of a Loews Cineplex movie theater. Not literally, but I just happened to be walking by her when she asked me for change. As I glanced over, I noticed she was not a typical homeless person, whatever typical means. She was young, maybe twenty or so, pretty, with reddish hair and alabaster skin spattered with light freckles. I stopped and talked to her for a few seconds as I dug around in my pockets for spare change. Soon I was on my way, having given her some change, and yet, it was her who made the indelible mark.

My infinite curiosity had gotten the best of me. As I strolled the few blocks home, I pondered this young woman. How did she become homeless? She did not look like a homeless person. More like one of the many normal girls I have known and become friends with, or even dated, throughout my life. She was average. Just like anybody, I guess. The homeless people I had met, up to that point, almost exclusively looked homeless. When you walk down a street and see some ratty looking guy, in clothes that smell like garbage, with a friend passed out on the sidewalk next to them, well, that person looks like they are homeless. This person who I just met, did not.



And, over time, I ran into her quite often. At least for the next several months. Each time I would give her some change, chat for a moment or two and be on. She was friendly. Nice even. Just another decent person that I met in the course of life, except she happened to be homeless. Most of the time, we seemed happy to see each other. Like old friends, bumping into each other on the street. As if we had gone to school together or something. Or maybe she was a friend of a friend. Or had dated someone I knew. The familiarity was there. I used to wonder what she was doing on holidays. On Thanksgiving that year, I even wondered what it would be like if I invited her up and cooked dinner for her. Allowing her to stay in the front room on my ex-roommate 's abandoned bed. That would be nice, I thought. Generous. Because if there is one thing in life that I truly believe, it is that good works should be important to all of us. Compassion and sacrifice. I am a person of faith, raised a Catholic, and I believe in God. Faith is important to me. However, faith does not matter if you do not fill your life with good works. That 's why I respect humanists, because even though they do not believe in God necessarily, they do believe in living a life filled with compassion and good works. But, in this instance, I went over to a friend 's for Thanksgiving and stayed the night. In truth, I doubt I would have invited her over. I knew her well enough to say hi, but I did not truly know her. Or anything about her, for that matter. But, I still wished she could have some sort of moment. One which would take her away from life on the street. Some kind of happiness, even for a short time. I do not wish for anyone to be homeless and alone on any day, let alone a holiday.


I came to find out one of my friends knew her as well. He worked at the movie theater she frequently stood outside of. We ran into her one day, each giving her some change and talking for a short time. He actually knew her better than I did. It turned out she had a boyfriend, another homeless person. Oddly, that made me happy, to think she had someone and was not totally alone. For some reason, I just hate the thought of someone being lonely. What makes it even more interesting is I am someone who likes to be alone. Most people consider me humorous, fairly outgoing and a nice guy, easy to get along with. That is how I am in public. Most of the time, I enjoy doing activities which require a person to be by themselves. I read. I write. I watch lots of movies. My favorite game to play is solitaire. I will play it hours on end. A few times I have lost track of time and played solitaire for almost 24 hours. For me, being solitary is almost healing. I think I like it maybe a little too much. However, when I consider others being alone, I find it quite distressing. I mean distressing regarding anyone, let alone a homeless person on the street. In that instance, loneliness is absolutely heartbreaking.


It had been months since I had seen her. At first, I did not think much about it. Except, with time, I began to worry. Was she ok? Could she be dead? Maybe living in a crack house somewhere. Oh, maybe she went home. I used to think about giving her advice on how to get on certain programs. So she could get a cheap apartment, possibly get some student loans and grants and attend college. My heart held hope she was able to do something like that. Inside, though, I was thinking the worst. Moreover, this was not fairytale land. Life is hard. And, for some people it is harder than others. Some people have demons, and she very well could be a person who had her share. For all I know, she was an alcoholic, a drug addict, maybe even a prostitute when she felt she had to be. There was no sign of her at all. And, in time, she faded into the back of my mind.


The day was gorgeous. I was walking back from the gym, I think. Maybe I had just been out for lunch or something. Here I was, carefree, in a good mood, ready to go back to my apartment. I was doing lots of fun and interesting things. I directed a music video. Worked on many other video projects. Written a short film. I had several talented friends who were all good people. Life was pretty good for me. Then I glanced into the window of a shop. Taped onto the storefront was a piece of paper with a picture of the homeless girl I knew. I had not thought of her in months. It was from her parents. Posted on a storefront, pleading for her to come home. "Please Come Home .... We Miss You. " It wrenched my insides. Like a blow to the liver, something you cannot easily recover from. It hurt to see her parents pleading for her like that. It reminded me of a frightened child, posting up signs searching for a missing dog or cat. Hoping someone would come forward with Fluffy or Kitty and get some miniscule reward for their work. In this case it was a person who was lost. Somebody who was loved. Someone who was lost. She was gone.


I could only hope she was not alone.


What bothers me most is that I cannot even remember her name.


The night is beautiful. I bathe in the lights. There are people all around me. Walking along Pike Street in Seattle. Someone asks me for change. For a moment, I cannot grasp this. My eyes close, envisioning red hair, freckles; I think about my home and everybody who cares for me. The voice calls again. Familiar, lively and vibrant. A young woman, asking me for change. I dig in my pockets and turn around, already with a smile on my face. Turning with an outstretched hand, only to find that nobody is there. I am standing on the sidewalk, staring at the empty space of concrete, thousands of footsteps and voices whirl around me. I am all alone in a crowd of people.

For once, I feel uneasy about this all.

 

http://twitter.com/billthebutcher2

Bill Wetzel is Amskapi Pikuni aka Blackfeet from Montana. He's a former bull rider/wrestler turned writer and a coauthor of the short story collection "The Acorn Gathering." His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from the American Indian Culture (more...)
 
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This took me back to my early college days, circa ... by JERRY TENUTO on Tuesday, Jun 13, 2006 at 2:23:23 PM