• Alone in a crowded world

    by Erika Fiske

    I first saw Connor at Window on the Bay, pulling things out of a trash can. He was alone and appeared to be talking to himself. I was speaking with some other homeless men at the time and was warned to stay away from him. “Why?” I asked. “Just stay away from him,” one repeated.

    Today I saw him again, wearing the same large sweatshirt with a hooded jacket. His head was hanging as if he was asleep, his face hidden by the hood. He was seated at a table in a corner at McDonald’s, near a trash can— alone once again. The food in front of him was long gone, and only papers remained. I bought an ice coffee and went to my car, but was filled with an overwhelming sadness. I could not imagine this man’s life, so alone, so unloved and with nothing except an old bicycle he bought at the dump for $5, a backpack and the clothes on his back.

    After trying to save a pigeon in the parking lot with string wrapped around its legs, and failing as it flew away with its crippled feet, I decided to take a chance and approach Connor. He looked up at me with the must stunning blue eyes. He was a tall man and quite handsome. But he looked like he hadn’t shaved in a few days, and his short fingernails were black. I wondered how long it had been since Connor had a hot shower.

    He seemed to have trouble getting the words out, when I asked if we could talk. They came slowly and faintly. Finally he agreed to speak, but said he was just asked to leave McDonald’s, so we sat down on a table outside. It was cold and cloudy this morning. Connor eventually gave me his first name only. And he asked more than once why I wanted to know anything about him. He was suspicious of my motives. I explained that I was writing stories about the homeless. I wasn’t sure what would become of the stories, but hopefully people would read them, and maybe some would start looking at the homeless in a different way. Maybe some would actually care.

    Connor slowly opened up—very slowly. He said he was almost 40 and was born and grew up in this area. He went to high school in Seaside, he said, and trained himself to run. Not all of what he said made sense, but I listened quietly. I suppose Connor ran well, since he said he trained a runner for the Big Sur Marathon years ago and that runner appeared on the cover of a marathon magazine. Connor also sold running shoes and sports equipment in the past and was married briefly—once upon a time.

    But Connor then said he’d been homeless since the age of two. I tried to point out that he couldn’t be on his own so young. But he insisted he had. I wondered what happened in his life to make him this way—so alone. So blank. So hopeless.

    It wasn’t easy getting Connor to talk. Finally he said he was still hungry and asked if I could get him something else to eat before he went to his job, washing cars. I bought him another meal, and he agreed to talk a little more.

    He admitted the homeless life wasn’t easy, especially when it rained. “When it rains we have to take cover. When I set up a tent, the police come by and chase me away. It usually lasts one day,” he said. “It’s sort of getting old. They crack down on people who want to live.” That seems to be all that Connor wants anymore. Just to be able to live. Unlike so many of the homeless, he seems to go it alone, with not even a dog. If not for those blue eyes, there would appear to be no one there anymore— inside.

    Suddenly Connor spoke as if he were a Republican, worrying about his tax dollars going to the needy. “All these people getting free money from the government, taking the money from people who were supposed to get it when they’re 65 or over,” he said, looking up for a minute with those deep blue eyes. “I don’t want to take anything away from them.”

    I pointed out to Connor that it’s not the homeless or the poor that are at fault for what’s happening in this country today. It’s the very, very rich, who want everything and care nothing for anyone but themselves. Connor had something to add to this. “They want to enslave people,” he said. “And they want to harvest our organs.”

    Connor had to get to his job soon, so I offered to leave and let him finish his meal. But he wanted to talk more. This time, when I asked how long he’d been homeless, Connor said it was since 2000. “I left my house,” he said, as if that explained everything. But he added that he’d been homeless off and on for many years.

    Connor was unable to tell me what he would want his life to be if he could have whatever he wanted. His response: “I do what needs to be done,” he said. “Pick someone up if they fall down. Make the world a better place.”

    And that reminded him that it was time to go wash cars. I excused myself, but he asked me to look at the bag on his bike first. There was an ID with his birth date of 5-21-1979 and an old address in Marina. Connor was opening up a little more. “Will you be back?” he asked.

    “ I will,” I said. “I’ll see you another day over there at Window on the Bay. We can talk some more.”

    I wanted Connor to know that he wasn’t alone in the world. Even if society seems to have left the Connors to fend for themselves, this can’t go on forever. Surely the day will come when we will care again. Surely.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on April 13, 2012

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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