• Home at last

    by Erika Fiske

    On the hillside behind Whole Foods, not far from a dumpster and some crates where the homeless sit and talk, there’s a grave site marked by a piece of marble. On the marble are these words: Marley Gwin, 6-2-09 to 6-3-11, Loyal Friend and Loved Companion, RIP.

    Marley was a bird, and he was indeed loved. He came into Timothy’s life from a pet store cage. Being homeless and having the time, Timothy would go each day to a local pet store to talk with Marley as the bird looked out from his cage. He brightened Marley’s long days behind bars.

    “He got attached to me,” Timothy admitted. So one day the shop keeper asked if he wanted to hold the bird. As she was reaching for Marley, he bit her.

    Then Timothy put his finger out, Marley climbed aboard and the bird was his. Timothy could only afford $100, so the price was reduced for him, and the shop keeper made up the rest. Timothy had the bird for about a half year, and it went everywhere with him. But one day he got into Timothy’s pack and ate a chocolate wafer—and died.

    Timothy doesn’t miss his life of riches or his job in engineering with the City of Monterey. He doesn’t miss the fancy cars he used to drive, or the girls who hung around back then. He doesn’t miss the stress of today’s society. But when Marley died, Timothy was devastated.

    As he talked about his life, the former civil engineer sat on a plastic crate near the recycle truck behind Whole Foods. Slim, with trim white hair and a tanned face lined by sun and weather, he scanned the area with his gray/blue eyes. Seated on his shoulder was a beautiful green parrot that would sometimes creep beneath his coat in search of warmth. Shade was moving into the area from nearby trees, and there was a chilly wind.

    Like so many of the homeless, Timothy has a good heart. He likes living among people who share what little they have–people who have come to realize that money doesn’t buy true happiness. As he spoke, there were several homeless seated around him and higher up the hill, under some trees.

    Timothy has been homeless off and on for the past 13 years, and he blames his troubles on the cocaine he began using in his 30s. Years later, he left that drug behind, but kept the homeless life. Timothy was born in Vienna, Austria, the son of an Army man. His family lived all over Europe, Japan and the United States. After earning a degree in civil engineering from CSU at Fresno, Timothy got a job with the City of Monterey as an engineer.

    If you live here, chances are you’ve benefitted from Timothy’s work. He has helped design sidewalks, the Ryan Ranch Home at last: Homeless are ‘good people’Industrial Park, and numerous projects involving traffic studies, designing roads and water studies, to name a few. But when he hit bottom with cocaine, he quit his job and all he had worked for.

    I asked Timothy if he’d want to return to engineering if he could. “I’m almost 60,” he said. “I doubt if anybody would take the time to invest in me.”

    And then again, he might not want to return to the old life. “Being homeless is very enlightening,” he said, noting that he finally has the time to learn about people. And Timothy no longer stays awake every night thinking about designs. Now he sleeps in a tent with a warm bird cuddled by him and the soothing sounds of wind blowing through the trees.

    “I’m not dissatisfied with my position,” he said. “The homeless are good people. There are a lot of good people trying to help each other out. We have a lot of time to talk. We’re not in a hurry.”

    And there’s plenty of time for dogs or birds or whatever pet is carried along. When Timothy was crushed by the loss of Marley, friends came to his aid, collecting money to purchase another bird. One employee at a real estate office contributed $100. And Timothy made the trip to San Jose to buy another bird, Jellybean.

    Again he had the bird for months, until he took his eyes off Jellybean for a few minutes. Jellybean ran into the street and was hit.

    “I said never again,” Timothy recalled. But around Christmas, while visiting his brother, he was introduced to Polly, a parrot known for its cheerful “Hello” and “Hi.” Again, Polly was his soul mate, accompanying him everywhere, including his job at The Bird Store, where Timothy stacked birdseed once a week.

    A visitor one day said her daughter was getting rid of her beautiful green bird—an Eclectus—because her job required traveling and the bird was so bored that it was plucking its feathers. That’s the bird Timothy has on his shoulder today, still missing a lot of feathers, but slowly getting better, he said.

    The parrot’s name is Monty Ray, and he comes from New Guinea. He and Polly got along well, although Polly liked to sneak up on Ray and bite his toenails. One day, while Timothy was working on a job getting rid of weeds, he put Ray in a harness and tried to put Polly in a cage. Instead, Polly flew off and was never seen again.

    “I like to believe she’s fine wherever she is,” he said, a touch of sadness in his voice. But Ray took a long time to get over the loss of his friend. “It took months until he would go on my shoulder, because that was Polly’s shoulder.”

    Timothy stood up from his crate and, with Ray perched on his shoulder, asked me to follow. We walked up to Marley’s grave. Timothy apologized for the withered flowers and wiped the marble with his hand. He noted that Jellybean was buried elsewhere in the hills, far away from the traffic that ended the bird’s life.

    I turned and walked into the chilly wind. After saying my good-byes, I headed toward my car. Looking back one last time, it occurred to me that Timothy wasn’t homeless at all. In fact, Timothy was home . . . at last.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on August 17, 2012

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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