August 2005

Interlude...

I never cease to be struck by the awful beauty of humanity.

Coming home a couple of nights ago I saw three people who struck me with that fact.

The first person that I saw was a homeless man digging through a trash can on one of the more populated streets in my city. It was about 2am at that time, and I was struck by nothing more than his simple perseverance. I can only begin to guess on the circumstances that led him to that particular trash can, but I have absolutely no doubts that it is an amazing story full of more twists and turns than I can conjure up on my own right now. The bottom line is that for an infinite number of reasons, this man, shriveled by age and god only knows what else was foraging for a means by which to see the next day, whatever chemicals had become that part of the equation accepted.

The next person that I saw as a man in a wheelchair. He was all made up in sports gear, wheeling himself underneath an overpass. I'm not sure if it's my own ignorance that led me to wonder what series of events might lead him to be in a less than safe part of town in a less than what I saw as a defensible position, but whatever it was, that's what I wondered.

I found myself wondering what it was that crippled him, be it accident of birth or of another form, but the fact that there was obviously a tremendous back story, not only leading to the robbing of his lower limbs, but to his placement on that underpass.

The mind reels.

The last person that I saw on those empty streets was a young woman who couldn't have been much over the age of twenty. She was all dolled up in that Barbie doll way that so many young women seem to feel the need to dress themselves up in these days, dyed blonde hair and what could barely pass as a halter top. She was rail thin, so that it was easy to see the many starved hours trying to live up to what she believed was the way that women should look.

Cosmo says so after all.

But the truly interesting part is the sheer pain that she carried with her as she walked to whatever her destination was. I only had her in my eye for maybe 15 seconds, but the fact that her night had not gone as she had planned was so evident that a man born blind could have seen it.

She reeked of tragedy.

It swirled all around her. And even in that brief period of time that it took me to notice her and then pass her by, I saw it begin to swallow her.

And I wondered if she even noticed. I wondered if she saw the irony that all of her effort to become some plastic thing had failed her. I wondered if she would ever see that it was the illusion that she had so painstakingly created was the very thing that allowed her to be in the horrible place that she was.

I wondered what the story was. I could see her going out with a pack of her friends, and I wondered what it was that lead to her walking alone across a bridge in the ugly hours of the morning, crushed and bleeding her illusions for everyone to see.

I bet it was a good story.

And that, dear reader is what I love so much about us.

Our stories.

So let me continue with a story I started a while back.

Walter (Part II)

Walter slowly walked through the front door of Doctor Graves's office.

He steadied himself on the crutch that Dr. Graves had given him. The stitches that Dr. Graves had put in Walters leg stung, but not so much that Walter noticed. He calmly walked to the edge of the entry to the office and he supported himself on the railing.

And, feeling that he had securely found somewhere that could support his weight, Walter vomited.

In force.

After heaving up the better part of what little food that he had eaten in the last two days, Walter wiped his mouth and stared at the ground. He felt almost a little guilty about leaving such a mess at the good doctors doorstep, but not so much that he cared to do anything about it.

Tragedy can breed apathy like that.

A Little Backstory Now...

When the depression began, Walters father was forced to travel to find what little work he could. He was a dedicated man, sending every penny he earned back to his loving wife. He believed that a man should always support his family and he had come from proud roots. Of what was once a mighty farm that his grandfather had broken ground with his bare hands now there was only the house he had also built. The rest of his land had been sold off as the depression wore on. Walters fathers idea was that by selling off the land surrounding the homestead, he would be able to keep the bank at bay for the mortgage on the house. What he made on the road only had to be enough to pay the bills and sustain the family until the hardship passed.

He regularly wrote to his wife, and he always waited for her replies when he was able to provide an address for her to send them to. In every letter she assured him that all was well, Walter was growing up to be a fine young boy and the farm could not have been in better shape. She constantly reminded him that his family's homestead was safe and that he didn't have to worry about losing the center of his families land.

Walters Father kept the letters he received in the rucksack in which he carried everything that he needed for the road. In his simple way, he believed that the love that was in those letters carried some of the weight of his belongings and lightened his load.

He would never even have the vaguest idea how much his wife loved him.

Walters mother was named Sophia and had grown up on homesteads as well. She knew the value of land to a family that had lived on it since they crossed oceans to find it. One of the things that so struck her about her husband was the belief that a man who loses the family home was a failure and not a man at all. Her father had shared the same belief, and it made her feel very safe.

After the first few small amounts that Walters mother had sent home, it quickly became clear that things were going to a lot more difficult than she had thought. She made due as best she could and she managed to make ends meet. Instead of bread there was bannock, and her vegetable garden could keep them feed as long as she and Walter ate frugally.

After a time, Sophias father lost his farm to the bank. Sophia was his only child and his wife had taken ill and died years before, so Sophia took him in and watched as the grief and shame killed her father over the course of three very short but very long months.

The inheritance that she received was a bitter sweet blessing for it was a much needed boost for the families finances. Walters father was even able to afford to come home for a week and visit his family before having to go out on the road again. However, they had a little more money and things seemed for a time that a minor stability had returned.

However, that hope did not last long.

Only another few short weeks later, while Walter and Sophia slept, there was a terrible thunderstorm. So terrible in fact that it woke up young Walter and he crawled into bed with his mother in sheer shaking terror. Sophia pulled him close and the two cuddled up to wait out the storms fury.

They would not be made to wait long.

A terrible lightning bolt struck the side of the house and set it afire. Only with the wings of angels were Sophia and Walter able to escape. The men from the surrounding farms came quickly and were able to save a large portion of the house, but the damage to the other part was quite severe.

The next day, the same kind men came back and offered to do the repairs that the house would need for only the cost of the supplies. Sophia accepted, but that was the end of her inheritance and then some.

It was the then some that was the problem.

Sophia and Walter were now completely broke.

It was two weeks after the bank came to pay their first call. The mortgage payment for that month had not been made. Sophia begged and pleaded for another month. The Banker smiled and then calmly told her that he would be back for a payment of some sort in 30 days.

30 days later, there was no more money to be had. Sophia had spent the whole of that month knowing that if they were to lose the farm, she would lose her husband to grief. He was simply that sort of a man. The failure to be able to support his family and keep his land would be far too great for him to bear. It would take her husband in the same way that it would take her father and she knew it in every fiber of her being.

So, that afternoon, when the banker arrived, she sent Walter out to play in the yard and took the banker inside, then upstairs, then into her bedroom.

She cried the whole time, and the banker tried to be as kind as that make of man can be. After it was over, he calmly got dressed and as he walked out that bedroom door he placed $5 on the dresser and told he that should take care of her and her son for a while.

He stood at the doorframe, thinking to himself and as he turned away, he said very softly that he would be back in a month, and payment would be required again.

Sophia picked herself off of the bed and cleaned herself up. She walked downstairs and played with Walter for a bit. He asked if Mommy was ok, and she pulled up her best fake smile and she assured him that she was.

The next month, Sophia tried to offer the man from the bank one quarter of what was owed, plus the money that he had given her. He told her that she should save it because she would need it for the repairs. He smiled and started walking up the stairs to the bedroom. Walter was already outside, and Sophia stood there for a minute before she slowly began to follow.

So that's the way that it started. From then on in, every month, the man from the bank would come and record that the payment was taken, and every month, Sophia would cry herself to sleep for at least a week after.

The repairs were well on the way when the word got out. Suddenly all of the men working on the house started to not show up. The costs had risen and while Sophia had all the materials, she didn't have the money to pay the men.

And from there it became a much more regular thing. When the foreman came by for payment, he explained that he understood Sophia's circumstances and that he would pay them out of his pocket if only she could show him some gratitude. At this point, Sophia was filled with so much desperation and shame that she barely even thought about it.

Luckily, the repairs only took two months, and the foreman only came by at the end of the each week, so Sophia found some solace in that.

Finally the repairs were finished, but by now the word was rampant across the nearby town. The money that Walters father was sending was coming less frequently and in smaller and smaller sums.

So one day, after three weeks of Sophia and Walter eating nothing but flour and water, and with the effects of that poor diet starting to show on Walter, a young man came to the door and offered to donate $10 to Sophia if she would show him some of the gratitude that she had shown the banker and the foreman. Seeing the bones in Walters face showing more and more over the last weeks, Sophia knew how much real food $10 could buy.

You know the rest.

To her credit, she was simply trying to be the best mother that she could under the circumstances. She new her family was starving and she did the only thing that she felt she could do.

And from there on in, it became a cottage industry of sorts. Once or twice a month, three times at the most, a young man would come to the door and Walter would be sent out to play. Sophia took every care to make sure that Walter never had even the vaguest idea of how his mother managed to keep them in their home.

When Walters father was shipped off to War and Walter quickly followed, The financial concerns and the loneliness quickly ravaged Sophia's spirit. Upon hearing of the death of her husband, she quickly slipped into a deep depression and the weekly visits became daily for her to try and fill up the great gaping wound that was her grief.

Walter was gone for only slightly more than a year and a half, but in that time Sophia had already gone to far. In the weeks before Walter arrived, Sophia learned that she had long ago contracted syphilis and that it had moved into her already broken heart.

She was given only a few weeks, but she swore that she would hold on until her son returned home so that she could explain why. She was moved to an extended care hospital where she awaited the return of her son.

This is what Walter had just learned in Dr. Graves office.

Choices

Walter walked across the street and checked himself into a motel. It was a nice little motel with a diner in the lobby. Walter walked himself up to his room and just sat. His leg was throbbing and he couldn't think.

He didn't know what to do.

So Walter stayed in that Hotel room for two weeks, mostly healing and trying to understand what he had just learned. He had gone off to fight a war that had taken fis father leaving behind a loving mother. He had returned home to find a dying woman who had begun prostituting herself when Walter was still just a child. He desperately wanted to believe that he had known his mother, but having learned what he had (mind you Dr. Graves merely told Walter that his mother had been whoring herself out to cover bills for the better part of two decades, as lightly less detailed report than what I give you dear reader), he found himself staightjacketed by doubt.

Finally, on the last day of the two weeks, Walter made what was to be the hardest of many hard decisions that he would come to make in his life.

Walters leg had healed well in those two weeks, and so it was with a broken determination that he lifted himself off of his bed and made his way to his now empty home.

When Walter got there, it was nightfall. What was once a beatuful house stood in shambles. The wind had stripped away most of the paint and most of the siding was now open to the elements.

And the elements were taking their toll.

The windows were boarded up and with the exception of a small pane in the upstairs, most of the glass had been shattered by the stones of small children believeing that they were destined for greatness playing in the big leagues of baseball.

Walter walked up the porch and the boards that had once been so strong groaned under his weight. He walked to the front door and looked at a paper notice that barely was legible it was so badly faded. The only word that Walter could make out simply stated the obvious'

"Condemned"

The irony was not lost on Walter. As I have said before, very little was.

Walter calmly reached out and slowly tore the paper from the door. He folded it up and placed it in his pocket, a keepsake of sorts.

Walter tried the door handle, but it was of course firmly locked. Walter sighed and took a step back, He took a deep breath and brought the full weight of his frame into the door. It's aged wood could not compete with the sheer bulk of his body and Walter passed through it as if it were nothing more than paper. His leg was throbbing for the effort, so he felt his pant leg for a minute or so. When no warm or wet sensation met his fingers, Walter decided that he was ok for the time being.

Walter took his surroundings in for the first time. If it was at all possible the elements had been even more unkind to the interior of his home than the exterior. All that remained was some ripped flooring and some unfaded areas when the family furniture once held station.

The floorboards were already starting to lift, and Walter could see that there were areas where the roof repairs had not held.

The house had obviously been vacant for some time. And it was also quite clear that not just the bank but anyone who saw some value had cleared out anything of value. All of the families papers and pictures were strewn across the floor, blowing about.

Walter walked into the living room, taking each step with caution.

In the far corner, there was a pile of papers that had accumulated in the corner where the mantle met the flooring. Walter walked over to it and began shuffling through them. It didn't take Walter to find what he was looking for, two pictures that used to be in frames in that room. One picture was Walter, his father and his mother back from when Walter was a very small child. The second was a picture from the same time of Walter and his mother. His father had taken it when they weren't looking, and a better image of a mothers and child's love has not been taken, before or after.

Walter picked up these pictures and placed them in his pocket. From another pocket he pulled out his Zippo and held it to some of the wallpaper that had peeled away from the wall. He watched the flames slowly crawl up the wall and stood there as the room began to burn. He waited until he was certain that the fire was large enough to put the house out of it's misery and slowly walked out. He set out down the dirt road as his home burned behind him.

It was early morning when Walter arrived at the hospital. Walter was briefly taken back to London when the smell of antiseptic and death flew into his nose. He almost turned and walked back out, but he knew what he had to do. He spoke to the lady at the desk. She had a nametag that read Shirley, and Shirley was kind enough to direct him to his mother's room. It was on the second story and with the kind of smile that you would expect from a seasoned waitress in a diner, she directed Walter to the stairs.

Walter climbed up the stairs and found his way to his mothers room. He tentatively stopped, but walked in nonetheless.

And there Walter saw her.

Although it took him a second to believe it was her. The emaciated woman in front of him only barely resembled his mother Sophia.

Walter slowly walked beside the bed and sat down in the hard metal chair that was there. His leg reminded him that he really should be using his cane, but Walter ignored it.

He reached out and took his mothers skeletal hand. She looked over at him and it took no time for her to recognize her boy. A single tear rolled down her face and she spoke with a voice that sounded like chains being rolled about in a garbage can.

"Walter?" she said.

"Yes momma, I'm here".

"I'm so very sorry my dear boy"

"Momma", Walter spoke "Please don't".

And with that Walter listened to Sophia's story, in all it's tragedy.

"You will never be able to forgive me, I know..."

Walter pulled the picture of he and his mother out of his pocket and passed it to her. Her eyes welled up and Walter then reached out and turned it over so she could see the back.

Scrawled on the back with Walters pen was a very brief inscription. Sophia's closed her eyes and blinked out the now free flowing tears.

"Walter, you..."

"Don't Momma, rest."

And Walter waited until Sophia fell asleep, and then he sat holding her hand as she passed away ever so peacefully. Walter let a tear of his own roll down his face before wiping it away. He placed Sophia's hand on her chest stood up with a grunt and walked out of the room.

On his way out, Walter informed the nice nurse Shirley that his mother had just passed away. Shirley made her way up to the room and found Sophia's lifeless body, finally at rest.

Something in Sophia's hand caught Shirley's eye. It was a picture face up. Shirley couldn't resist her curiosity and she gently lifted the picture from Sophia's lifeless hand. It was a picture of a beautiful woman and a small boy. Shirley turned the photograph over and read the words on the back.

"Thank you"

Shirley gently placed the picture back in Sophia's hand.









To be continued...