Blonde, dirty locks clumped together.
Left to their own device
the locks would dread into
a maze of tangles, split ends,
and grime from the gutter,
the dumpsters, the random cardboard box
where, reluctantly, he'd slept.
Had the cops not picked him up, awake,
he'd be prowling around the entrances to grocery stores,
and making his way down to East Colfax
where he'd blow strange men
from Peterson Air Force Base.
He was tired,
that was a given,
and yet, I, a college freshmen,
from the suburbs,
couldn't help but stare.
My mother, a detox and alcohol counselor,
was asking him the series of questions,
that meant intake.
Out of his pockets,
they found some sort of smelling salts,
which my mother later explained
was some sort of over-the-counter upper.
Popular with homosexuals
they'd take it right before orgasm.
He was sick,
covered in various welts, scars,
bruises that didn't heal very fast.
Yet, it wasn't his physical appearance
that made me rethink my decision to come here,
to investigate this as a possible job option,
or, at the very least, a good topic
for a English 102 paper using primary sources.
The primary source was supposed to be an interview with my mom,
and maybe a client or two.
blue eyed and shivering in a ratty flannel shirt
was more than I really wanted to investigate.
Even the abstraction of becoming the topic of a research paper
wasn't enough to anesthetize my emotions
shield me from the vagaries of life on the street.
Every decision that made my life,
and for my relatives,
who lived a more luxurious lifestyle:
hired maids and cooks,
private tutors and teachers,
soccer coaches and baby sitters.
Did their life,
my life, have to be counter-balanced
by the rapidly deteriorating
conditions of people on the street.
People released to the street
by Reagan gutting the funding
for mental health,
cutting the social fabric
because of ideology.
Life for a sizable percentage,
was still medieval,
and I knew he knew this.
I knew, as I tried to explain upon my leaving,
actually fleeing the detox ward,
racing back up into the suburbs,
tears streaming down my face,
he knew that life was misery.
Despite my parents attempts at shielding me from it,
life was suffering,
and he knew it.
He knew that no matter what the system did for him,
he'd still be alone,
nothing more than a statistic that may or may not recover,
Either way, he'd be no more human within the system than without,
and he knew I understood,
looking up at me:
a thin clean cut kid from the suburbs
in a red t-shirt,
taking notes in a blue spiral.
He never said a word to me directly,
but answered my mother's questions
and looked off into space
as if he was looking into an alternate universe,
a universe where he'd made a different set of decisions,
where the significant people in his life:
his first teachers,
the uncle who sexually molested him,
his first lover
who never told him that he was sick
and maybe for a while they should use a condom.
And now, he was destined to die,
like so many were dying in the 80's from a disease
that no one knew how to cure.
He was the face of a pandemic,
the face I'd see whenever AIDS was mentioned.
October 22, 2005