Stopped to pump gas on Thanksgiving morning (after a lovely night celebrating my birthday) and I was greeted by a neat and tidy homeless man (leather jacket, shiny black backpack and gray braid running down his back) who was sitting on the curb, eating noodle soup from a tall paper cup.
He smiled at me in a warm, friendly, non-threatening way and said, “Have any men told you yet that you’re beautiful today, 'cause you are.”
I laughed, going along with his flirting, but also being honest, and said, “Well, yes another man did tell me that today, already. But thank you, anyway.”
He stopped smiling and cocked his head. “Good. That’s the way it should be. You should hear it all of the time. And you should hang on to this guy, OK?”
“Hang on to him? I will if I can, but how do you ‘hang on’ to anyone? What’s your advice?”
I'd intended this as a harmless question. Or, if not completely harmless, I thought that an older homeless man chatting up a friendly, happy woman on a warm, sunny morning could certainly take it. But.
“That’s a serious question, beautiful. One that I want to be able to help you with.” He laid his soup cup on the curb and rubbed his short beard. “But I think you’re talking to the most broken man in the world when it comes to 'hanging on' to anything.”
I was simply being playful with a stranger about “hanging on” to a man I care about, but I recognized that I struck a vein. I decided that, instead of regretting what I’d said, I’d sit next to him on the curb and hear his story.
The conversation didn’t get clearer after I plopped down and we’d introduced ourselves. The fractured nature of his thoughts quickly became obvious. What I did learn was that is name is Oscar, he thinks Eve was a small, dark-haired woman who looked just like me, that he greets people by locking pinkies with them, and that he spent 25 years in prison.
But the words that stuck with, what I’m stitching here on this scrap of silkscreened fabric by Rebecca Ringquist, are these:
“I can’t believe that I could do
what they say I did.
I’ve been going over it in my head for 25 years.
No way. I miss him so much.
You can’t imagine how much I miss him, O. Now I’m alone.
Who would want to be alone in this shit hole world?”
Must confess to some guilt about not making this stitched piece prettier. But fast, rough split stitch suits my mood about it. It was a beautiful interaction. And it was profoundly ugly.