Neighbourhood Interactions

Blessed am I,
by the poor in spirit.
Lonesome, drunk,
asking, weeping.
The lowly and cast off;
the addict, the naked.

———— – – –

You move toward me,
watery eyes and cheeks pinched by cold.
You smile like you think you know me.
I assure you that you don’t.
Nevertheless, in a moment I am scooped into a hug.
A heartbeat of bewilderment before I extricate myself.

You are speaking.
I would attend, but I have to focus on your hands,
how they are trying to find mine.
It is not long before I realize how very slow your hands are, sort of scooping at the air. I discover I can easily shift and angle myself away from your flailing arms; then I pay more attention to what you’re saying.

You have lost your house, you tell me.

My mouth is a hard line of anticipation, ready for the subsequent request to help you out. Not that I have a problem with helping in the ways I can, I just begrudge the attempts to manipulate my compassion.

I wish I didn’t take it so personally.

You sob and I am impressed.
You have no house and you sob again.
Your son lost your house three days ago to a drug addiction.
I am aware of the wind testing my layers, of your florid ears and knuckles–eyes.
Your wife has died of cancer.
You suspect that is why your son developed the drug addiction.

As you tell me these things you are gazing behind me at something I know I will not see if I look.

The request for help never comes.

You ask me if I know what you are going to do next. I tell you that I don’t.
“I’m going to buy more beer,” comes the slurred reply.

You move to hug me again.
I plant my hand firmly upon your chest and push you back, saying “No. Boundaries.” continually until you stop.
The fact that you do–stop, that is–breaks my heart a little and I want to thank you, but I don’t.

You say: “Okay.”
“My name is Cal,” you add.
When I’d asked you before, you had said your name was “Crazy,” wheezing at your own joke.
I had smiled and told you that my name was not that.
(I don’t know why I said that).

You were once a marathon cyclist. My face lights up with interest and you respond to that by leaning against the wall to roll up your pant leg.
You expose a surprisingly well-defined block of calf muscle to the elements.
“Wow! …but you should cover your skin again. It’s too cold for that.”

I must have missed something you said as you were rolling because you ask, “What, you don’t want to?” and I am confused until you tell me (ostensibly again) to touch it, gesturing to your exposed lower-leg.
“No, I’m okay”
“What, why not? Just touch it”
“Why not?”
“I don’t want to, that’s all”

You roll down your pant leg and I am silently pleased with my effective No-ing.
You try several more times to embrace me. It only seems strange to me now, in reflection, how silent it was and how long these slow attempts and easy deflections might have gone on for as cars passed and, all the while, the length of my arm and gaze stretched between your need and mine.

You suddenly stop and rummage around your layers for a moment before producing a lollipop, which you extend toward me gently, stopping midway between us. I remove my mittens in an oddly reflexive way and reach out both my hands toward you. It is one of those Halloween lollies with a giant eyeball on the wrapping. I draw it back toward me and feel inexplicably overwhelmed.

You reach out and take my bare hand in yours, as if to shake it, but you just hold it like that. I let you. I search your face to find you searching too. I tell you that I should go and you agree with me. You try once again to hug me and I am confused to experience both anger and compassion striving in the womb of my heart. I’m not sure which wins, but I do not let you hug me again. Instead, I give you my sight, hoping it displays for you how very moved I am by you–that you have mattered to me.

You try instead to bring my hand shakily to your face for a sloppy, wavering kiss. I resist, and you pause in that drunken, slow-processing way before trying again. Angry and bruised and longing for a world where I don’t have to choose between your need and mine, where it doesn’t feel like caring for you necessitates violating my own bounds, I crack under the ambiguity and find myself compromising: You raise my hand to your lips again and I don’t resist even as, in writing this, I experience an aggressive anger toward myself for the “weakness” and caving. At the time, though, I confess I mostly felt like the bottom of my heart had given out under the immense sorrow I felt for you and the overwhelming reality of my own limitations.

I take my hand back and place it on your shoulder.
“Take care, Cal.”
Your eyes hold mine for a beat of silence before you stagger along the building and I cross the intersection.

Sarah is a full-time Flatlander and a very-part-time CMU student. Her days consist of a practicum placement with Siloam Mission, working a couple cleaning gigs, being a part of the WCV’s School of Mercy & Justice, and making space to explore creative side projects. She loves to bike during the summer, walk during the winter,  audiobooks, popcorn, journaling and seeing if she can get random plant cuttings to grow.

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