There is a homeless man who lives near us. He lives in his wheelchair right in the middle of the sidewalk. He lives under blankets in his wheelchair right in the middle of the sidewalk. I see people pass him every day. I have passed him on days too. But I see him. I worry about him. I gave him a new blanket and money recently. I see my blanket covering him in his wheelchair where he lives right in the middle of the sidewalk. My blanket feels exactly like that — a blanket, a band-aid to a problem. So I decided to visit him in his wheelchair where he lives in the middle of the sidewalk and ask “What do you need? What can I give you that you really need?”
This is what happened.
I visited the homeless man who lives in his wheelchair in the middle of the sidewalk. I now know his name. Todd. And he thinks he’s 47 or 48. I said, “Last time I gave you a blanket and money but I realize it might be more helpful if I ask you what you want.”
He closed his eyes, and covered his mouth with his hand. He was quiet. I wasn’t sure if I offended him or moved him. I said “You’re my neighbor and I want to let you know I see you.” He remained quiet. I said, “Would you like me to get you something or would you like me to leave you alone.”
And then, he looked at me, “Beef jerky maybe? Some Pepsi?” I smiled, “Okay, you got it. Anything else? I’ve seen you smoke would you like cigarettes?” “Oh yeah, cigarettes.” “I’ll be right back.”
I bought him packs of jerky, bottles of Pepsi, cartons of cigarettes, a lighter and I decided to throw in a baseball hat because it had been sunny out and I noticed he was covering his head with a hoodie. I returned with the items. He liked the hat and was so happy to see the lighter – he didn’t have one. I told him my name and that I would now check in once a week to see how my neighbor is doing and what I can get him. He smiled, waved and I headed for my car.
As I did another homeless man said, “That was really nice what you did.” I stopped. He said “I help him out too when I can.” I asked, “What’s your name?” “Barry.” He asked if Todd talked to me because he doesn’t talk to anyone. I told him he did. Barry smiled, “That’s good.” I asked Barry if he needed anything and he said no, he was okay. I got in my car and when I drove away I saw Barry and Todd together, Todd sharing his beef jerky with Barry.
That was almost two months ago. Since that time I began hanging out with Todd about three times a week. Each time as I approach and I see him hiding under his blanket I say, ‘Todd, it’s Susan” and he quickly climbs out from under the blanket and smiles, “Hey.” I ask him what he needs. It’s always Pepsi and beef jerky and cigarettes. But sometimes it’s aspirin because his body aches, and coffee on cold days. He always tells me to stop before I get too close to him and he takes out a bottle of spray to spray himself. Sometimes it’s toilet water but most recently it was a can of Raid. “Todd, that stuff’s poison. Don’t spray that.” He does it because he’s embarrassed of his smell. And I will tell you he does smell pretty bad. Sometimes I have to hide the fact that I feel like I might gag. And even when I leave him I can still smell him for about an hour. So now I buy him deodorant spray – a real manly scent – and he loves it. He sprays all over. I also get him wipes for his hands. One time I brought him his cigarettes and he asked me for a lighter. “Todd, what happened to the lighter I got you?” He grumpily answered, “I don’t know” — we were like an old married couple arguing over stuff. It was kinda funny. I bought him another lighter and told him to put it in a safe place.
Todd had a motorcycle accident which broke his hip and landed him the chair that he lives on in the middle of the sidewalk. He was born at UCLA hospital and grew up in Los Angeles. He has about five brothers, one who is a successful writer who he says sometimes comes by and drops him some money. A couple of times he hasn’t been in his usual spot and I go looking for him. But he always ends up turning up. “Where did you go?” I’ll ask. “Moved a few blocks up.” He looks me in the eye when I tell him I care about him. That even when I can’t stop by or can’t find him that he must know I’m thinking about him. “Really?” he says. “Really.”
It was raining. And I found him curled up on the ground with his chair by his side. He wasn’t looking good. I got him his usual supply of jerky, Pepsi, coffee, cigarettes, deodorant, aspirin, wipes, but I knew he needed more. I knew I couldn’t lift him and asked him if he wanted me to find help to get him in his chair. He didn’t and said Barry will be by later to help. I had to get to work but I told him I’d come by the next day.
The next day he wasn’t in his usual spot. I thought maybe he just moved a few blocks away. I looked. I looked again the following day. No Todd.
On my way to work I stopped at the gas station to put air in my tire. The gas station I go to where I buy all of Todd’s things and the attendant now knows me as Todd’s friend.
“Hey, Susan. Did you know Todd was taken to the hospital?” My heart dropped. “What happened?” “Actually, it was someone who knows you, or knows you were helping Todd. She got him to the hospital.”
What? Who? I had posted on my Facebook page a month or so ago my friendship with Todd. Someone must have read it. Someone I don’t know but somehow read my post. Whoever you are, thank you.
I found out what hospital Todd was in and called to find out what room he was in so I could visit. The last name Todd gave me might not have been real because they had no Todd by that last name. I held them on the phone, “Please, look up all Todd’s that might have been admitted recently. Or a homeless man named Todd who might have been admitted recently.”
She wouldn’t. “Ma’am, I don’t have time to look up every patient.”
She quickly got off the phone.
I’m going to the hospital today to see what I can find out. To demand help. Because he is my neighbor. My friend. And I want to see what he needs.
Like I said to him, looking into his eyes, “I care about you. Even when I can’t stop by or can’t find you, you must know I’m thinking about you.”