The world doesn’t want to hear about labor pains. It only wants to see the baby. – Ball Four by Jim Bouton.
Nowhere in life is that statement more true than with homelessness. In my situation I don’t assign the designation of “friend” based on whether someone gives me a hand, financially or otherwise. I base it on how often someone follows up on my well-being. I’ve found that people who were regular friends text/call less after finding out about my homelessness. Maybe they’re afraid all I’ll do is lament my “bad luck”, and then ask for money. If so it’s a misjudgment on their part. In a call I might mention briefly what I’m going through on a particular day, but mostly I want a few minutes to be my old self; the guy who can talk about events or reminisce, in a humorous way.
I’ve fallen out of the category of someone you call to shoot the shit with. It’s not that friends don’t care, just more likely they want to know I haven’t passed away, but little else. “Rick isn’t dead, right? Okay, back to my own life and issues.” In other words, no labor pains…let’s see what the kid looks like. And I get it. Everyone has a life to live, and we only get one shot at it, reincarnation enthusiasts notwithstanding. This is how it goes when your life turns from a temporary setback (one to two weeks, perhaps a month), to “Holy shit, this might be my life for the rest of my days”. I guess maybe it’s too depressing to learn details that someone you know is in this state, as opposed to the more generic “America has a homeless problem”. So friends avoid me. They want to know I’m alive, and would like to see me get back on top (or at least squeeze into the middle), but let’s not ruin someone’s day with specifics.
Lest you think I harbor resentment about that sort of treatment…n-n-n-nope. It makes me sad but I understand. If the situation were reversed I might do the same thing, especially if I felt I wasn’t in a position to help financially. I curse this existence, and the mistakes I made which led me here. Now if you’ll permit me…here’s a tangent or two:
A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine died. He was a friend from college. We called him Chief, because he always called everyone else Chief. In a car there would be the stench of a cabbage fart and we’d look his way. He’d say the same thing, “Sorry Chief, not my brand.” which always got a laugh. So we gave him the nickname. It had zero to do with indigenous people. If an American Indian is insulted, then so be it. As soon as the head of a company is called the Indigenous Tribal Executive Officer instead of Chief Executive Officer, let me know, and I’ll amend my stories. I’m 1/16 Cherokee for fuck the fuck off anyway. OK, back to the story…Like me, Chief had gone through quite a rough patch. Because we were close in the 80’s, long before cell phones and Internet, we never kept in touch. I had absolutely no clue as to his whereabouts. The last I had heard was he lived in FL and had been doing pretty well. But that was at least 10 years ago. I didn’t know of his struggles until I was informed of his death. I was told by another college friend who I’d been in a little more frequent contact with over the years. Upon learning of his passing, I saw quite a few parallels with our lives. I also witnessed how much it affected my friend, who’d been trying to help get Chief back on track. And it seemed Chief was pretty close to digging out of the hole. But I learned heart attacks don’t really give a shit about a personal struggle. If it’s your time, then the Grim Reaper will come knocking. If you don’t answer the bastard will let himself in (the Grim Reaper can pick a lock better than any career criminal. Nowhere to hide; and you can’t outrun him. If it’s your time, then that’s all she wrote. Very Matrix-like in my mind.
So after a few wistful stories traded with the buddy who had been helping Chief along, we ended the call. My thought, my dominating thought was, “I can’t die. My friend is in pain and I don’t want him to deal with 2 deaths back-to-back, so don’t die motherfucker.” For the next few days I drove very carefully. Anytime someone swerved or cut me off I wanted to scream, “What the fuck are you doing? Don’t you know my buddy is counting on me to not die you insensitive asshole!” I guess death affects us all differently.
Not even 2 weeks later an acquaintance died. Bill was someone I barely knew; a guy who I saw at events once or twice a year, always through a good friend. I found out about his demise through Twitter. I didn’t really know anything about the guy except he was close to a friend of mine. And that made it enough. I offered condolences to the friend and her mate, and again I find myself focused on not dying, if only to save her absolutely loathing this time of year for the rest of her life. Having my father die on Valentine’s Day 2012, I can state I don’t really look forward to the Day Of Love the way most people do.
A final brief story. There is a saying that “people always die in 3’s”. I never believed it, but my mother certainly does, and she’ll go to an extreme length to prove it. I’ve heard her say something akin to, “Well your Aunt Margaret died in November, and then that guy from my work, and now Don Rickles. You know people always die in 3’s.”
All you can do is smile and tuck that anecdote away for a day when you’re once again in contact with friends. I hope it won’t take too long.