They are a discarded people. They are easy to overlook. They are uncomfortable to address.
The vibrant nature of their eyes is disavowed by the dirt under their nails, and the smell of sleeping in a city ally way.
It was a breezy winter evening. Hot cocoa in hand, the two friends take a walk for some crisp fresh air. They took a corner and stumbled upon an old man.
In the times of a global pandemic, one must take care to be paranoid. Avoidance ensures protection.
The two friends; gay men, were startled by what they saw. They staggered back and pulled their face masks tighter across their faces.
The man wore a mask, but it did not cover his nose or mouth. He had his sleeves rolled up and no winter jacket. He had a large accordion on his lap, but he did not play.
His hair was white and speckled with darker greys. His profound eyes stared off into the existential void of the human condition.
Though one friend was frightened, the other was intrigued.
“Hi,” said the braver friend plainly.
“Hello,” replied the elder man.
There was a dim silence that hung over the moment.
“What’s your story?” asked the friend whose mind was opened.
“Well, I was a lawyer in my day, and before that I was an actor. I travelled the country on the backs of trains and never quite knew what city I would end up in. I was free to roam into any city, until I happened upon a theatre. I would walk in and give a monologue. I had a few in my mind ready to go at any point. I could even dance a little, and boy I loved to sing. I was blessed. I had a great run of a few plays. I went to New York and did some really fun skits there.
I fell in love with a handsome man. I bet you didn’t think I was on your team, did you?”
The two friends looked to one another with admittance of surprise.
“Well, yes. It was the winter of 72, and he was a talented musician. He taught me to play piano, and this here accordion was his. He and I were in the same play; we were in the chorus.
Boys when I tell you his eyes where the brightest blue, and he was tall and thin, and his clean features made my heart go, thump thump.”
As he spoke, the tattered man began to smile. With joy in his eyes and sparse teeth in his mouth, he lit a cigarette and continued.
“I was a handsome young man myself, believe it or not. And we were in love. Back then, you could never just walk down the street joining hands, or wear whatever you wanted. We dated in secret. We had to. His loft apartment he shared with a few other men from his school. He went to school for law, and that’s how I got that start.
Eventually I became a practicing lawyer in the big city. I laid down roots and worked at a big firm. The whole time, we lived together. I would come home every day and see the love of my life. That’s the dream boys.
One day, he wasn’t there. And there were no cell phones back then. I waited three days until I got a knock on my door by the police. Someone had found him dead. My heart split in two, and I sank into a low depression.
I gave it all up. I took my money, and left my job, and hopped onto the next train. I ended up in Washington DC. I tried to take up law there, but I couldn’t shake the memory of my angel, my love.
I fell deeper into depression. I made my way to Texas and took up drinking. I worked mopping floors at a local pub. No one could ever guess how sad I was.
After about a year, I burned through all of my money. Let’s just say I was trying to feel again how my love made me feel.
I blacked out for a decade and found myself here in Providence Rhode Island.
I’ve been here ever since, and I sleep where I’m out of the way.
And boys, not one person in twenty years has stopped to listen to my story.”
There was nostalgia and sadness in his eyes, as his wrinkled face wore a grin of gratitude.
The two friends gave what cash they had to the man and exhaled a breath of tension and sadness.
The man tipped his hat to the two newfound comrades.
“Make sure you never lose sight of each other! If you’re friends, or more, it don’t matter. Just always keep a weather eye out for each other! You never know.”
The man caressed his accordion as his mind held tightly to the memories of his love.
It is near impossible to ever look at a person and infer where they had been. It is all the rarer that someone who lives in alleyways and survives on scraps of unfinished food gets asked to tell their own story.
He was not homeless, for his home was in the heart of his beloved.
Death took that away from him.
He was intricate, complex, and had a heart that knew what true love felt like.
May we all hope to know how to feel that way.