I was walking towards my house on October 13th that year when a homeless man grabbed my ankle. I stepped back, almost appalled by what was occurring . . . unfortunately, my disgust was not with the fact that we must have precious lives waste away on street corners, but at the fact that one of those bags of misery had touched my leg.
I looked down at him and he smiled up at me. His eyes were tired, but they were shining as if they had just been renewed. “I finally got it, mister.”
My confusion told him to continue.
“The meaning of all this, I mean.”
I didn’t know how to respond, so he continued without my prompting. “Sir,” he said. “Do you have any children?”
I shook my head.
“No? Any family?”
“Only a mother.”
“Only a mother?” he said, leaning against the bricks that formed the apartment building behind him. “A mother. See, I have no family, aside from my son who I lost last year.”
“I’m sorry to hear –”
“Don’t apologize for a death you didn’t cause. Just because I’m sitting here in rags doesn’t mean you can patronize me like I’m a dog.”
I was very much taken aback by his abrasive tone he adopted out of the blue, but I just said: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“I know, I know. Formalities shape the society we live in, not the people we are. But I digress. You wanna know what my son’s last words to me were?”
“What were they?”
“Sit down, son, I’ll tell you.”
Part of me was telling the other part of me to get out of there, to go home, to snuggle up in bed by the fire and never think about the poor, miserable soul and whatever fucked up story he was about to tell ever again.
But then I sat down.
“My son never said dad, or daddy, or dada until he was three years old. It was always momma this, mom that, mommy do it . . . I loved him more than life itself. My wife died when he was three, and he never said momma, mommy, or mom again.”
I went to say I’m sorry, but I stopped.
“He grew up to be a fine young boy, and I was so proud of him. He was my life.”
The man scratched his arm as he shifted atop his newspapers. I finally got a good look at him – he was rugged, with a long beard, and tatty clothes. He wasn’t dirty, though, he kept good care of himself. His mouth seemed dry, and his hair was long and black.
“Well,” he said, snapping me out of my observations, “he was hit by a car when he was fifteen.”
“Did they ever catch the guy who did it?”
“Yep – he’s sitting on a street corner as we speak. The court ate him out of house and home and he doesn’t have a penny to his name.”
It took me a moment, but when it hit me my eyes widened. “You got that right,” he whispered. “I was leaving for work. He ran out the front of the house to bring me my bag.”
He looked up and away from me. “Died instantly.”
I tapped him on the shoulder.
He looked over to me.
“Can I say I’m sorry this time?”
He half-smiled. “It was the worst day of my life. They put me in jail. They let me go as it was ruled an accident but I was fired.
Nobody would hire me. I lost everything – not just my house, but my son.”
“What were his last words?”
“His last words,” I repeated. “What were they?”
“Well, I believe they were: ‘Dad, stop.’”
We both sat there for a while with the wind shaping our hair, the darkness of the night setting in as the new horizon shone, the streetlamps flickering on. Oblivion looks much nicer in the company of a friend.
I put my arm on the man’s shoulders.
He leaned in.
I finally broke the silence. “I don’t know how I could go on if something like that happened to me.”
The man leaned back. I could tell my words hit a little too close to the home he didn’t have. “Well that’s what I realized, son. The meaning of all this. It’s because of that that I can finally be free, and move on.”
“Move on?” I asked.
The man stood up. “I know what it all means now. What it means to love, what loss is . . . I know it all so well and I’m better for it. But I’m done feeling pain. The meaning of it all . . .”
That was when the homeless man jumped in front of a car.
It wasn’t fatal, as I assume he planned it to be.
I visited him in the hospital that week. They gave me his information as I was the one who called the police upon his attempted suicide.
When he saw me walk into his room he began to laugh.
“Now I look like a crazy old fool who didn’t know the half of it.”
“That’s about right,” I said, sitting down. “Do you ever think,” I asked, “that losing your son isn’t the same as figuring it all out?”
The man smiled. “I thought that by losing him . . . I figured that if life only exists to be taken away, that dying didn’t matter. That there was no meaning behind my death and that life only retains the value that we imbue it with . . . that there’s nothing inherently special about living.”
I let his words soak into the curtains of the hospital room. The sun faded through the window, the dust particles upending the air around them, becoming a focal point for my thoughts, and I put my finger to my mouth. What the hell is the point of all this? If one just sits back and watches while everyone they love dies, and then they die, or if they’re lucky, they die first, then what is the point?
“Maybe,” I began to say without thinking properly, “there is no point to life, and rather than the notion that it has meaning, that’s what makes it beautiful – that it’s completely existent based on chance, that the reason we’re all here is luck, that none of this matters but it happens anyway – maybe that is where the beauty lies.”
The man leaned in to respond. “You’re so smart, kid. Smartest kid I ever met.”
“Well, that makes sense,” I replied, leaning forward to match him. “I do watch Rick and Morty.”