Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Dying Of The Light

I could never sit around and make up
stories like that. Hector was crazy!

We were all surprised when Hector came back from his creative writing class with a benefactor. Hector's just not the type for a donor we thought, he'd never gone in for that before. Wait, let's back up a minute. Who knew Hector ever wanted to go to a creative writing class?? Anyways, it started a long, strange trip that, like most always in the streets, ended in lots of heartbreak and pain.

Maybe I need to start with a little background. Panhandlers, the homeless, the down-and-out all meet up in different spots and at some point it gets territorial. We all like to hang out in our comfort zones, whether you be a stockbroker or aluminum can collector (Hey Eddie!). We're all looking for a home (I've seen many a soul with a house but no home). Home for Hector was our little motley crew up on Akard street. There's no rule to it, you just become a "face" to be part of a group. Heck, it doesn't even mean anyone even likes you.

Jesse was the panhandler of our group - and, yeah, he was the one pretty much nobody liked. He had that fast talk black man's rap that's always trying to work an angle. Dude, give it a rest sometime! I've seen Jesse go up to people on pay phones trying to work a bit on them. He starts off with shit like, "Hey, man, where you from?" And sure enough Jesse would turn out to be from there too or know somebody who is! After establishing so much in common then hey, could you give a neighbor a buck? No one who wandered through our territory was safe from his bullshit.

The ultimate wet dream for someone like Jesse is finding himself a "benefactor", a regular donor. Hector was direct opposite of that. You come at him with a dollar in your hand and he'd head the other way. We all got our inner hurts we don't talk about, I guess. But Hector was different in other ways too. He had a different sense of self than the rest of us. There's all kinds of smart in the world. I've seen lawyers that can't tie their shoes and shoeshine guys that can read your soul but not the morning paper. Hector could read a law book and your mind.

We wondered - but never asked - who is this guy?

Who are those guys?

There were theories about his past to the point the rest of us even made a game outta trying to piece together his story, making up all sorts of identities for him. It was harmless but we dare not let him hear us. Whatever it was Hector had locked up inside him was locked up good! So really, none of us should have been surprised at his going to a creative writing class. But we were all just wondering how the heck he was going to do writing and still not talk about himself. Still rivers run deep, they says.

We'd all given a million bucks to find out what happened in that writing class. All Hector said was it was run by some professor from Oklahoma with a giant pot belly whose real interest was good food and good wine. But he never said nothin' about the Rich Lady! She just starts showing up in this fancy black Escalade asking for Hector. Talk about our eyes and ears perking up!

Anytime she shows up Hector gets up mid-sentence like a kid at Christmas and hops in. He says they ain't doing anything - and I believe him - but he's got this smile on his face like he just won two lotteries. He says they don't go anywhere much, just sitting in the car talking. Hector says she's hurting but he won't say why. All I know is we got a glimpse of her with the window rolled down and that's one uptown lady! Even Jesse know enough not approach someone like that. She was sharp.

We were all happy as hell for him. Hector had this knack for alienating folks. It was a natural gift he had without even trying. Mary called it a "defense mechanism". Maybe so but sometimes you never knew. I heard this fancy guy talking up his life to Hector about his great job, great wife, great kids, great everything. I figured Hector would come back on what a shit the guy was but he's just laughing his ass off when he walks over to me. He says it's funny the guy wanting to impress him. "Like I'm anybody."

But the Rich Lady had the key to him, boy howdy! He was cloud nine motherfucker! He was getting spending cash from her too and maybe that's part of what ate him up. For "No-money Hector" to be taking cash that's as much as he put his heart out for anybody. I know for him, that was trusting her with more than his life. He kept the money hid but we all knew about it. Jesse asked him once where he got the cash and Hector snaps with this red face telling him he got it fucking Jesse's mother.

Good fortune never happens on the streets. Or if it does, it doesn't last. Only real good fortune is getting out of this nightmare hell that stabs you in the belly like a double edged knife that never comes out. Ever spent a whole day outside walking around holding your side like you be dying? Then I hear them fuckers on radio talking about us and I want to stick a knife in them! And sure enough Hector gets this agitation in him, he can't sleep, he can't stand still, he can't get out of his skin.

Was it love or the streets?

I never did nothing much with Hector but I always felt a bond with him. He wasn't like a regular street person. He'd go off and see these foreign films and come back talking stuff about them and nobody understood a fucking word he was saying. What the fuck is "underlying message and structure"? But for whatever reason I was his sounding board. I always liked that but I was afraid he was gonna expect something from me I just didn't have. His brain run too fast for me.

"There's this fear running through me 24/7. It's all in my body like I got my finger stuck in a light socket and I can't pull out. I got the shakes like Drunk Willie and I got no answers on what to do. There's nothing sustainable in my life. I can't own up..."

I'm looking at him like never before, how he's gone all grey before his time, that's he's just as much in the clutches of street life like all the rest of us, smarts or no smarts.

"I want off this fucking roller coaster! I'm so fucking angry and this anger, man, it's like a bull in a china shop wrecking my heart like a crazy pinball. I can't live like this! The streets are poison."

I'm waiting for him to get at what's really bugging him, to talk about mystery lady. I don't dare bring her up myself because he guards her like a vicious wolf. But then, I sees he needs my help, an excuse to talk.

"The Rich Lady got something to do with this?" My heart pounds like a hammer.

He looks me in the eyes like never before, like a drowning man too far from shore. Then I see what I'll never forget, like a flash of the heavens in his eyes. I know what they's sharing now in that truck: their secret dreams. He wasn't Hector no more, he was the angel Gabrielle I'd read about as a kid. No wonder he guarded her like a junk yard dog! But there was a short circuit in the works.

"She's just...I don't know...too much, everything perfect. I can't see what she sees in me. Driving all the way down here, giving me cash, showing me her heart. I just can't see's not the's her." Hector's got this pain drawn on his face. "How can I honor her in return? Just because I pretend I'm fine to get by, I know I have no future. Jesus, I wish I knew how to make a life." Then he crumples up on himself.

I crossed my arms telling him nobody can help him with that. Hector appreciates my honesty.

"It's so hard believing she wants to spend time with me. She's not my woman, man. When she stops hurting, guys are going to be crawling all over her. What am I going to do? Ask her to keep coming down here the rest of her life? Shit man, I would if I got the chance, I can't trust me. No way I can say No to her. Is it even real? I even do deliberately goofy stuff all the time just to see how she'll react."

"You mean you're testing her! Even after she drives all the way down here just for you?"

Hector yanks up his head like a scolded child not expecting it. He's got all the looks on his face like anyone that finds out he's been a dick, afraid, ashamed and shocked. Yeah, pal, you been lying to yourself! He gets this real lost look like Conan when Thulsa Doom is trying to talk Conan out of killing him.

"There's a reason I'm on the street, man." He says this like it explains everything, but the look doesn't leave.

Getting up in the morning scares the shit out of me

Then the Rich Lady stops coming. Hector is like he's had ten pet dogs run over. He wakes up during the night, grinding his teeth like a man waiting on a rope around his neck. Back of his neck, his whole body covered in sweat. He says he's committed the Crime Of The Century. I ask, "You mean the Rich Lady?" "No, my whole fucking life." All he ever says on the Rich lady is, "I did her a favor and let her get on with her life."

I could almost see the knife in him when he says that.

After months of crying and dying Hector goes blank. Stupid shit he used to make fun of he doesn't give a shit about anymore. He said his one wish in life is for his "dick to fall off." He smashes his now uncalled cell phone to pieces in this fantastic fit of rage. He kept ranting over and over, "God likes people dead." Finally, Hector says he's "tired of the sound of my own voice" and his eyes go dark and lifeless.

We all had the feeling the Rich Lady was his last chance getting off the street. If Hector had gotten out, that might of meant a chance for all of us. A chance that love really is enough. I don't know what Hector was hiding from out on the streets but he couldn't accept the helping hand. Makes no sense, I know. We'd all kill for that helping hand! But I've seen it all before, like another invisible hand pulling you back down.

But you ask me, Hector never told Rich Lady why he was on the streets neither and that's what really kept them apart. I think he thought he had to pretend he was something he wasn't. Too many secrets in this world.

Chop that boat!

That was two years ago, before Hector dropped out of sight. I still catch a glance of him every once a while, like today, me wondering how life is for him. But he's like a damn feral cat - can't get near him! He saw me once and he gets this fearful look in his eyes like him a student in trouble and I'm the angry teacher. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Only other time I saw him he was arguing with some dude in a suit and he's bitching, "Don't give me that shit!" or maybe that's just what I thought I heard. Then he chunks a beer bottle and when it crashes this lady starts screaming for him to come clean up the glass. Hector runs away.

But the biggest change I saw was him sipping bottles from brown paper bags. Hector never drank before. His heart has gone out to sea and the streets done swallowed him up. Hector can't see himself no more, memories of light passed fade in the dark. No way I know how he even can even make it another day. Does he remember his name?

What scare me most was later on when I saw the TV couple hours later. People in the streets yelling and throwing shit but the look on their faces - just like Hector! "What's going on?" I think to myself. Is it maybe just my imagination? Is the light going out everywhere? I can't stand the thought!

I grabbed my head and walked away before anyone sees me. I have these really horrible dreams now where people are chasing me for what I know and I don't even know what it is I know! What I do know is how people treat you when they think you don't count and nobody's looking. It's NOT the same way they act in church. If the light is dying then we sure are in trouble. Because I already know how people do in the dark.

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