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Abandoning Our Old April 29, 2011

Posted by sarahsfate in My Own Personal Trials, PostADay2011, Thoughts on People.
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Last week my 17-year old nephew and I were driving through town when he pointed out the passenger side window towards an old, stooped man shuffling through the mall parking lot with what appeared to be everything he owned stuffed into a backpack hanging low on his back. Unwashed hair grew haphazardly down his back and across his jaw but that was all that was visible of his face as he stared at the ground as he walked. I wondered if he saw the ground beneath his feet or if there was some memory dancing before his eyes, leaving him to see nothing of the here and now.

I frowned and said, “makes you wonder what happened in his life to bring him to this.” This being an obvious homelessness.

My nephew, still watching the old man through the sideview mirror as we continued on down the road, said, “I don’t ever want to be that man.”

I thought then, rather acerbically, that on career day in elementary school, does anyone hold their hand up and claim to want to grow up to be homeless? Who asks for that? But the conversation brought to mind a similar old man in a similar parking lot several weeks ago and I told my nephew about him.

I was leaving Kroger at nearly sundown when I spotted him. I think I may have missed him altogether had it not been for the brilliant gleam of sunlight dancing along the metal back handles of his wheelchair. The sparkle caught my eye and I braked, curious. He looked like one of those old war veterans whose images are plastered on every disabled vet advertisement — long, gray wavy hair, sagging skin, defeated shoulders, and an expression in his eyes as though completely incapable of seeing light. His arms rested limply in his lap and though he appeared to have both legs, I imagined that beneath the cloth, his legs were twisted arthritic versions of what they used to be.

He did not see me watching him, in fact I decided he did not see much of anything in that parking lot. His gaze was on the cars driving by on the road beside the store, people honking at each other in their rush to get wherever they were going. I wondered if he saw them either. I imagined he was lost in thought about his yesteryears — about that baseball game he went to with his father the summer before his dad had a heart attack, or the memory of his wife’s body curled up beside his at the drive-in movie as they hunkered down in his 1952 chevelle, the sound of his children’s laughter,or the sound of his friend’s screams as they fell beside him in battle.

I wanted to stop and check on him. I wondered how he had gotten there and looked around the increasing shadows of the parking lot for would-be parties responsible for the old man, but there was no one. I thought maybe he watched that busy road because someone had abandoned him there at Kroger and he stared after their tail-lights. But I didn’t stop. I think that is probably why he is still on my mind. I should have stopped. The problem is you never know about people and I can make up any story I like but the truth is he could be mentally unstable and have a knife in his pocket.

My nephew asked if I truly thought someone had left the man there and I shrugged because I didn’t know. And then he said, “why do people abandon their old people?”

“Indeed,” I said, “indeed.”

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