My name is James and I am 40 years old. I used to be an owner of many things; a two bedroom apartment on the water front, a decent car, an extensive baseball card collection and a flat screen TV to name a few. But one day, all of those things were taken from me, along with my wife and family. Why? Well, there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who work hard and stand tall with pride from the things they've earned and then there are the lucky ones. The lucky ones who might work hard but don't quite make the cut. They still enjoy the company of family and friends, necessities and simple pleasures of life. I guess I'm neither of those and that's why I ended up here. I live a very simple life now and although I did not choose it, it has seemed to be working out alright for me. I miss the way things used to be but I guess you have to play the cards life gives you. I spent the day walking in Central Park, feeding the pigeons and humming a song to myself. I met a little girl there named Sophia. Sophia loved to talk for hours and that's exactly what she did. While her mother was too busy talking to a friend, I showed the little girl my favorite rock in the park. It was nearly 6 feet tall and quite fun to sit on, so I boosted her up and climbed on after her. We sat and she talked about how her favorite food was spaghetti and meatballs and how chicken noodle soup made her sick, how sweet her mother's gardenias smelled and the gifts she'd like for her birthday. I told her that I didn't have much money but I'd find a way to make her birthday wishes come true. She smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen. A child's smile is my favorite kind. It's like they have the whole sun locked inside them and if you take the time to listen, it all comes bursting out. Before I knew it, Sophia's mother was standing at the ground yelling "What do you think you're doing with my daughter, you creep!" She grabbed the little girl and before I could say goodbye she hurried away. As I left I could feel the disgusted stares of other mothers but I didn't understand it. I know I was dirty and my clothes weren't all that great but I was kind. I caused no trouble to anyone and I was once a "normal" person too. But looking at me now, those things must not matter very much. I decided to look for a bite to eat. I guess there are a lot of hungry people in New York City because all I found were some leftover pieces of turkey in a trash can near my usual spot. I ate quickly and lay down on some old clothes. It's been an unusually cold December but when you're tired enough you can sleep in any weather. I curled up, closed my eyes, and fell asleep.
I wake up to shouting. There's a young couple, no more than twenty years old, a few feet away from me. The young woman has beautiful but pale skin and her once warm cheeks are now pink from the bitter cold. She wears a long beige trench coat and is carrying a large leather briefcase; it looks as though she was making her way home from work. The young man with her is slightly taller with a scruffy chin but very well groomed all the same. They become louder as they scream back forth at one another. There's much swearing and it appears to me that Nick (this I learned through the woman's pleas was the name of the young man) had been expecting her home for some time now and when she did not return he went out looking for her. The woman claimed she was kept late at the office and had meant to call but it slipped her mind. "I'm just so sleepy sweetheart, let's talk about this at home." she told him. But Nick refused and there was more shouting. I wish I could tell them not to worry about this, to just go home and enjoy each other's affection and warmth. Oh how I regret not taking full advantage of that feeling! To come home and crawl into bed after a hard day, pull the covers up to your chin, feel the warmth of the cotton against you and let the drones of passing cars soothe you to sleep. I felt that feeling many times, but not anymore. Finally, Nick grabbed the woman's frail arm and dragged her along to his parked car. It's a brand new shiny black BMW with an all black interior and not a scratch on the outside. As they pull away I wonder what will happen when they arrive back at their apartment. I hope the man forgives her forgetfulness because life is precious enough to do so. Sometimes you just have to let things go.
I decided to go on an adventure today, so as the bus drove past me I jumped on board the back of it and held on. We passed beautiful buildings crawling with vines, none like I had ever seen in my part of the neighborhood. At the first bus stop I saw a little boy with a balloon. His father held his hand tight and I could tell from his fidgeting that they were in a hurry to get somewhere. "Come on buddy, you have to be quick." His father said. And in the process of pulling his son along, the little boy let go of the balloon. He started jumping up and down, frantically trying to grab the end of the string but his red balloon was already at the rooftops. The boy pouted and I watched the red spec until it disappeared into the clouds. This reminds me of when I was a child. My family and I always went to the boardwalk during the summer; it was sort of like a family tradition. One time, I decided to face my fears and ask Mr. Booboo, the boardwalk clown, for a balloon. He scared me out of my pants but I got my balloon and I was happy. I remember my mother telling me "Don't let it fly away James, you won't get another one." so I held onto that string so hard my knuckles turned white. Your hands get tired after doing that for a while, so I let go and I lost my balloon. To this day, I'm still a little afraid of clowns. I decided to stay on the bus for a few more stops until I came to a small grocery store. I decided to go in, not that I could buy anything but sometimes I like to do things I used to do. Just simple, normal things everyone complains about but I missed them. I walked through the automatic doors while people tried to get around me (I guess they were in a hurry too like the man at the bus stop). I started over to the fruits and vegetables. I worked in a supermarket years ago and it was my first and only job. When I was 25 I was fired and never had much luck after that due to the fact that I only had my GED and never went to college. Upon walking to the familiar aisle, there a woman bumped into me with her shopping cart. In pain, I stumbled forward, knocking over a pyramid of canned corn. The woman glanced at me, thinking whether or not she should ask me if I was okay, but she didn't. Not many people do. In a few minutes, a man stocking shelves nearby came over and started recreating the pyramid. I tried to tell him that I could do it myself but he ignored me. Maybe it was time for me to leave, and as I came to the exit I heard a woman talking about how she was never going food shopping again because she's sick of the long lines, crowded aisles, and poor bagging of the cashiers. "That girl put the eggs on top of the bread!" she went on to her husband. I saw that her husband just nodded and pushed the cart along out into the street and I smiled. I can recall my own wife saying these words to me. At the time they were merely annoying but now I'd give anything to hear her voice. When you stop hearing them for awhile, you start to forget the sounds of the people you love. The way they sighed when they got up in the morning and slowly slid out of bed, their laughs, sneezes and coughs, and their voice telling you not to forget to pick up a gallon of milk on your way home from work. While I was walking, it started to rain. I saw the couple from the other night, running without an umbrella, their feet tapping against the wet sidewalk. This time they were laughing and smiling. The woman playfully tugged Nick's arm as he gave her a kiss on her forehead. They reminded me of my wife and I. We met and married at age twenty and we were in an abundance of love. My wife always was very affectionate and this trait suited her well as she longed to be a mother. A year after we married, she was pregnant with a baby girl. Those were the happiest times of our lives and we cherished every moment between the three of us. Unfortunately, I was only able to celebrate up until her fifth birthday...
I knew that the couple would work out their problems, and as I watched the woman I felt like something was very familiar, so I followed them. Should I approach them? Say hello? No. It was too soon. We walked into a side street pizza parlor and I sat in the booth behind them. But after ten minutes or so, the arguing began again. This time it was because Nick was chewing with his mouth open and making a mess on the table. "If you have a problem with me, go be with some other guy!" "You really shouldn't say things like that, maybe she actually will." I realized those words escaped my lips and Nick stood up. "What did you say to me?" His girlfriend tried to calm him down but he got out of the booth and came towards me. "I was saying that you shouldn't tell your girlfriend to find someone else because she might do just that. And you shouldn't talk to her in that tone either; it's quite disrespectful as well." Nick didn't know what to say, so he stormed out, letting the door slam behind him. The woman came over to me and apologized for his behavior but I told her not to. We had a long conversation and I learned a few things about her and Nick. They met in law school and have been together for five years, they were also engaged to be married. I noticed that she hesitated to tell me that last part and I asked her why. "Well, we're so young and some people get the wrong idea when you marry young. They think it's too soon and that it's only infatuation not true love. I question it sometimes myself."
"If you want that person to find happiness even if it's without you, then that's love."
I waited with the young girl until her taxi came and watched her for as long as I could. When the taxi disappeared down a street corner, I started walking home. I guess it wasn't really my home. Of course I live there, and I come back there every night but it's not my home. A home is a warm place, a place where you feel loved and protected. I didn't feel safe here. Instead I felt lonely and afraid. I thought about the woman and how there was something about her face I had seen before. It was in my mind someplace but I couldn't find it. Was it her the color of her hair? The shape of her nose? Her smile? No. I've been living out here for almost ten years now and I've seen so many different types of people that when I try to think of the face of just one person, they all get mixed up. I cursed myself when I realized I hadn't even asked for her name. Hopefully tomorrow I will find her but then again I don't have much luck anymore.
My luck seemed to have run out years ago, after I lost my job at the supermarket. I stayed at home every day, scanning the classified ads and drinking coffee. My wife took our daughter to school each morning and usually stayed out all afternoon, busying herself with her photography. A year passed by and I still had not found a job. A few days after my daughter's birthday party, my wife told me that she was leaving for California in hopes that it would bring her more inspiration. This city became a dead end for her and I guess I did too. I could no longer provide financially for my family and so I became useless. My daughter was devastated. She enjoyed life in the big city and she would miss her daddy of course because I would not be going with them. I left the apartment that night to clear my head, roaming the streets, walking to nowhere. Upon returning the next morning, I found that my apartment now belonged to a Mr. and Mrs. Phillips. I turned around and started to walk. I haven't visited the apartment since and quite frankly, I don't think I remember how to get there. To me, it's just another object lost, taken away, but never forgotten.
I woke up in pain. A shopkeeper was hitting me on my back with his broom, "Go sleep somewhere else, you're making' me lose business! No one wants to look at you when they're trying to drink their morning coffee! " As I tried to get up, a crowd of teenagers on their way to school gathered around me. They threw pennies at me and laughed. "Go buy a bar of soap you dirty bum." Half asleep, I staggered a few blocks to an alleyway. This would be my new home, at least until I was told I wasn't wanted here anymore either. I'm used to rude comments from people on the street and I try hard not to let it bother me. I always ask myself how important the person who made the comment is in my life. Are they someone who is going to be a part of my life until the day I die or are the just someone who is passing through?
I didn't see the young couple for weeks. I didn't leave my spot and instead watched people from the alley. Each day I became more and more disgusted with what I saw. They looked at me as if I was a monster, a disgrace to society because I wasn't like them. But was I really the monster? Day after day I watched people cheat and steal. A boy of seventeen stole a wallet right out of a man's pocket. I looked at him in amazement. I've gone hungry nights on end because there was nothing for me to eat but not one night did I steal from the hands of another. Each day, cars competed with one another, honking if someone was going "too slow". The funny thing is that all of the cars met at the same traffic light right down the street. There were kids crying only to be hushed and pulled along by their mothers and fathers. How I wished to be there for them, to console them. Men were taken into police cars for petty fights, fights over a mere shoulder brush, problems that could've been fixed with a simple sorry. I went to sleep those nights heartbroken and miserable.
Finally, as the weather started to warm up I saw my couple sitting on a bench outside of a restaurant. My heart raced but I remained in my spot until they crossed the street towards me. I didn't know how to get the woman's attention since I had not known her name but I gently touched her shoulder. She turned around and smiled.
"Hi, um, do you remember me? I hoped I would see you again."
"Yes, I remember you of course. You're the man from the pizzeria."
It's the first time I've ever been called a man, not "that bum", or "hobo", or weirdo, or creep. I knew had to tell her about my weird familiarity I had with her. Nick in the meantime was standing beside us, puzzled.
"This may sound strange but I feel like I know you from somewhere."
That very moment I spotted something on her finger. It was a metal ring, no stones just metal twisted into knots. I searched through my memory for something, something that would tell me why this looked so familiar and then it hit me. A wave of euphoria crashed over me and I couldn't move. I saw my wife in her eyes and then I hugged her. I hugged her, I didn't let go and I felt happy. She was the warmth of cotton sheets after a hard day, she was the comfort of a home, the unconditional love of companionship. She was my daughter. I had been living out here alone. It was fifteen years later. But she was still my daughter.
"What...How did you know my name? I don't remember EVER meeting you. Who are you?"
"Please do not be afraid. It's a long story, but I'd love to tell it to you."
And so I did.