[PICS] Costa Mesa Homeless: My Time With Dave (Part 6)
February 14, 2013 4 Comments
On Wednesday of last week, Dave and I meet in a Starbucks parking lot, a 10- minute drive from home.
“Come on, let’s sit in the car, it’s cold,” I tell him, motioning to my wife’s car.
We get inside, and I ask him how it went with his kids. Because of your kindness, he was able to spend a night in a hotel, get cleaned up, and feel somewhat human in advance of seeing them. This small luxury was a huge blessing for him.
“It was amazing … so, so good!” he says, repeating his words with emphasis and emotion.
“But my older boy, I think he’s got something on his mind about me,” he says, somewhat sadly. I nod, wanting him to continue and share.
“I think he feels I left him, that it’s my fault we’re not all together,” Dave says. He’s referring to his family, before the divorce.
“And it is my fault,” he says, and pauses.
“Same thing with my mom and dad,” he says, looking straight ahead and rocking slightly. “My dad, you know, he would boom-boom-boom my mom,” he says, making a fist with both hands and striking the air. I immediately know what he means, and I start tearing up.
“Oh, gosh. I’m sorry to hear that.”
I don’t really know what to say. I just nod and stay quiet, giving him space. Sometimes awkward silences draw out richer conversations.
“So, what happened with your mom and dad?”
“Well … one night, we were at Sizzler. And my dad, he goes after my Mom, but I get between them. He tried to come after me,” Dave says. “And that’s when my mom decided it was enough,” he says. Dave is quiet, looking straight ahead.
“That’s when she ended it. And so I drove them apart. It’s my fault.”
I don’t know what to say.
It’s Friday, and at 5:43 I get a text:
Hi! It’s Dave, this is my new phone:) Took care of SS/DMV. What time you wanna lunch?
Dave now has a pre-paid cell phone, which has made contacting him much easier.
I’m proud of him. He has consistently followed-through on each of the steps needed to improve his situation. I offered to help with his social security card and ID, but he got it done. We talk, and make plans to meet the following day at 1.
Saturday 1 PM rolls around, and I head to the Target parking lot.
I almost don’t recognize him: he looks great. He’s outside Starbucks, leaning on a small retaining wall. Smiling. He gives me an emphatic wave.
I swear he looks younger.
“Where do you want to eat?” I ask, giving him a hug.
“Anywhere you want! And tell me you didn’t eat, right?” he says, alluding to the fact that usually he’s the only one eating. I haven’t eaten, so it will be the first time we actually share a meal.
We decide on Panera. “Can we leave my bag in your car?” he asks. It strikes me that his backpack is the only sign of his homelessness. Without it, he looks just like you or me.
Dave catches me up on a few updates. Last we spoke, he said he might have an opportunity to rent a room for $150 a week, which would carry him over until the Rescue Mission process is complete. I ask him how it turned out, and he shakes his head.
“Cockroaches, 6 people to a room … just nasty man,” he says. “I decided not to do it.”
Sounds like he made the right choice.
It takes us both a few minutes to figure out what we want, and Dave settles on a sandwich, chips, fudge, and milk. While we wait, Dave talks about your encouragement, and how the outpouring of support through this blog has encouraged him to take the steps he needs to get back on his feet.
He describes waiting at the DMV, and says, “As I sat there in the waiting room, I could feel everyone supporting me,” he says, as we grab our cups and make our way to the fountain drinks.
“I feel like, once again, people are on my side,” he says.
“You’re right, there are people on your side, and they’re rooting for you,” I say.
We start calling this Team Dave. Team Dave is all of you.
We find a table, and this time, our roles are reversed. Dave usually eats very quickly, but today, I’m the one who finishes within a few minutes. Dave seems eager to talk.
I’ve brought print outs of what he’ll need for the Orange County Rescue Mission, and we spend a few minutes reviewing the material.
“Let’s do the computer stuff,” he says, eager to see what I’ve written, and what you’ve said.
I also have pictures of the Rescue Mission on my laptop, so before showing him the posts, we walk him through the facility, and I describe what’s he seeing.
“Wow, it is so much more than I imagined,” he says. “This is amazing. I can not wait!”
Then I bring up the posts.
I start to feel uncomfortable, as if perhaps he’ll be angry at how I’ve portrayed him, or that he’ll feel I’m taking advantage of him in some way. I’m not sure where these feelings are coming from, so I tell him.
“I respect how good you are at talking about your feelings,” I say. “I admire that because generally, I’m not that great, I’m still learning,” I say, picking up the bag of empty chips and checking (once again) for a few last crumbs.
He assures me that he won’t take anything the wrong way, and is just really curious to see what the world looks like through my eyes.
After I show him how to scroll up and down using the touchpad, he takes off and quickly begins reading. I’m surprised by how quickly he reads.
“Oh, you got me!” he says, smiling at this picture of himself. “I didn’t even know you took that,” he says, and I begin to worry if it will upset him. “Do you want me to remove the pictures?” I ask.
“Don’t worry, what you’re doing with this blog is amazing,” he says. “Don’t change anything; this is perfect.”
As he comes to the end of the first post about our initial encounter, he pauses. I can see tears spilling over.
“I’m getting emotional,” he says. I nod.
“What are you thinking?” I ask, wondering which part has struck a nerve.
He pauses. “You nailed it man, exactly what you said is what I felt. I felt despair, like I had no hope,” he says. “But now, even on bad days, I still feel like I have hope.”
“What makes a bad day?”
“It’s the simple things, really, like not having the basic necessities. It’s getting to an apartment complex super-early, and finding that someone already went through the trash and took all the cans. Or, it’s having to dig through the trash for bits of food because I couldn’t collect enough money.”
“Do you remember making your first sign?” I ask. I remember the sign he held the first time we meet.
“Oh yah, definitely. Now I have a couple of signs,” he says. “I made about 7 dollars on my first day.” Dave says that with a sign, people can choose to give to him, as opposed to him being pushy and asking people for money, like some do. “That’s not my style,” he says.
“What did you think when you first saw me?” I ask, wondering what our encounter was like from his perspective. “Oh, man, I remember. I wondered why you were staring at me. I thought maybe you owned the lot, and that you wanted to throw me out. I didn’t think it was going to end well,” he says.
Dave says that a lot of people resort to stealing food when things get tough. He doesn’t pass judgment on others, but abstains from it himself.
I begin to wonder: What I would if I were homeless. Would I steal? Would I drink?
(Dave says he doesn’t drink because his father did, and you know the story there …)
Would I have the same control? Would you?
It’s Sunday morning, almost 8:30. Dave calls me, asking to meet a block north of my location to save time. I’m there in about a minute.
He gets in the car, shakes my hand, and runs his hands over my paneling. I wonder what my E350 looks like to him, and for a moment, I’m embarrassed by the opulence.
I see him taking it all in.
“You look great, Dave!” I say, because honestly, he does. “I feel really good,” he says, nodding and looking out the window.
“It’s funny, I’ve noticed a few things,” Dave says, as we head towards Rock Harbor. “For example, people look at me now, and they even use my name. “ Dave says that often, he’ll go to McDonalds, and what typically happens is that he places his order, and the cashier assumes it is “to go”.
Dave reads this as them wanting to rid themselves of a bum. It never occurred to me that such a simple question could so deeply impact someone. I’ve never thought twice about that question.
Dave goes on to describe how he visits a super market frequently, and that the security guard typically follows him around. He visited the same market the day before. “This time, the security guard didn’t follow me! He said HI, and didn’t come after me,” he says.
“What does it feel like?” I ask. “I mean, what does it feel like to be homeless?”
“Well, it feels less than human. I don’t feel like I’m the same as everyone else,” he says. “I’m ashamed, I’ve been embarrassed. It all happened so quickly; I couldn’t believe I was homeless.”
Even Dave’s x-wife sees his transformation. I ask Dave what she thinks of everyone’s kindness, and Dave says she’s amazed. She can’t believe it. I know the feeling.
We talk about how this blog is opening people’s eyes to what it means to be homeless.
“Dave, maybe your story will become one of being a bridge between these two communities,” I say, referring to the homeless and non-homeless. Dave nods. I can see the wheels turning.
After church, Dave asks me to take him to the Santa Ana Starbucks. On our way, we pass by the Target where we first met.
“That’s The Transformation Point,” he says, looking out the window at the light pole he was leaning against during our first conversation. You can see it here.
My mind goes back to that meeting, and I think about our conversation and how there where points where I almost stopped trying to engage him.
I’m so glad I didn’t.
I’m about to drop him off, and go on my way.
Dave pauses; he still has more on his mind.
“You’ve mentioned that the margin between us isn’t that big from where you’re standing,” he says, looking at me.
“But I gotta tell you, from where I’m at, it seems like a huge valley. I mean, it seems like you have everything anyone could want in life, with your wife, your baby, and your business. But with everyone’s help, thank God, the valley is getting just a little smaller. It still seems wide, but it is shrinking a bit.”
I hug him goodbye.
This Will Sound Crazy …
Here’s something few people know. When I was younger, when I first felt my heart stirred in the direction of the homeless, I set a goal for myself: when I hit a certain financial milestone, I would live for one month on the street.
No money. No cushion. Just figure out a way to make it happen.
I know this probably sounds crazy. It is an odd way of intentionally humbling oneself (which, ironically, I don’t feel humble talking about).
It is probably near impossible to actually live out at this point: a wife, daughter, and work-related responsibilities make it difficult, but there is an odd thought in mind: If Dave is accepted to the Rescue Mission, I’m thinking about spending the last night with him under his bridge.
His last night on the street. My first (and only?). Am I crazy?
Until then, here’s a gallery of pictures from my time with Dave. Click on them to view and see the captions. Cheers!