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Monday, September 16, 2019

A Man Walking Alone

Victor Bauer "Walking Man" 

A stinging and scary financial blow.

Nightmares, crying, sense of doom.

When a financial blow hits I wrestle with worthlessness. if I had worth, I would not be so poor.

If I had only. So many "If I had onlys."

I really wish I could rewrite the entire decade of my twenties, starting with that sexual assault, and the response of so many I went to asking for help, the Catholic priest, the battered women's shelter, the professors at school, who dropped the ball and showed me zero compassion or guidance.

But I can't. And this is my life now. And I am trapped in poverty and disease and a very unsafe neighborhood.

Given how much I can earn to quality for healthcare, and given that that amount is miniscule, I walk a razor. Any unexpected financial blow topples me.

It isn't even the financial insecurity that wrecks me. It's the shame, the regret, wishing I could re-do every choice that got me here.


I was walking home from my encounter with the man in charge who would soon be demanding money from me, money it would hurt to surrender. It was morning. I was halfway back to Paterson. A very thin white man was walking up ahead of me.

*Very* thin.

All alone, in an area where I pretty much never see anyone walk, except me.

An red brick factory, that pumps out acrid pollution that makes it hard to breathe when I walk by there. What do they manufacture? Nail polish remover? Across the street from another red brick factory, this one abandoned. A funeral parlor and many low budget homes.

The very thin white man is walking in a very strange way.

Because I live in North Jersey's heroin hub, I have learned to recognize overdoses. There's a distinctive movement. Very, very slow, uncoordinated.

Generally when I cross paths with overdoses I dial 911 and wait for the emergency rescue personnel, looking bored and annoyed, to show up with Narcan.

Lately, though, I've been so annoyed with these heroin addicts. I'm tired of the fires they set, their breaking into cars, their begging from passing vehicles, thus slowing down traffic, and the example they show to neighborhood children.

And it must be said that many are white. Skeletal, zombie-like white heroin addicts haunting a majority minority city.

I just want to slap them.

So, I'm focused on my own woes, trying to hold off my own nervous breakdown, and I see this very thin white man walking in what looks like an overdose manner in front of me.

I know I'll be overtaking him soon and I think, do I call 911, or leave him to die on this sidewalk in front of an abandoned, red brick factory?

I catch up to him.

I struggle to make eye contact, His eyes are focused on the sidewalk he is finding it so hard to navigate.

"Are you okay?" I ask.








Well my heart broke right there. I was so focused on my own problems, and this gentleman, younger than I, could barely walk, thanks to a genetic degenerative disease that is slowly but surely robbing him of his ability to move, eventually to think, and of course to breathe.

and he knows that.

And on this beautiful fall day, in this lousy, polluted neighborhood, he is going for a walk.

One slow, disjointed step at a time.

"Good for you!" I say. "It's a beautiful day!" I say.




I'm still focused on my own mini catastrophe. I literally can't help it. I wish I could lighten up, stop panicking, but I can't. I drank some gin. I took a Benadryl. I'm still hyper and panicking and obsessed with my own worthlessness.

But I'm glad I ran into that guy today, and I'm glad I asked him how he was.

My old Facebook friend Mary Krane Derr, who wrestled with a chronic illness, said on Facebook that she didn't particularly like being, as a person with a chronic illness, an object lesson for more fortunate people, but she knew she was.

I'm paraphrasing here. Mary left us some years back and I can't fact-check the quote with her. Mary was a poet -- is a poet in heaven -- and I can just feel her tapping on my shoulder, telling me to get her words right.

But that man, whose life is harder than mine is, was my object lesson today.

I was praying the Friday rosary when I passed him, the sorrowful ones. I prayed for him.

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