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Everyday I would walk the same streets to work. With that, I would typically see a handful of familiar faces along the way. Among those people was a homeless man. I would pass the little alcove he lived in all those days with little interest, same as most people. Only when he would ask for spare change would I pay him the least bit of attention, like I did a crisp fall day in late October.
“Spare change anyone? Please, spare change?”
I felt pity for the guy. Not everybody living on the streets ended up that way because of their own mistakes.
Reaching into my pocket I realized there was still a few dollars leftover from my usual coffee run.
“Here,” I said handing him the coins. “It's all I have at the moment.”
He smiled kindly and accepted my money.
In the weeks that followed I would, as always, see the nameless man.
Didn't he have anywhere to go? A friend or family members place? How does he even acquire the necessary items to survive? I've seen people ignore, and even insult the man, and for what? Only a small fraction of those would pay him mind, while even a smaller fraction would donate their change. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to ask complete strangers for money in order to afford my next meal.
Little did I realize in only two years time, there would be ways I would be in the same position as him.
* * *
“Happy birthday Simon!”
“Oh boy. Thirty-three already? Man, where did the years go?”
“No matter how old you are, you'll always be my baby brother.”
“And you my old, decrepit sister.”
“Ha-ha, very funny. Always the comedian. I'm only three years older than you are, buddy.”
“Yeah, yeah. So what now? No doubt you've planned something.”
“Well you guessed right. Now throw on something that doesn't look like you've slept in it. We're going out!”
As soon as we got into the car, Katie promptly blindfolded me. She said what she had in mind for the night was a surprise, and “there was no way I was spoiling it by figuring out her plans early”!
“Okay Katie, can I please take off the blindfold? I feel like a little kid again!”
“No way! I know if you look out your window you'll realize what I'm up to.”
I stayed silent. I was perplexed as to where she was taking me.
I didn't have long to think. I heard Katie gasp,as well as the blare of a car horn approaching. The next second I was thrown against the car door. Spots danced behind my eyelids, and soon I was swallowed completely by blackness.
* * *
I was still trying to swat away the strands of sleep that were draped throughout my mind when the doctor entered. He looked piteous. Suddenly I wished I were back asleep, never waking.
“I'll start with the good news. Your sister got away with minimal injuries, considering the extent of the accident. She's dislocated her left shoulder, and has obtained a minor concussion, as well as some cuts and scrapes. She'll be sore for awhile, but should recover quickly.”
“And the bad news?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.
“You've lost all hearing in your right ear,” I closed my eyes. “As well as, I'm sorry to say, the ability to move your legs. We had to amputate below the knee on your right leg as it was crushed by the car door entirely.”
Knowing what he was going to say didn't soften the blow. Listening to the doctor say it made it more real. I reached down under the covers to my leg, feeling the stump of what was left there.
“I'm sorry. I'll send a nurse in shortly to check in on you.” I looked up in time to see the end of his white coat vanish around the corner.
I'm numb. Never mind the fact that I only have use of one ear, I can handle that much. But knowing that I am never going to be able to walk again is something else entirely. I won't be able to go to the bathroom by myself. No more hikes, bike rides, or walks on the beach. I won't be able to walk my little girl down the aisle, or even take the simple pleasure of dancing with my wife. I'll be totally reliant on others' help, at least until I can re-learn the basics.
“Simon? Simon, are you okay?”
My wife looks haggard. She probably hasn't slept since the crash, however long ago that was.
“What happened? How did we wreck?” I ask. “I hardly remember a thing. Just sounds really. I was blindfolded when it happened.”
“Katie said some lunatic swerved into the oncoming lane. She tried to dodge him, but he clipped you,” she started sobbing. “You spun off the road and rolled through the ditch into a telephone pole. The police suspect it was a man named Mark Shilling based on a description your sister gave...he has a history of drug use. They're trying to find him now.”
I was aware of her staring at me, waiting for some kind of response.
“Sweetie, you okay?”
All my anger and sadness and hatred towards the man that did this swelled to the surface, and erupted before I knew it.
“NO! I am not okay! How could you even ask me that? I'm never going to be okay! What legs I have left are useless, and I'm going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. How am I supposed to live like this?”
I could hear the desperation in my voice.
“Do you remember that homeless man you would pass every morning on your way to work?”
What was she talking about? My life was in pieces and she's talking about some guy that lived on the streets?
When I didn't answer she asked again.
“Well? Do you?”
“Yes, but what does that-”
“Please, just let me talk. You told me you didn't know how he lived like he did. He had no loved ones apparent in his life, and nothing to his name, only the clothes on his back and the few dollars people like you would give him. He slept in the cold, living off donations.
You, on the other hand, have a beautiful daughter and a wife that loves you very much, along with countless friends and relatives. You have more clothes than most people would need, a stable job, and a warm house to be comfortable in. If that man can live without all the luxuries we have, you can certainly stop thinking about what you've lost and be thankful for what you have. We're here for you, and will never leave.”
Her eyes shone with conviction.
Aside from being appalled, I was inspired. Her words rang true. I might feel beaten now, but soon I'll come to the realization that I'm just lucky to be alive.
I reached over and took Rachel's hand. I felt hope for the future.