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It’s not much, but anything is better than sitting on your bum in the middle of the road. So what if it means sitting on your bum in the middle of the dewy grass, damp cardboard sign in your hand, hoping somebody drops some big load of cash your way. As if…
Sometimes I get the urge to let it all go. Let go of the pain and suffering, let go of the sign, let go of the world and wait in the middle of the road for something to take me. Let go of the memories. But then I’d be a coward, unable to take the challenges of life. They’d say I was weak, they would say I deserved nothing more than death and that any number of them would have been more than willing to give it to me. I don’t think they deserve that chance, not after what they did to me. Not after what they did to my family. I try not to keep grudges, but they creep up on me like the deeply rooted viney plants that grow along old rusty fences. Even if you cut them down, their roots grow and they keep coming back; you can’t kill it. What they did… they don’t even know they did it. It hurts to think about, like my chest is caving in on itself because the heart that was once there has somehow vanished. It was stolen when they robbed me. When they robbed me of my family. Here I sit, muffling my cries, holding back my pleas, living off of the generosity of the people who stole everything from me.
I used to be like them, so I suppose I can’t blame them entirely for those half-hearted, sometimes hurtful glances thrown at me. I remember looking down on the people in the park, occasionally tossing down a penny or a dime and watching their fleeting eyes avoid mine at all costs. I wished I could help them, but only until I got home where I was dissolved into my own life, forgetting the poor souls in the park. Yes, I was just like them. Now I know what it feels like to see those penetrating eyes so hard to look at, I know mine are flitting everywhere. I can’t look them in the eye, not after what they did to me.
By the time the sun is above me, the grass is dry and the trees cast a shadow in a doughnut around me, as if the shadow finally wanted nothing to do with me. The light pours down and makes me wish for a pair of sunglasses. One of the luxuries of the old life. I used to have a pair. They were big and blue and left horrible tan lines after the summer, something they still care about. It’s easy to take for granted such a pleasant thing. A woman walks by me on the sidewalk. She’s wearing blue sunglasses and holds a big white purse that matches her mainly white getup. She’s talking into her cell phone, a new one that has its own billboard down the street. She stares at me for a moment, probably becoming very self-conscious, so I look away. I don’t want to cause her awkwardness, so I’ll let myself have it instead. She drops a coin on the ground in front of me. A quarter.
The park is losing passersby as it’s probably nearing lunchtime, several families arriving with baskets of food and red and white checkered blankets. One such family sets up a picnic across the sidewalk in the gazebo. It’s so nice to see the little kids running around playing. I think its tag. There are two boys and a girl. I know my little sister would have loved to play with them. The boys are mostly playing together and leaving out the girl. Typical. She doesn’t seem too upset about it, though. After a while, I can smell their cooking on the grill. It smells really good, and I sit back against the tree, rearranging my feet in a comfortable position. The little girl runs across the sidewalk and sits on the bench near my tree. I try to act invisible. I hate it when the little ones come by me, because that means an angry mother or mortified father comes next. But they seem pretty preoccupied.
“Hello.” The little girl’s wispy voice reminds me of Clara. Her feet with her little red shoes are swinging back and forth, her hands on the bench next to her.
I clear my throat a little before I say ‘Hello’. She smiles. A true, genuine smile that only innocent children can have. She jumps down from the bench and sits next to me. “Why are you sitting here all alone?”
Oh yeah, that’s another thing. I hate it when little kids ask questions. Not that I don’t want them to be curious, but I hate lying to them. I would hate it more to tell them the truth.
‘I love sitting in the park and listening to the birds sing.’ She nods.
“They’re pretty, aren’t they?” She jumps up and looks down at me again. “Why aren’t you eating lunch? We’ve been here a long time, but you’ve been here longer.”
Again with the questions. ‘I ate a little bit before you all got here.’ She seems to believe me, which pierces me in the heart somewhere in a stolen vault. Part of me wishes she would ask her parents to give me a bite to eat, but I don’t want them to know I’ve been talking with their daughter. It usually leads to awkward glances, and sometimes yells and angry looks.
It seems like her mother noticed that she was talking to me. A dark and horrified look crosses her face for a moment before she calls her daughter’s name. The girl says goodbye to me and I wave as she runs to her mother. I can see what’s going on. The mother asking what happened with a big happy smile. The girl answering with a grin the size of her face because she thinks she just met a new friend. The mother, much more serious, hands on hips, telling something to her daughter, who glances back at me a few times, the confusion in her eyes swelling. She asks her mother a question, and her mom shakes her head ‘no’. I can only imagine the questions.
“But mom, why can’t I talk to her?”
“We don’t talk to strangers.”
“She’s just watching the birds!”
“No, that’s not why she’s there. She’s homeless.”
“But she said-”
“I don’t think so. Why would she lie?”
“She hasn’t done the best things in her life and this is her punishment. She has to live with the choices she made. Now you know that you have to try your best in everything so that doesn’t happen to you, right?”
“Can I go back now?”
“I don’t want you talking to her. She doesn’t deserve to have such a sweet little girl by her.”
Now she thinks homeless people are liars. I should have told her what actually happened. I could have told her the real story. I could have said “I’m here all alone because me and my mom and my dad and my little sister who you reminded me of got in a really bad car accident and I was the only one to make it. I only had a few broken bones, mostly healed now. They took away my family, my home, and my world. They made me live with my uncle who hated me so I ran away. I didn’t have anywhere to go so I stayed here.” I could have said I didn’t eat lunch because I have no money aside from a quarter and no one cares to give me a snack. I could have said that it’s been a week since my last full meal that I received from a soup kitchen for people like me, but there were only a few people working there so they had to close. Since then I’ve been hoping for something. Something that isn’t here. But at least I’m not living in the road, right?