Reading the sign
I do not know your name. I want you to know every time I see you, my heart aches. It aches the way it does when I feel helpless. Helpless because of distance. It aches the way it does when someone I care about does something great and I’m not there to hug them and be a part of it. Every time I see you, I see the hallway in slow motion. Every person starts to slow down around me as I approach you. I know nothing about you, and the other night I wanted to ask you to lunch or dinner but I lost the nerve as I got closer to you. I find myself wondering if you have siblings, or cousins or any family in the area. I find myself wondering what your story is. What you were like in high school, what serving your country was like, and what you think of everything that’s happened to you thus far. I wonder if you like soup and if you’d like to have lunch with me at Fresh & Co sometime, but I never ask. I wonder how you drink your coffee, and I’d like to buy you a cup. I wonder when the last time you smiled was. I wonder where you’re from and if you had kids with your ex-wife. I only know you’re divorced because I read it, on your sign.
I read that the VA wasn’t helping. That you are broke and divorced. I read what your military rank and position was–although I don’t know what it means and I can never seem to recall what it says once I’ve passed you. I read that you have proof of service and you often are holding a small card, the size of a credit card or ID card, with your sign, and I imagine that it is your proof of service. I wonder what you’re thinking about every time I glance up towards your face and your eyes are set at an angle about 45 degrees from straight forward. It is as if you are completely disconnected and the stare appears blank, but I’m betting you have thoughts running through your mind. Thoughts, experiences and pictures. I want to know what’s on your mind. I want to sit next to you, on the floor in that hallway between 6th avenue and 5th avenue and listen. I want to listen to what you have to say. I think you have blue eyes and blonde hair.
For some reason I cannot understand, I am drawn to you. I see people all through out the city asking for money on the trains, playing instruments, begging on corners. I see them sitting on floors in hallways and they look scary sometimes. They look “normal.” They look sad. They have blank expressions on their faces. They look dirty. You, you don’t look homeless, but your sign indicates you are and when I see you sitting on the grey tile up against the white tile with designs and quotes surrounding you in the hallway beneath bryant park…I want to stop everything and talk to you, be with you, sit with you. I want to know how I can help you. I want to know why you’re there. Why you stare at a downward angle. Why you apparently have no one you can go home to, and I sometimes want to invite you to my home and offer you a hot shower and dinner. I will be unable to offer you a place to stay, you are a stranger and I have to be careful. You could be the kindest man in NY. You could be a psychotic monster. I don’t know, I just know that when I see you I want to stop and sit and talk to you.
I want to see you smile. The first time I saw you I slowed down and read your sign and had continued walking, I reached the end of the hall thinking of you the entire time, and I turned around and walked back and took what tips I had made that day and handed it to you. You glanced up with a small half smile and said thank you and bid me to get home safe. It was quite cold that night, the snow storms were approaching with consistency and violence. And I said thank you and perhaps held your eyes a moment too long and when I broke away and started walking back to the train I wanted to turn around and go back to you again. I didn’t though. My eyes welled with tears and I couldn’t understand why and I just kept walking to the train.
The other night I cried for you again, or cried about you, or over you–I have no idea what kind of tears they were. My housemate could tell in my face just when I said “hi” to her that I was upset. And when I began to talk about you I cried. It was so sad. It was so hard. I do not know you. I believe, though, that you are somehow important. I was a firm believer in signs for a while and lately I have been living life as it is. I work. I go to school. I come home. I sometimes go to the bar and sing. I pretty much stay to myself. Perhaps this is a sign. I don’t want to read too far in to it. I don’t want to make up stories, or fabricate an entire back story for you, but I am drawn to you somehow. I think you’re important, somehow. That I’m supposed to learn something from this experience I’m having. The experience I’m having when your in my site line or in proximity to you.
I am unsure what risks I am willing to take. I am unsure what bravery, if that’s what I need, it will take to just be human and greet you. –that’s an awfully powerful sentence, I think. And I’m going to keep it. And I’m going to see what happens if I see you again. Time permitting, knowing opportunity is not a lengthy visitor, I will see what rumbles of bravery surface, and we will both see if there is more than one sign I read and remember.
Goodnight, Sir. I hope tonight you are sheltered.