He’s Gone

I don’t talk a lot, socially speaking. Neither did Lars. So we’d just sit there. Cars and trucks passed. Bikes rolled by. The breeze might move the leaves of the scraggly bushes or thin branches of the young trees trying to grow up in the little patch of square dirt hemmed in by the sidewalk concrete, but most of the time there was no breeze. No true breeze. Just wind moved by humans racing past us. The sidewalk itself was never that welcoming either. Never warm from the sun, always cool to the touch, as though dampness had decreed Lars would be chilled for the rest of his days. He always wore winter boots, the laced-up kind, with his pants tucked into the tops and a woven blanket around his waist. If it was unusually hot out, I might find him in just a T-shirt, but most often he wore his winter coat. He’d use the pockets to hide the granola bars I’d bring. I’d place them on the ground, and he’d wait until I looked away, then he’d pocket them in his coat along with his mini wads of cash and his tin where he collected mostly-smoked cigarettes. When I first met him, his hair was a gnarled mess of dreadlocks tucked into a big net of a winter hat. As his hair grew even longer, the hat seemed to hang on to this clump of hair for dear life as it slid further and further off his head and came to rest on his shoulder. The result was that in the winter, when he’d keep his hood up all the time, this lump of hair stuffed in a toque resting on his shoulder gave him a hunchbacked look. His posture was already terrible from all that time sitting on the pavement, from sleeping propped up against the liquor store wall, huddled in a ball in an effort to stay dry from the sleet and the rain. But the whether conditions weren’t what bent him over. The outer man only reflected the condition of the inner man. Lars was broken under a terrible weight. A weight he never vocalized, and I never asked about. In the end, I only ever learned what he became comfortable telling me. And that wasn’t much. Yet we seemed to be friends.the four corners of my world d.g.h.delgadoLars d.g.h.delgado

Lars d.g.h.delgado

I want to say I spent four years, on and off, sitting with Lars. It may have been more, maybe less. He never once let me talk about Jesus. With that topic, he’d suddenly become vocal. “No thanks. Please don’t.” I think I only ever tried twice. And the last time, it was only because I was sitting with him on a Sunday morning.

“Hey, man,” I said after chilling on the cold November pavement for twenty minutes. “It’s Sunday today.”

“Is it?” He was still sipping the extra-large hot chocolate I’d brought him. Tiny sips. Fingers wrapped up around the rim. Beard gnarly as ever. Upper lip of his mouth completely hidden in the shag.

I pulled out my mini pocket Bible. “Thought, seeing that it’s Sunday, I might read a psalm. Would that be all right with you?”

Was he ever angry. “I’d rather you didn’t, but I can’t stop you! You just show up when you want, sit here, won’t go away! I never asked for any of this!”

“Okay, man,” I started to get up. “I hear you. I apologize. You want space, I’ll give you your space.” Before I left, I told him, “This was only ever about hanging out, man. Just living life. The Bible’s a part of my life. I was just sharing part of my life with a friend, that’s all.”

And those were the last words we ever said.

Not that I didn’t come back. I did. But I made sure it was at times when he’d be sleeping and I could just leave some granola bars on the pavement by his feet.

His body was quitting on him. Had been for months. One time, when he’d been away from his spot, I put our recycling bin and garbage can in the trunk of the van, filled them with soapy water, and taken a big broom for sweeping up a shop and cleaned the filth off his area of the sidewalk. I knew that if the shop owners ever walked over to this side of the building, they’d chase him away, and he’d no longer have an awning to shelter under.

And then one day I drove by and Lars wasn’t there. He was gone. And I knew that was it.

People said an ambulance had come to get him. Firemen had been involved somehow. Someone had actually built him a shelter, but he didn’t get to use it for long.

The story circulated that he was in one of the medical wings of the local hospital, and I tried with my old volunteer status to find out if that was true, if I could go see him. But, of course, patient confidentiality won out. No one could tell me if he was even there.

And now I drive by, and I miss him.

I miss his whether-worn hands with their thickened fingernails.

I miss his half-shut eyes and his sun-browned face.

I miss his short coughing fit after getting a cigarette lit.

I miss the smell of smoke and sweat.

I miss him, and I know he’s gone.

Some people may think he’s up in heaven, like the man from Jesus’ story with the rich man and the poor man. Some may think he’s not. After all, he rejected the Bible and he rejected hearing about Jesus.

Thankfully, it’s God’s job to be the Judge of the Earth. Whether or not this man’s name ever made it into the book of life, God knows.

Years ago, when I started writing about him, I chose not to use his real name. I needed a fake one. To me, his situation seemed to be a challenge to us “rich people,” asking, “What will you do?” He was, after all, “sitting at our gates” on Storey Street–everyone could see him there–longing to have something to eat. So I took the name from Jesus’ story, Lazarus, and whittled it down to Lars.

Miss you, Lars.

Dave

is that jesus d.g.h.delgado

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