Last Friday, I went to get a pedicure. While I was in the salon, my friend called and left me a voice-mail. When I was finished with my pedicure, I stepped outside near the mailbox by Publix to return her phone call and have a smoke before I went grocery-shopping.
My friend and I only talked for about 2 minutes, so I stood there to finish my cigarette and daydream (my feet were tingly, I was very relaxed, and it was a beautiful day). Shortly, I noticed a young man on a bicycle. He approached me and asked, “Could you spare a cigarette?”
Me, sort of dumbfounded, “Uh, sure, yes.” I reached into my purse to give him one. Rather than leave on his bicycle, he continued, “Do you know if there are any shelters around here?” as he motioned in the direction of the apartments across from Wendy’s.
I told him that I didn’t know of any assistance programs in this area, and asked, “Why do you need a shelter? Where are your parents?”
“My name is Nathan”, he proffered a handshake, and I accepted it with reservation. “I moved here from California with my girlfriend after being dishonorably discharged from the Marines.” He looked down, then looked me in the eye, “I wouldn’t follow orders, and the Marines don’t tolerate disobedience.”
He continued his story, “My mom is (I can’t remember now) and my dad is incarcerated in the State of California. My girlfriend (I can’t remember that now either) and we were evicted from our apartment. I don’t have any place to stay. I’m going for a job interview at Wendy’s at 3:30.”
I apologized for not knowing any sort of community organizations to help him, but I told him, “I’ve only got a small bit of cash, and you can have these ($4 and 4 cigarettes). I’m sorry I only know how to rescue dogs. Here’s my card if you need any other help” and I gave him one of my newly-printed cards with my phone number on it.
Something about Nathan made me care and want to help him. I’ve thought about him several times since then, but since I hadn’t heard from him, I just hoped he was OK.
At 2:04 today I got a phone call from a local number, but it was unfamiliar to me. It was Nathan calling from the In-Town Suites Extended Stay nearby.
I asked, “How are you Nathan? Did you get the job at Wendy’s?”
He replied, “Yes, I did, and I start work tomorrow.”
Me, “Where have you been staying?”
Nathan, “I’m at this hotel, and I asked if I could use the phone to call you, but I’ve been sleeping at The Park.”
Me, “Have you eaten?”
Nathan, “Yes, I ate last night…”
Me, “Well, I just put a frozen pizza in the oven. How about I bring you some?”
Nathan, “How long do you think it will take?”
I told him that I’d just heated the oven, so it was going to take me at least an hour to meet him at The Park.
I cut the pizza (after eating 3 tiny pieces myself) wrapped it in foil, then started thinking, “What else do we have on-hand here that he could eat?”
I scrounged through our cupboards and made a care-package of Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice, a foil-pack of tuna, the 3 applesauce packs in the fridge, some of the plastic utensils and napkins I keep in the kitchen-drawer, a pack of cigarettes, and my last $20.
As I was getting these things together, I realized that I was alone, and I didn’t have anyone to go with me to meet him.
I thought about stopping at the City Police Station, but I didn’t/don’t want to get him into trouble with the law. All I could think about was the real-life nightmare that my family lived through not so long ago.
Since it was daylight, I decided to forgo the police and take a spin over to the park to look for Nathan. As I entered the big parking lot on The Parkway, a City Police cruiser pulled in behind me and followed me. I felt relief to know the police routinely patrol the park. Since I didn’t see Nathan, I went back around the “block” again. I reentered the parking lot about 10 minutes later, and there he was.
He had a big smile on his face once he recognized me. I lifted the bag out of my partially-lowered window (my purse beneath my legs, phone in my pocket, and the doors locked). As he took the bag, I told him, “Next time, I’ll meet you at Zaxby’s and treat you to a good meal.” Nathan looked cold, but he wore jacket. I was relieved about that because I was looking for something to keep him warm at night and couldn’t find anything in our closets.
Nathan smiled and said, “Thank you.”
I watched out of my rear-view mirror as he disappeared back into a wooded area of the park, and I drove back home.