Frozen Between Two Worlds,
Tarp Man...Part II: Two worlds, Divided
With excitement and a little apprehension, we piled into the Firecracker’s warm GMC (Pearls is her name), as if to fill into a space shuttle headed for an unknown planet. This marked the beginning of a journey we would never forget.
Cracking the window, I let out the stink of the streets that oozed from the backseat like a burning candle. We were on the highway and just passed a bridge when Mother Mary said sharply,
“Here. Turn here.”
We looked to the right and in unison said,
“Where Mother Mary, there’s nowhere to turn.
“Oh yes there is. Y’ans said you wanted to park, well this is the way.”
As we turned off the highway down into a sort of gully near a small, cold running river, even though the Firecracker wasn’t with us, trepidation leaked it’s way into my head as I could hear her,
“JEFFREY, WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU DOING!!!”
Nonetheless, we forged ahead into the night, with our respective pasts fueling each of our hearts. This made it nearly impossible to turn back. We parked “Pearls” near the entrance to the city--Tent City, that is.
“Mother Mary can you go before us to ward off any threats?” I said already knowing she would.
As we walked, we could see the signs of “the others.” (This is what we assumed they called everyone besides themselves). Under one of the bridges, just past a grocery cart full of miscellaneous homeless goods, lay a well maintained trail. (Later during the day we would see runners jogging on it right through the main atrium of Tent City).
We waxed-and-waned our way around and under trees into what looked like a camping site on steroids. Small fires burned in the night as the smells of despondency crowded in our nostrils. It felt as if we were entering a graveyard. One of forgotten souls.
We set the tub of clothes right in the middle of a southside neighborhood (with around a hundred tents, the homeless, like us, have good and bad neighborhoods).
“We are kind over here,” Mother Mary assured us.
Never knowing what to expect, we stood there like school children awaiting their first day of school. Nervous with a hint of excitement.
“Will someone jump out to stab us?...will we offend someone?...will we be too much like “the others” for them to accept our presence in their home?”
Mother Mary went away for a bit and came back with young Megan and John.
These two were as rugged as they were young.
“What do you like to eat?” I asked John.
“PB & J’s,” he whispered like a mouse as he used his few remaining teeth to gnaw on the granola bar we had given him.
“We need tarps,” he peeped my way as Megan rummaged through the ben of clothes.
As he spoke, I noticed Mother Mary guarding us with an eerie kind of hesitancy, like a look-out man watching for cops as we robbed a bank. (As it turns out not everyone was fond of our presence).
This was their home, and for better or worse we were outsiders. As time passed in this foreign land, I--I think we--sensed that we needed to tread lightly so as to take the shoes off of our conduct.
I used every skill I learned from the streets to try and let Mother Mary see that I used to be one of them. But with the nice car, clean clothes, wherewithal, hope, and a place-to-go-back-to, I couldn’t help but wonder if every time she looked at us we were still considered part of “the others.”
The fading fire made it tough for me to see all of John’s face when he broke the blood-curdling news to us. He wasn’t much for small talk. He rocked back-and-forth like a little boy who had something on his mind when a blistering silence fell over all of us, as we all just stood there waiting.
Waiting, I glanced at the cars passing bye on the nearby bridge where tons of tents rested under. So close, but worlds apart. Two worlds, divided. So distinct, I could almost see where the dividing line between them and “the others” was.
Then, with little introduction, John said it. As he pointed to a nearby tent he muttered , “Two nights ago, right over there, 22-year-old Mario froze to death. The cops came and got our friend and we never heard another word.”