Concrete

He sat on that step everyday.  Sat there, watching the rest of us walk by to our homes or our offices or stores.  We didn’t even see him there most days and when we did, he saw him through eyes filled with judgment and disgust.  Saw him as a stain on the city.  A dirty spot on that otherwise clean step.

And then one day he was gone.  It wasn’t until he was gone that we saw him.  Really saw him.

We saw that he had a family once.  A wife and a daughter.  He had a career and a home and a car.  He wasn’t always on that step.  He was once more than just what we made him out to be in our minds.

We didn’t know he had been in a car accident with his wife by his side and his child in the backseat.  We didn’t know that the impact had killed his family and left him hospitalized for months.  We didn’t know his hospital bills took precedence over his rent and he lost his home.  We didn’t know that in one instant of his life he became a widow, the father of a dead child, unable to work.  Homeless.

What we saw was a drunk.  A drug addict.  A loser.  A nobody.  A stain on the city.

We didn’t know he attended church every Sunday, even after he lost everything.  Especially after losing everything.  We didn’t know he spent his afternoons in the library, searching for jobs.  That he would travel by foot across town, picking up quarters along the way, to the most inexpensive dry cleaners he could find, to wash his one set of clothing, so that he could attend job interviews and not appear homeless.  Only to be told he couldn’t perform the job required because of the injuries left from the accident that took from him everything.

We didn’t know that this man was more than just a stain on that concrete step because we didn’t bother to ask.  And then one day he was just…gone.  His life swept away with the rest of the debris left on the street. 

The concrete step is empty with him gone.

And now we wish we had asked.

***

This was inspired by this week’s Studio 30 Plus writing prompt – Concrete.  It was also inspired by Underheard In New York and The Dignity Project.

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31 thoughts on “Concrete

  1. My goodness that was good. It makes you realize that everyone has a story. Just yesterday I talked with a woman I see all the time where I get gas. She always has a smile on her face and her two dogs are well behaved and look healthy. I don’t know her story, but now I want to find out more than ever.

  2. There’s poignant and there’s this, which is super poignant.

    I like the metaphor of the stain with your memory of him. Very moving piece, Jen. Thanks for writing it.

    • Yeah, not true, per se, but directly inspired by some of what I’ve read from the four gentlemen participating in Underheard In New York. Following those men on Twitter has changed my life. Really.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing. This was amazing. It’s too often that people like that are overlooked. The brightest part of my day is often sharing a smile and a hello with somebody I don’t know in hopes it’s the brightest part of their day too.

  4. I shouldn’t have read this at work, because it made me cry.
    Jen, this was amazing. I just sat there for a couple minutes after, absorbing.
    Everybody has a story in them, thank you for talking about his, fictional or real.

  5. This is a good reminder. Behind the image of trash there is a human. This human has a story. The older I get the easier these basic truths tend to slip away from me. I so loved your ending, and the metaphor. I so loved being reminded about the forgotten ones. And in this new town I live in, it should be hard to forget.

    Thanks.

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