“Hello, Ma’am,” said Spencer Fine, holding onto his bookbag. “How are you doing today?”
The woman was a rather voluptuous lady in her thirties. She was wearing a silk, decorated chemise with a green skirt and comfortable shoes.
“Leave me alone,” she said.
“Okay,” said Spencer. “I hope you have a nice day.”
“Whatever. Shut up.”
Spencer was in a quandary he had created for himself. His whole life, he’d been a bully. He’d bullied everyone: his brothers and sisters, his classmates, his friends, strangers. For years they had warned him. One day, he’d put grease on the floor next to his brother’s bed. His brother slipped and fell. Then, another time, he kidnapped his sister’s pet. Kids at school were often greeted with a rock-solid spit ball to the face or a commanding trip to the floor. These were the main activities of Spencer Fine. Growing up, he never felt as though he had the proper outlet for his rage. Attempting to be someone he wasn’t, he decided instead to go after others.
The people said, “You must change. You must become a different person. You won’t have this opportunity forever. You will have to stop bullying others.” But Spencer hadn’t listened. Until one day, his mother died in a car accident. She had fallen asleep at the wheel after a long day spent working as a notary. It was the most devastating thing that Spencer had ever gone through in his life. He just couldn’t shake his loss. He became severely depressed, choosing to sleep 16 hours a day on many occasions. The pain seemed like it was just too much to bear at times. It appeared Spencer wasn’t going to make it out of his grief.
Something happened that changed his life, though. At 16, Spencer was introduced to a grief counselor who specialized in teenagers who had lost loved ones. It was a dramatic shift that would change the way he saw the world and the way that the world saw him. Though he didn’t change completely as a result, it was a step in the right direction. The process took years. Only recently, he had decided that he was going to be a ray of sunshine. He had decided that he would greet others who walked by, that he would be helpful.
Spencer walked down the street, saying hi to people as he passed them by. It was the least he could do. He got to the store where he normally bought his groceries from. It was a very high-quality store; with organic foods and all the staples one could look for. He saw a man walking out of the store, carrying a bag of groceries to his car.
“Hello,” said Spencer.
The man hauled off and punched Spencer straight in the nose.
“Do not beg me for change, bum!”
Spencer was so surprised by the action that he didn’t even have time to defend himself. He was caught totally unaware. Suddenly, his nose began bleeding profusely. Blood came out of his mouth and was soon all over his hands and shirt. The manager understood what happened and called an ambulance for Spencer to go the local hospital.
As Spencer sat there, outside of his favorite store, waiting for the ambulance to arrive, so many things went through his head. Would he be able to pay the ambulance fee? Had it gone up recently? Would his insurance cover a broken nose? Would he be prosecuted for vagrancy, just for saying hi? What was the punishment in his city for vagrancy anyway?
The ambulance arrived and he was saved. The blood had slowed from a waterfall to a trickle, but that was only the beginning of it. He now had a broken nose to mend. As he sat in the back of that ambulance, he thought of all the things he’d been through. He thought about losing his mother the most. She had always been in his corner, had always been willing to give him some credit. Even if he didn’t necessarily deserve it. She hadn’t ever been overbearing with him. Just the most supportive, caring woman alive. No matter what Spencer had done wrong, his mother was still his mother.
“What are you doing here?” said the doctor. “They said that you were panhandling?”
“I was not panhandling,” said Spencer.
“Well, tell me what happened,” said the doctor.
“My attacker accused me of panhandling,” said Spencer. “Right before he broke my nose.”
“Uh, huh,” said the doctor. “You want to know what I think?”
“Yeah?” said Spencer. “Really, I want to know.”
“I think you should visit a friend of mine,” said the doctor. “He’s a psychiatrist. Works with patients in this part of the city. He’s well-renowned. He has a really comfy couch, like you see in the movies. You’ll love him. Name’s Partridge.”
“I told you, I wasn’t panhandling,” said Spencer. “I didn’t attack him. I was just trying to say hi.”
“Well, the doctor will figure out what was happening,” said the doctor.
Spencer had two problems. First, the cast on his nose was obtuse and intrusive. It made breathing through the nose almost impossible. All he could do was think about all the beautiful things he had experienced in his life.
“If pain I must endure,” he said to himself. “Then pain is my banner.”
Going back to work was a slog. So many questions. Most of them maligning his character. Most of them would never understand what he had been through. How he had been trying to change his life. How he wanted things to be different. He wanted everything to change; about himself, his character, his expectations and his future. He could feel the change coming through him. He made it to the psychiatrist’s office on time. Unsure as to how he would react to being “psychoanalyzed.”
“What is your name?” said the psychiatrist, sporting an expensive sports watch and a white coat.
“Spencer,” said Spencer. “Spencer Fine.”
“The police report said you were panhandling aggressively and that you ended up getting punched in the face,” said the psychiatrist. “Is that right?”
“I have said over a million times,” said Spencer. “I am not a panhandler. I have a job. I just went to work yesterday.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” said the psychiatrist. “Lots of panhandlers have jobs. Some are quite wealthy.”
“Well, that isn’t me,” said Spencer.
“Well, that’s typical,” said the psychiatrist. “First you get caught panhandling, and then you want to deny it.”
“I said it before, and I’ll say it again. I have my own apartment. I have a job. I pay taxes every year. I am not, nor have I ever been, a panhandler.”
“Don’t get mad at me. I’m not the panhandler.”
It was obvious that Spencer and the psychiatrist were at an impasse. Spencer used this time to regroup and think of another strategy. Suddenly, the psychiatrist, aware of the situation, started writing on a memo pad. It was small enough that he didn’t need to set it on a table to write.
“What’s that?” said Spencer.
“Your medication,” said the psychiatrist. “I’m prescribing a psychotropic.”
“You just said you weren’t panhandling.”
“I wasn’t. What is it? What’s my diagnosis?”
“Schizophrenia? You think I hear voices because somebody punched me in the face? What is wrong with you?”
“You have disorganized speech. It’s hard to understand what you say.”
“Yes, and you’re so easily angered that you almost wound up getting seriously hurt. Now why don’t you take me through the entire process once more? Just one more time? No, really. Just tell me what happened.”
Spencer now knew the futility of arguing. He simply accepted his diagnosis and filled the prescription.
The drugs were worse than any diagnosis he could’ve every received. They made him paranoid, he woke up in cold sweats and he had constipation. He would forget entire days it seemed. His hair soon turned white and began to fall out.
He began to drool, and his walking became difficult. Dragging himself everywhere like a zombie, he eventually lost his job. He suddenly found himself on medication that was killing him, with no way of making money and no way of supporting himself. He decided to apply for Disability, just to put food on the table. They told him he would have to spend his entire savings immediately if he wanted to join the program.
“Why?” said Spencer. “Why do I have to spend my savings?”
“It’s unfair,” said the Disability representative.
“What do you mean ‘it’s unfair’?”
“I mean, I must work every day. I don’t get a free check. How do you get a free check and a nest egg?”
“Well, I wouldn’t have this ‘free check’ if you hadn’t railroaded me into Disability.”
“If you want my tax dollars, that savings has got to go. No saving from now on. You live hand to mouth, just like the rest of us.”
Spencer didn’t like the idea, but he followed their directive. Giving no thought for the morrow, he gave all his 401(k) and IRAs to charity. Not being able to afford a decent apartment anymore, he moved into a dilapidated hotel where there were giant holes in the ceilings.
One day, Spencer’s brother, Cornelius came to visit him at the dilapidated hotel.
“Spencer, you should be angry. You should be glad they caught it early, whatever you have.”
“I don’t have anything I was punched in the face.”
“That may be true. Try not to be angry. At least you’re alive.”