By George Key
Standing naked with my toes curled around the precipice of relapse, I stood poised to take that final big step. For years I considered such a move clearly somewhere between sacrilege and selfish stupidity. Yet, my perceived reality evinced such ideation as reasonably justified in my mind. A calmness came over me at the thought of finally being free. I could see no other way out of the darkness. I had extinguished my own candle of hope and found myself on the lonesome side of many burnt bridges. For ten years I spiraled downward toward the flaming sewer lagoon where I belonged.
I had become one of the invisible people, by societal norms, not worthy of breathing. My home was anywhere I ended up when the municipal buses quit running each night. My meals came not so fresh from the dumpsters and trash cans. The foul odor, which became undetectable in time for me was reviewed as disgustingly rank by the real people. Real people had their act together, I did not. Quite frankly, I could imagine there would never come the day in which I would rejoin the societal mainstream.
Continually harassed by police, attacked by Juvenal gangs, and targeted by drunken passer-byes throwing rocks, bullets, and insults. Shallow taunts, pelting, nor those “ Vaw-Zzzzips” one hears when a bullet comes very, very close to one’s head. Can none be compared to that horror when awakened to the distinct smell of gasoline being poured over one's sleeping carcass as fraternal pledges attempt to earn their admission with the flick of a throw-away lighter? One does not stop to ask why. However, it seems mathematically negligent not to consider the statistical probability that I might deserve life when so many disagree.
It came down to simply choosing which bus to step in front of. Sitting on the edge of a cold steel bench ready to pounce, I scanned my choices. ”There must be some honor in this process”, so, I rationalized. Many of these drivers had proven to be empathetic members of humanity. Putting them through hours of incident reports, subsequent flashbacks, and night terrors would hardly be fair to them nor a righteous departure on my part, from this living Hell. Some of these drivers routinely gifted to each passenger, unconditionally, that most economic form of kindness, a genuine smile.
Choosing the ideal executioner would not take long with buses converging here every five minutes from some part of town or another. It came to mind that perhaps the plight of 24,000 invisible individuals would be best served by television news airtime granted, if only I chose an express coach. Express coaches shuttled the upper crust worker bees to elitist corporate towers from their privileged nests upon the snob hill of gold. The express routes were deceptive tools designed by politicians. Those politicians left scars with their clown shoe carbon footprints as they secured the votes of wealthy, dis-informed environmentalists. Express coach #27 pulled into the terminal. This was it. In thirteen minutes, it would be pulling out. That was the one. This was to be my last opportunity to pass something of value to my estranged daughter.
A posthumous insurance award to my surviving beneficiary would be denied if it was an apparent suicide. I commenced gathering all my worldly possessions for the last time when a Church van rolled in and seventeen teenagers quickly disembarked. They all grabbed bottles of water from a huge igloo cooler. My lips were cracked and bleeding from dehydration, yet my mouth began to water, watching the beads of condensation fall, bringing new life to the terminal deck sludge, I recall thinking even the ants today will be blessed by this Christian gesture of human kindness. I was impressed by the well-choreographed disbursement of God’s will as written, “If they are thirsty give them drink”.
One exceptionally radiant young woman fixed her eyes upon me. She saw me as I was to be I was no longer invisible. The gathering of moisture in my eyes created a halo highlighting her smile. She smiled from the inside outward. Her eyes twinkled with the hope of the most ominous midnight sun. Walking toward me she reached out to hand me a bottle of water. We both, without the invitation of spoken word, sat down next to each other. She reached into a fanny pack, pulling out a handmade card. It was a colorful card with two glittery stars pasted on it.
Upon the card was an affirmation that read; “Things are tough right now, but give it time; things will get better. You are important, you matter, and you are strong enough to face what life throws at you. Don’t lose hope and know that someone very special is looking out for you”. These encouraging words illuminated my broken spirit. The affirmation went on to read, “Proverbs 3:5-6; Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight”.
Huge salty tears trailed down my filthy cheeks and found refuge in my unshaped beard. I’m certain my rank body odor would have offended the most dedicated custodian of any Southern California Interstate Five rest area. Yet she showed no signs of judging herself superior to me. The message was clear to me that I needed to quit wasting my life. I am worthy. The necessity to re-examine my instilled core beliefs was now self-evident. My existence will be of value; however, I must reset my mindset and move past the walls I perceived in my mind’s eye. Our visit was brief yet one might rightfully say lasted a lifetime. We visited slightly longer than it took to consume an icy bottle of water on a hot summer day. It was also long enough to reach down into the depths of my despair, raising me up like the namesake of the city, from the ashes I rose like the phoenix. Resetting my mindset and being possessed by a passion to give back drove my objective to be of service to others struggling as I had been.
Determined to prove to myself that I was strong enough to persevere, humbly striving to be better, do better. I was able to move forward attaining multiple social work degrees necessary to forge my path that I might hopefully leave something better when my time here is up.