George appeared on the scene, carrying a rather large bottle of beer in a paper bag, limping with a swollen eye and a smile. Willy greeted him, taking the bottle, “Let’s put this over here. The church people are here to see us!”
I had been talking to Laura, a spritely 5’3” woman wearing a red t-shirt with a large protrusion on her belly which, when I asked about the surgery she had mentioned was coming up, she declared was to rid her of her “alien babies”. She sing songed this while patting her belly and lifted her shirt to show her belly with the 3 large herniated areas that, indeed, were reminiscent of “Kuato”, the alien from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Total Recall. When Laura saw that George had alcohol, she became embarrassed and her demeanor changed from tough talking street woman to giggly hostess, embarrassed by the neighborhood drunk, come to call. She tried to “hide” behind me to express this embarrassment.
It was clear, however embarrassed she was, that George was welcome and harmless. Laura tsk’d over his swollen eye, giving me a knowing nod, explaining that George said he had fallen, but her look told me she knew better. She moved around to the group of people George was speaking with, I assume to check on him in a roundabout way.
I continued to listen to stories from Alberto, a cute and flirty little man from El Salvador. He had a captive audience and was enjoying the attention so his stories flowed on and on. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the other group talking to George and heard bits and pieces of the conversation…saw him display a sort of slow karate move to demonstrate something, I am not sure what. It reminded me of a small boy, carrying on a conversation and running through the Tae Kwon Do moves he’d learned that week while he did so.
George eventually made his way over to us, looking for a lighter for his cigarette. He asked Alberto who diligently looked through his scraps of paper and plastic bags in his backpack for one. When Alberto couldn’t find one, George moved on around the side of the concrete dumpster at a pace that suggested he was leaving. But when I took a few steps to the right, I saw that he was standing there, guarded against the wind, and had lit his cigarette, presumably with a match he had not wanted to use. I stepped back to where I had been standing and said quietly, “He’s still there,” to the expectant look on Alberto’s face.
George smoked half his cigarette before he came around full circle of the dumpster and walked up to Jennifer and me and look right at us. “Do you know about the bible?” he asked. We replied that we did and he said, “I want to be good, I want to be worth something…I want to do good, like you people do.” I looked him square in his good eye and said. “You are,” to which George replied. “I look at you and I see a cross.” I cannot deny that this gave me chills and at the same time I could tell it was not the first time George had said this to anyone.
George went on to tell us about how his life on the street was difficult and he was getting too old to endure much more. How he was often beaten and how scary the nights were. He’d been in the army and all they had taught him was “how to kill” and then when he’d left the army, they had done nothing to help him readjust to civilian life. This too had a familiar cadence to it as though he’d repeated this story many times to many people.
Our group leaders from OurCalling gather the group up and announced that George had made the decision to go to Green Oaks Drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, so we would be taking him there now. Alberto was asked if he too would like to go, Laura had long since moved on, Alberto smiled politely and shook his head “no”.
I felt like we were guiding a baby deer to the van. The group leaders walked ahead and the rest of our group behind. I kept pace with George, watching him out of the corner of my eye, lest he bolt and run. I am not sure what I thought I would do if he did; I just felt the need to keep pace with him. So I did.
We got to the van and George was amiable…..grateful in his expressions, he climbed into the van explaining that he’d been run over by a car last year, so he was moving a little slowly because his leg had received a lot of injuries at that time and it now slowed him down. We all got settled into the van, George in the front passenger seat and he turned around and smiled and said, “Let’s look at the group!” We all responded with “Hi, George!” in unison which made him chuckle. We were off.
I sat there, feeling a little too self satisfied. We were doing good…this I knew…and what? We need gas? Great, I thought, he’s going to have second thoughts and bolt at the gas station. What would we do if this happened? This being my first outing with the group, ALL of this was new territory. I was making it up as I went along. I tried to engage George when he spoke.
A word here. I am writing this from my point of view so I have a bit of tunnel vision that makes it seem like I was the only one speaking to George, I was not. I just simply cannot remember what everyone said…and trust me, other people were speaking to George; it wasn’t just me. There were 10 of us in the van, George included.
part two…coming soon.