Wednesday, October 7, 2015
I can't remember his real name, but everyone called him "Stony". Probably because of his history of being stoned on drugs, although everyone knew his favorite drink was alcohol. I remember seeing Stony at the cement block building where my dad had his office in El Paso. Stony usually hung out at the bar at the end of the complex. Sometimes you would see him, and sometimes he would disappear to stay with friends somewhere, but in time he would come home... wherever "home" was around there. We never quite knew where Stony slept most of the time, but occasionally it was in the jail across the street because he had gotten into a bar fight.
But today I write about Stony not because of what he was, or because of what he wasn't. I write about Stony because of my own guilt... a shadow that will lie dark on my life and in my heart for a long time to come, which may grow into hopefully a help to others because I will ensure that this kind of thing won't happen again. My guilt is not present because of what I did, but because of what I didn't do. I avoided Stony. He was nothing but kind to me. All the years we knew him he was always there at the office door, and he would come in asking for $5 in trade for taking out the garbage, sweeping up the sidewalk outside, or any little thing that my dad needed on any particular day. This went on a couple times a week for months, and the months turned into years. Stony was always there (except when in jail), and always ready and willing to help.
I remember one time when someone molested my daughter and Stony spoke up, "You just say the word and I'll take care of that guy! I'll get someone to take me out there and you won't ever have to worry about that guy again. I'll take care of him for good." Stony meant it, which is why we did not act on that offer. He always asked about me, even when I was gone. He would do anything for me. I have no idea why he liked me, but he did. I recall his kind eyes behind his messy hair and ragged clothes. One side of his face was larger than the other, almost as if permanently swollen due to too many bar fights and broken cheekbones or the like. Once in a while he would want a hug, and I would hug him.
I remember the last time I saw him, when I visited the office I worked at years ago, where my dad still was, and Stony still hung around. Just this summer he was there when I swung by. Two times I saw him, but both times I was on my way out the door. He didn't ask for a hug, and I sighed in relief. Nice enough guy, but I just didn't want to hug him. Sometimes he stunk, and sometimes I was afraid he might get fresh with me, even though he never did. He liked me, you see, and kept no secrets that if I were "available" he would want me. But it was not mutual. So I avoided his hugs. This last time I was there I saw him as I headed to the car and I almost went back to talk for a moment, but didn't. I left. I saw him outside the office with his shopping basket full of stuff, waving to me as I left. I waved back.
I got a phone call from my parents with bad news the other day. Stony had died. He was at the store next door to the office, and he said to the owner (who also would hire him to do odds and ends), "I don't feel so good." So the owner told him maybe he should sit down and rest for a bit. "No," he said, "I need to get going." Stony walked outside and someone found him a little while later lying dead out front. Perhaps his heart gave out. No one knew. No one cared enough to pay for an autopsy. He had no family and only a handful of people who knew him here and there. Everyone took care of Stony in some manner, and Stony took care of everyone in his own ways, cleaning or fixing things, but never again would he walk through that office door for five measly dollars.
My parents and I talked about times we remembered about Stony. I recalled the time he was drunk and came into the office and wanted money, but he was not in shape to work, plus he had already gotten paid that week's worth. He pulled out his switchblade and showed us how fast he was at drawing it open. I could see the fear in my dad's eyes that day because a drunk man asking for money while pulling a knife out was probably not a good combination. My dad gave him $5 to get rid of him. That was the worst I had ever seen him, and he never actually threatened anyone. It was just an odd situation, of which I never flinched. I pretended it did not scare me either, although it did. I guess I don't trust drunk people with knives flashing about.
Another time my dad remembered was when someone gave Stony a huge bag of canned food, all corn. He came by the office and told my dad, "I've been eating corn three times a day. I'm glad to have the food, but boy will I be glad when this corn is gone. I don't want to see corn for a long time." We chuckled, but inside I was cringing that none of us made more effort to ensure Stony had better food. Was it our responsibility? We did what we could. I remember sharing our tamales with him. My mom always gave him boxed food or pieces of food she had made and brought into the office. My dad even sent money to the funeral home to help pay for his cremation (we think it was a cremation anyway, based on the dollar amount of the bill that his friend came by and told my dad about--they were trying to raise money to help pay it). Everyone took care of Stony, and Stony took care of everyone.
So today I am sad that Stony is gone, but even more so because I had the chance to give Stony a huge hug, this last time I saw him, but did not. I even thought about it, and that I should treat him better, and not avoid him. It had been a couple of years since I had seen him, and I figured it could be another year or two before I saw him again. I should have hugged him goodbye. I should have hugged him long and hard, and told him how good it was to see him again, alive and well. Stony was never really well, but he was alive, and he loved people and loved life, even though he had problems.
I will never have that chance back to hug Stony. I can only move forward. Perhaps I will go visit my son's friend who is presently in a homeless shelter, who I have not seen for several months now. Perhaps it is time to go sit and talk with him again... and give him a big hug.