A Complicated Conversation
Alternate Title: A Clearly Complicated Conversation With a Crazy Cat at Culver's
I have had several encounters with the homeless community, but one in particular still leaves me bewildered and unsettled.
I was driving my husband to Culver’s for one of his favorite lunches: cheeseburger and onion rings.
Standing on the side of the road in front of Culver’s was a young man in his early 20s, disheveled in appearance. He was holding the all-too-common homeless sign.
The weather was cold. Instead of just bringing him a bag of food, I asked him if he wanted to come inside to dine with us. Inviting him to join us required courage on my part.
As we all walked in together, we got several awkward looks from employees and customers. I imagine this was not only because they recognized the young man as the one who was outside with the homeless sign but also because my husband has his own unique physical and cognitive limitations due to dealing with Huntington’s Disease. Their glances were inconsequential to me. I had learned a long time ago to not be bothered by curious onlookers.
The young man also opted for a cheeseburger and onion rings. As we dined, I tried to make conversation asking him about himself and his family.
This is where my bewilderment began.
His short spurts of answers jumped all over the place…He was trying to get back north because he had a buddy there who had a job for him. But then he might go to Colorado to visit a friend because he could live with him. But things were better when he was in Charleston, but then he lost that job for some reason, but he might go back there. He didn’t know where his family currently was. Well, they were all over the country. Then he was sick for quite some time and just couldn’t keep a job, etcetera.
To say that the conversation had my mind going in circles would be an understatement.
That conversation was like watching a wild cat jump around a room from floor to table to chair, back to the floor and then to a high shelf, where it would sit for a while and then suddenly pounce to the next perch.
I thought I was doing the right thing by attempting to keep him in conversation. My goal was to possibly discover if there was any further way I might be able to help.
In the end, I gave him $25 to help with a bus ticket and we said goodbye.
His circumstances were so complicated and complex. He clearly had some mental impairment. He couldn’t seem to focus or carry on a regular conversation.
It was bewildering and unsettling. I was left with so many questions.
Where was he going to get the help he needed?
What did I think I was going to accomplish over one lunch?
Why did I think I was going to have any type of solution for his very complex predicament?
And why couldn’t I see in the moment that anyone being interrogated about this type of heartbreaking, scary, and possibly shameful situation had a right to be jumping off the walls?
His erratic behavior may simply have been a reflection of his fear and uncertainty about his future.
Maybe I would have accomplished a small kind gesture if I had just silently sat with the man and allowed him to eat his lunch with a few precious minutes of warmth and tasty peace.