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A Gathering of Shades (Kenny-part 1)

I believe it was November of last year when I met Kenny. He was standing at the traffic light in front of the Wal-Mart on Cerrillos road. This is a popular location. K (Katherine) was/would be standing here as well (not sure where she falls in the order). Out of all the people I’ve met so far, Kenny carried the most visible pain. He looked devastated. Life had punched him in the stomach and he was crawling on the ground trying to recover, gasping for air.

I fear Kenny may never get up.

That autumn afternoon felt later than it was, with the golden light permeating the atmosphere, dimming it with a golden brown haze. That Fall day seemed more than appropriate to the man I was about to meet.

I think I may have been at Wal-Mart buying something for the house or I could have been on my way to  Home Depot which is close by. I remember that I had my work clothes on: tan, paint smeared work jeans, a cheap gray sweat shirt and sneakers that had logged quite a few miles. They were my walking shoes, but had recently been downgraded to work shoes. Next stop, the trash heap.  At the time I was still in school. I was taking 12 hours at the community college (Photoshop, Indesign, webdesign, Digital photo, a fitness class), and when I wasn’t in school, I would try to pick up as much work as possible as a handyman (Chuck’s Chores).

I never intend to meet these people. God just puts them in my path. I don’t troll around looking for these opportunities. They just happen. Not sure why it was important for me to say that, but I think it was. That day in November, I was just going about my business and God, prayer, and someone else’s pain couldn’t have been further from my mind. Sorry to say, but it’s the truth; I was distracted.

I parked the car in the corner of the lot and took out a five and held it in my hand. I opened the door and headed toward the man holding the sign. Not sure what he had written. I rarely remember what their signs say. Don’t know why. The man looked to be in his 40’s with patchy reddish blond stubble. It looked like he had shaved recently. A scab had been opened on his face, on his left cheek bone. My guess was that it was an old wound and the razor had aggravated it. He wore jeans and a faded, tan Carhart jacket that was worn through in several places. Old white tennis shoes were on his feet. I handed him the money.

“Here you go, buddy,” I said.

“Thank you brother,” he responded, and for the first time I really paid attention to this man. I had been drifting, going through the motions. I stuck out my hand.

“My name’s Chuck,” I offered and as he shook  it, I looked at his hands. They were almost white, like no blood was flowing through them, and they were beginning to crack in this dry, high desert air.

“I’m Kenny,” he said, next I noticed his eyes. Pale blue. But it didn’t look like they had always been that color. I got the sense that the real blue had been drained from them, and this was all that remained. Kenny, overall, was just like his eyes: drained, pale. His skin was a faded pink, common to a lot of people with the same reddish/blond hair that he had. I was starting to be in this moment with Kenny, rather being lost in my head, but I wasn’t quite there.

“Do you mind if I pray for you Kenny?” I asked, lightly touching his shoulder.

When I started praying for people who are on the streets, I never asked about their lives. I would go straight to the prayer, and promptly make my exit. Get in and get out. I have fulfilled my duty, what else do I need to do? Just being out here is enough, right? I thought.

“I’m a Christian, too,” he responded. Just like Travis. “Please, pray,” he added. There was a touch of desperation in his voice when he uttered please. Picking up on that emotion spooked me a little, and I had the faintest thought that I was in over my head with Kenny. This was pain that I hadn’t encountered with Travis. Not even with K.

Kenny wanted to tell me something. And later, when I left him, I was shaken, but not so much by what he told me. It was the way he said it. His tone reminded me of someone. Me.

I saw myself in that man, and it scared the hell out of me.

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Posted by on February 4, 2011 in Kenny

 

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K (Katherine)

The people I’ve met over the past three months, or so, have stayed in my memory. This is the first time that I ‘m writing about them, so some details have faded, but many remain. I am trying to write about them in the order that I met them, and I know that’s not really going to be possible, but I think I’ll be pretty close. Some gaps refuse to be filled, however, and that’s the case with K.

I think her name was Katherine.

I’ll stick with the Kafkaesque K, however, simply because I’m not sure about the name and I don’t want to pretend to have a firm grasp on something that I don’t. I’m also not sure about where she is in the order. Second, I think. But, it could have been Kenny (more about him later). Not sure.

K was standing beside the entrance to the Wal-Mart on Cerrillos Road. I saw her from the opposite lane and I pulled into the parking lot and turned off the engine. Meeting Travis  had given me a little confidence, and I didn’t have quite the nerves that I did before. At least that was true as I fumbled through my wallet for a five dollar bill. When I got out of the car, however, there was a moment of real fear. Mostly I was afraid of what this woman was going to think of some random guy crossing the pavement to talk to her. Like with Travis, I displayed the bill prominently and walked toward her.

K looked to be about the same age as Travis. Mid 30’s probably. She wore a leather jacket that still had a little life left in it. There were patches on it. Words were scratched into the surface. Maybe that’s not true. Maybe the words weren’t there, but something tells me that K’s life was written on that jacket. I realize that’s abstract, but that’s what I see.

She had on faded black combat boots, and her hair was a dark, unnatural red. It had been dyed recently. She wore a long, faded red pleated skirt that was embroidered along the bottom. There was a Mexican restaurant, close to where I grew up back in Texas, that made the waitresses wear something similar.

As I approached, she looked at me a little suspiciously, and I awkwardly handed her the money. I stuck out my hand and told her my name. She shook my hand and told me hers, then there was an awkward silence. I plodded on, however, and asked if she minded if I prayed for her.

“Sure,” she responded.

She was hesitant, though, so I quickly added, “If that’s okay, I mean… as long as that’s okay with you.”

“It’s alright…” She reiterated, and so I prayed.

I reached out and touched her right arm. I can still feel the worn leather beneath my palm. I remember stroking her arm, trying to make her feel at ease, but she never did. I think she even bristled slightly when I reached out, but I didn’t remove my hand. Then I prayed my generic prayer, being careful, however,  to include the part about God letting K know she wasn’t alone. God, let K know you love her. Please.

I don’t know what happened to K in her past. I don’t know if she may have been molested or assaulted or abused. I didn’t ask. How could anybody ask that? I don’t want to speak for K, but I get the sense that she believes that God has left her out in the cold. Forgotten her and left her to die a slow death, all alone. A lot of people feel that way. I go in and out of thinking that myself.

There was no emotional catharsis with K, unlike with Travis, who was immediately grateful and made me feel like I had made at least a little difference in his day. It was almost instant gratification and very humbling. The encounter with K was humbling in a completely different way. She didn’t start beaming simply because I had graced her with my presence, an awkward prayer and a measly five bucks. In fact, I feel like she would have preferred it if I had just given her the money through the rolled down window of my car and driven away. But I was supposed to pray for K. I know that. Not everyone wants to be prayed for. Not everyone wants to hear it. I understand that. God knows I’m the same way. I fight him tooth and nail on so many occasions. More than I care to think about.

Pray for K. God only knows what has happened to her. Like Travis, I haven’t seen her since. Pray for this leather jacketed, combat boot wearing, broken-hearted soul that I met in front of Wal-Mart one day.

I think her name was Katherine.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2011 in K (Katherine)

 

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