I was sitting on the bench waiting for the bus in the morning before school. The man was smoking a cigarette as he walked toward me from the north. As soon as he was within earshot, he started talking. It didn't take long before we were discussing where we were in life and how we'd gotten there. I don't know what prompts people to talk to me, but people often open up and tell me details of their lives I would never expect to be shared.
There was a part of me that was wary of this man. I imagine he’s in his mid forties. He has long, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. His face is tan and lined.
There's something about him that makes me feel vulnerable, like I don't want to fully open up to him. He’s a little too talkative. He’s a little too quick to tell me how supportive he is of the gays, and how he used to hang out with Matthew Shepard before Matthew was murdered in Wyoming.
Just as I was about to retreat back into my own world behind my headphones, something struck me completely off guard. The man was sitting on the bench, leaning forward. He glanced toward me with a very slight grin on his face. The grin was unmistakable. At that moment, he looked exactly like Steve Jobs. The look was only there for a split second, but it was enough for me to do a double take. Something about seeing that grin made me decide to keep talking to this stranger.
It seems we have a few things in common. When I told him that I was on my way to GED class, he told me that he dropped out of high school when he was 16 or 17 and got his GED. From there, he went to community college, then transferred to a four year university. From what I gathered, he got a degree in either psychology or philosophy. At least I think that's the case because those are the two degrees that he warned me not to pursue.
Like me, he’s a patient at the mental health center (MHCD), and like me, was successful in dealing with his mental issues on his own for the majority of his life. He owned a nice condo in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver. He held down a good job and maintained an active social life. Alcohol and addiction took away his success, his home, and the life he’d built for himself. He’s since gotten sober, and says his last crutch is Marlboro Reds.
Even though he’s sober now, he’s still struggling to rebuild his life. He’s surviving on a meager salary from working at a gas station, but he wants to work with autistic children. He is afraid that his legal record may not allow for that. His legal record comes from being homeless, living on the streets, and being picked up for public intoxication. I got the impression there were a few other challenges as well, but I didn’t ask.
Since that first meeting, I’ve run into him one other time. He again walked up to the bus stop smoking a cigarette, and again started talking immediately. Again I was a little wary, and yet again, I saw Steve Jobs’ grin flicker across his face. I know it sounds corny, but it seems that somehow Steve’s grin is a sign and I need to be more open to speaking to this man. He was very encouraging about me getting my GED and told me that I could go on to do great things.
I don’t know if I’ll run into him again, but chances are good that I will as we’ve shared the same bus twice now. Perhaps I’ll get to know him a little better. Perhaps I’ll see that grin flicker across his face again.
I started writing this post a couple of days ago and wondered what on earth I could possibly use as a picture to go along with it. This morning when I went to the bus stop, there was an empty pack of Marlboro Reds sitting on the bench. It was as though it were meant to be, so that's the picture you see.