Anti-Bullying Day: May the Fourth Be With You

Today is May 4th, and that means two things: it’s Star Wars Day (though admittedly I’m more of a Trek fan, unless you’re including most recent film adaptations), so first things first:may-the-fourth-4th-be-with-you-memes-gifs-star-wars-day-18

And secondly, it’s Anti-Bullying Day (which should be everyday). Many people show their support of this day by wearing pink…I own nothing pink so this post will have to do.

One in four students will be bullied before leaving grade school, and that’s entirely too high a number when you understand the price being paid. This has been too easy a problem to pass off and tuck away into shadowy corners and turn blind eyes to, but it can’t be a problem left for others to deal with forever. Every generation is subjected to the same trial with the same unfeeling jury of their peers, and without speaking about the damage of the past, we can’t discuss what needs to be done for the future.

For some more information and facts about bullying including prevalence, effects, and more, click here , or click here  for a great infographic.

I’ve learned a lot about bullying since getting out of high school and in the process of earning my degree in psychology. I know a lot more of the facts and understand a lot more of the processes that occur when it comes to bullying, in both the bully and the victim. But a long time ago, I only knew what I experienced…

I was never overburdened with friends but thought I had a couple over the years. I remember always feeling like I was missing something, that the other kids had a script page that was left out in mine. But fifth grade was when I had my first real taste of bullying.

The dog I’d had since I was born, my best friend, Haley, died over Thanksgiving break. Come Monday, I was still devastated and reached out to the only friend I had at the time, a girl in my class. Apparently other kids were asking her why I was so upset, having been taken out of class to compose myself in the guidance counselor’s office for a bit, and she told them about Haley.

On the playground that very day, they bothered to follow and catch up with me on the usually empty walking trail. They laughed at me and my tears, and they told me that my dog, my best friend, had been stupid and deserved to die….absorb that for a minute as an adult, then try to imagine hearing that at 10 years old. Adding further insult to further injury, the girl I’d told as my friend, laughed along with the others about my dumb, dead, dog that I was still stupidly crying over. She would not be the last ‘friend’ to do something similar over the years.

Taunts and names didn’t take long to follow, and continued. By sixth grade, I’d gained weight and a bit more weirdness, neither of which was much accepted by those around me. I spent only one year in public middle school.

I would go home in tears, begging my mother not to make me go back. Their words were vicious, I was ostracized wherever possible and mocked in between. During class changes, I was shoved against walls, a rolling book bag I’d gotten out of necessity was often kicked off balance and down the crowded halls away from me; I was petrified of being late to class, my first foray into moving locations on a set time had my anxiety levels outrageously high as I chased my bag down and hurried on. No one bothered to help me, student or teacher.

The bus ride became its own special hell, trying to maneuver a bag that weighed as much as I did through narrow aisles with people sticking out their legs and then yelling at me for hitting them. Curses and taunts tossed out like raindrops. It was an indescribable reprieve when my mother began picking me up from school in the afternoons.

Every person I thought was a friend only stayed long enough till I’d served my unknown make a soundpurpose before casting me off again with more laughter. I remember being 11 years old and sure I was dying  inside and that when nothing was left in me, my body would give out and I’d crumple to the ground and scatter away like ashes. I remember telling my mother that I couldn’t keep going back, that I would die. Maybe that sounds dramatic here and now in the safety and security of adulthood, but it wasn’t.

For two years I was homeschooled and it was a fantastic experience. I could and probably should have applied myself a bit more than I did, but what freedom it was. I felt like my soul could breathe again, away from the chittering, hateful, pretend people that didn’t even like to read.

When I returned to public school for high school I hoped things would be different.

Simply though, my high school peers and I did not get along. There were a few people from the most random scattering of social groups that I liked or tolerated and that felt the same towards me. They’d pop up now and then, or I’d meet them in the mornings before the day started and it felt like having friends. To some degree I did have friends on occasion, but I was essentially alone and without a group. The few close friends I had ultimately betrayed me, usually divulging secrets I’d trusted in their care as they went.

I was the subject of ridicule, rumors, cruel pranks and jokes at my expense, usually by those that saw or interacted with but didn’t know me, and even among some that did. The first person to ever ask me out did it on a bet that he could sleep with me within the week. When that didn’t happen, it became a month, then by the end of the semester (I found this out later from the other betting party who seemed quite amused by it all). I guess when the semester was almost over and he realized it wasn’t going to happen, even after trying to take things way too far, he ever so maturely ignored me, as if I’d never existed and wasn’t there anymore, and more rumors surfaced. This is just one example. Is there any wonder why I’ve had some self-esteem issues in my life?

I made and lost what I thought were friendships that bruised a tender and confused heart. I swung between being a victim of the taunts with meek acceptance and crushed ego, and brazenly welcoming the unasked for scrutiny with silence, an icy glare, and a middle finger. Sometimes I’m not sure how I made it out; I was a volatile cocktail of emotions and everything seemed to hit me at once.

Instances like fending off unwanted hands from places they weren’t welcome, and others, only ignited memories I’d tucked away. I started displaying some early symptoms of PTSD, which was only compounded by the abuse from my peers.

The school essentially did nothing, saying its hands were tied. Any action that may have been taken never seemed to change my life in any school for the better (elementary, middle, or high school), if any action was taken at all. The process of reporting bullying to school administrators and teachers usually follows one of two patterns: child is bullied, reports to parents and/or teachers/administrators, told to try and sort things out on their own, bullying continues, reports to parents and teachers/administrators, told if an adult didn’t see it, it didn’t happen, bullying continues, report to parents and teachers/administrators, vague claims of something being done but reiteration of former advice, bullying continues and often worsens – here is when one of two things happens: 1) repeat the cycle until getting out, or 2) a catalyst, usually ending with tragic repercussions; more often than not the victim of the bullying ends up paying some kind of price, often suicide, or the victim finally fights back and it results in their being punished for it. It isn’t a win for the bullied when rules set in place to supposedly protect them applies no logic and ultimately punishes them for what the school didn’t or refused to do, protect them.

A few years ago, a poet that I’ve admired for some time shared a poem and video that says everything else that needs to be said about the experience of bullying. It’s called To This Day by Shane Koyczan

To this day I remember how every moment felt. To this day I have scars, literal and metaphorical, that will always be reminders.  To this day, bullying continues, and because of that, I shared part of my story today.

It’s important because I’m still here, and so are you.

stare longer look closer koyczan

 

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Amazing Writing Community Benefits and Why You Need Yours

 

Writing community can be narrowly or broadly defined, depending on how you shape it and what you consider to be your writing community. It can be a scary thought when you’re just starting out, before you’ve launched your first site, page or blog, before you’ve first reached out to other people. I’ll admit it, it’s still a bit scary (but I’m silly like that).

Your writing community generally consists of people that are mutually interested in each other and/or each other’s writing. It’s wonderful when it’s mutual, and even more so when there is interaction. The trademark of a great writing community involves interaction and connection with other authors, writers, and readers.

When building your writing community, don’t mistake connection for selling, there’s a very big difference, so don’t go shoving your work in everyone’s face repeatedly asking them to share, or buy while of course doing little other sharing or interacting of your own (yes, there are sadly too many people that do this).  Be sure to visit and support your fellow writers as much as you would hope they wish to do for you. Do what feels right to you, but just keep that in mind. Here is a recent post I wrote for Writer’s Digest on how to connect on Twitter without selling out your community, where sales pitches are sometimes mistaken for connection.

I was unsure where to begin myself, I’d done some research, read a few books, but actually actively seeking out people I’d never met seemed just as scary as walking into a room full of people I didn’t know…okay, maybe not as, scary, but I’m sure you understand. Regardless though, I was willing, I just wasn’t sure how to begin…

Lucky me, last fall I found the October Platform Challenge (if you’re familiar with my blog, you’ve heard of it)….where do I even start on what I gained? Not only did I learn some important and amazing things, but it’s how I formed the base of my writing community. (If you’re curious, here are a collection of the blogs from the participants of the challenge.)

When October ended, however, a few people from the challenge banded together and formed a group for those that had participated in the challenge and wanted to stay in touch, keep up with each other’s work, keep the inspiration and support going that had marked the October Challenge for so many of us.

Truly, I gained so much the day I started that challenge, and had no idea what I was getting into. The second of January, a solid chunk of our platform plathcal people spent the day sharing thanks, love and support for each other. It was, and still is, so very touching. I believe verklempt was the word of the day, proffered by Kim (one of the many friends I’ve gained as well), and felt by most if not all involved in the impromptu love and support fest.

It’s incredibly wonderful, and useful, to have such a loving and helpful writing community to turn back to, no matter how else each of our communities grows from here. If you aren’t sure what exactly you’re gaining, here are 5 benefits of a writing community, one you actively interact and participate with, not sell to:

  1. Opinions/Thoughts/Options– don’t know which title sounds better for your story? Ask your group. Think a sentence sounds off? Ask your group. Need a ruling on a name? I think you might get it by now, ask your group! They’re a wonderful source of people that have their own opinions, are possibly your future readers, know how the writing game works, and if you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people, more than willing to help. Even if you don’t use an idea offered, it can get your brain churning and you may come up with the perfect thing, just needed to stimulate your mind the right way.
  1. Resources– If you’re looking for some particular or specific information on a topic, tap your writing community for information. It’s possible someone else has gathered some really helpful resources, or you could all do a share dump day per requests for certain materials. Of course, don’t be lazy, do your own research too, know what you want some help with, don’t make everyone trying to be nice sorry because you just don’t want to do the legwork. But your community is a wonderful resource.
  1. Beta readers– okay, now it’s likely that as many writing projects as you have, everyone else in your group has at least that, not to mention everyone’s lives beyond the written or read word. However, it’s possible that a couple of your cohorts might be willing to read over a fresh short story you’re thinking of sending off, or read through your book to help make it stronger before you publish. Be as willing to help as you are willing to ask it of others, at least that’s a rule I try to follow. No one appreciates someone that only takes and never gives. A great writing community is full of givers, and beta readers can be vital in helping to tease out your best, expecting more of you than you realized was there to give.
  1. Support– Moral support can be a vital thing for an author. Writers are notoriously hard on themselves, at least the “real” ones are according to this: real writer real artist vs counterfeitIt’s hard to disagree, I’ve seen this be true first hand. The important part of that fear though, is pushing through it and writing anyway, submitting anyway, and this is where support from your writing community can be infinitely helpful in becoming the best writer you can be. Knowing how many others are going through the same difficulties, and seeing that those that keep going are the ones that achieve their goals, and encourage you to do the same, is one of the best things a writing community can do for you.
  1. Collaborators– Sometimes you find someone that has a similar style or a sense of humor that just clicks with you, or a handful of you have a shared idea. With a good writing community, you’re bound to find at least one of these, and though there is nothing wrong in sticking with a solo gig, being open to the possibility of collaboration could lead you down an amazing road you hadn’t expected. There’s no pressure, but don’t say you’re going to commit if you don’t plan to either. The point is that you have community bursting with ideas, ideas that may be fun to collaborate on.

These are only five, I don’t doubt there being more, but no matter what, the point remains the same: writing communities are a valuable part of the writing experience, and with the right people, it’s enriched by them. I will probably become a broken record on this point, but never underestimate what a writing community can do for you. I know it’s daunting to start, but it’s well worth the plunge.

Tell me about your experience with your writing community. What’s something you love (or find difficult, life isn’t all sunshine) about your writing community?

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Delight in the Lights: Holiday Traditions and Memories

It’s the holiday time of year, and for those that celebrate Christmas, it’s in two days! Seriously, when did that happen? My Christmas baking was finished a week or so ago and everyone is still heartily enjoying them (which us baking elves love to hear, I assure you), the few bits of goodies that are left anyway.

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As usual, the cookies are the fist to go

 

When I think of Christmas in my childhood, I mainly remember the Christmas tree and the lights, the snow village my mother use to have; we would erect it under the tree, and on a table that fit behind the couch for the season. I used to love arranging the village while listening to Christmas music and making the house festive while the scent of apple cinnamon candles filled the room. I have one memory in particular of being up early one morning with my mother, turning on only the Christmas tree lights, and we watched The Santa Clause together. It’s still a special memory for me.

For years, the tradition has been that on Christmas Eve, my family converges on my Aunt Angela’s, which means I also get to see my cousins, who live surprisingly close considering I see them so rarely. On Christmas morning, I’ve gathered with my mother and stepdad, and met up with my sister’s own family and in-laws at their house to experience Christmas morning breakfast and watch the little ones open presents.

This year, I’m glad I got to see my father, who I’m lucky to see once a year or so around this time. I get to give my gift of Wishbone books and movies to my niece, and I’m excited about the other gifts I have to give. Though things are going to be a little different this year (aren’t they always a bit different than we expect?), the most important aspects  are still the same: I get to see people that I love, I get to watch their faces up light if I can find the right gift (you have no idea how much I love finding gifts that surprise people and make them smile, because I like to listen when most people aren’t, and I remember). I know it’s not about gifts, for me it’s the joy.

I know the holidays aren’t all smiles, dinners, and joy. Holidays can be difficult too, for a  multitude of reasons. I don’t want to go into the particular possibilities; some already know what the difficult part will be, sometimes it happens at random in the moment. Whatever it may be, make sure you take care of yourself. We want to do all we can to make our families happy, (and yes, sometimes it’s because it’s just easier), but it’s also okay to step away, take a moment, ask for what you need to make this time easier on you (any other anxious introvert types?). Do this, and you will be able to better enjoy the moments you have.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, and whether it is alone or in a crowded airport, or around the traditional Christmas tree, whether it’s in a big house or a small apartment, with friends that have become family or with three generations of family around, I wish you the Happiest of Holidays and warmest wishes of love, hope, and cheer.

What is a tradition that you look forward to this time of year?

 

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The lights on the walls stay up year round, it’s the little things, right, SK?

Take Out the Toxic: 5 signs You Should Rethink a Friendship

We’ve all started and ended friendships for various reasons in our lives, some of them for very good reasons, some of them not so much (think middle school girls). Who we choose as our friends is very important; theybest-friends-quotes are who we turn to in our times of need to give us love, support, and encouragement. They’re the people that understand and accept, even love, our quirks and our uniqueness. Friends are the family you choose, and that choose you, which makes this relationship special. This makes it hurt all the more when the friends we’ve put our love and trust in turn out to be unworthy. Hopefully these instances are rare, but sometimes it is necessary to stand up for ourselves and say that enough is enough. So how do you know when it’s time to let go and move on from a friendship that you’ve had for years? I recently had to put some serious thought into this question and came up with this-

Here are five signs that you should rethink a friendship, even one with a long history:

 

  1. You no longer trust them– if you find yourself holding back information or making no effort to share details of your life with someone because you don’t trust them with that information, then why are they in your life at all? If you can’t trust your best friend to keep your secrets, or unable to trust who they may tell details about your life to, then it’s time to pack up and say goodbye. No one, and I mean NO ONE deserves to have a “friend” like that.

 

  1. They are almost exactly the same as high/middle/elementary school, whenever you started to know them and their personality stopped evolving. These people may be great to visit when you’re feeling nostalgic because nothing has changed when you go back to them, and the familiar is comforting to us, but if it’s been over a decade and you’ve seen no growth in them as a human being, ask yourself why that is. Growth is essential, but some people would rather stay on the merry-go-round, because its familiar, and it works for them, even if multiple aspects of their life are floundering. These people don’t usually do much in life and are usually the ones shouting on social media and posting vague messages that provoke a swarm of concerned questions. They usually come with drama, and people that evolve and grow, don’t have time for that. Do yourself a favor, pack up the years you’ve had, smile or cry over the good times, and let it go.

 

  1. Their concept of Loyalty doesn’t square with yours- this one could come in different forms because people do have different definitions of what loyalty means in a friendship.  (“Bros before hoes” kind of thinking, some believe in it, others don’t). As another example, a best friend still being friends with an ex that treated you badly, even if only on Facebook. People that treat others badly rarely do so exclusively, so what reason is there for maintaining a relationship with someone that you knew treated your best friend horribly? That may seem silly to some, but that’s your best friend telling you that the paltry friendship of someone that treated you badly is more important than your own feelings. I’m not saying a person should be willing to cut ties with everyone you hate, not at all, but a person that treated you bad shouldn’t be someone your best friend is good chums with. (There are many other examples, but the point is, are you and your best friend on the same page?)

best friend hate ex

 

 

  1. You no longer think of them as someone you can call when you’re upset- this is one of the trademarks of a best friend, you can always talk to them, you can always turn to them for advice and a shoulder, but when that’s no longer true, you should ask yourself why that is. The reasons may vary as much as the people we deal with, but often times this goes along with lack of trust; no longer trusting your vulnerable and personal moments with them is a sign that maybe you should reevaluate, if nothing else.

 

  1. They disrespect or use your family – this is an obvious sign that someone absolutely does not care about you or your friendship. I’m talking about blatant disregard and disrespect; for example, and this is a true story, your best friend, her husband, and 4 animals moving into your mother’s home, and living there for months, rent free. That same best friend and husband each take a “loan” out with your mother for car repairs and text books for school which was conveniently forgotten by both of them; then, after 4 animals turns into 10 due to unexpected kittens, leave your basement with a flea infestation without telling anyone else in the house, a house that included a newborn. People willing to treat you or your family with that level of disregard have no place in your life.

 

Friendship is a two way street (I know it’s cliché, but that’s because it’s true) and there are some lines you should never let anyone cross, especially a friend or best friend. Someone who does not respect your family, certainly has no respect for you, despite what they may claim. Words should not be weighed as heavily as the actions that accompany or don't lose friends find the true onesfollow them. I recently had to relearn this lesson, but once I asked myself the hard questions, the decision was a lot easier to make. I gained nothing but agitation by holding on to the history we had, and once I cut ties, a weight was lifted, and now space is available in my life for more worthy friendships to grow.

 

Do you have a hard time of letting go of people in your life, even if they aren’t good for you?

Sharing Wishbone, the Little Dog that Loves Big Adventure and Books!

One of the greatest things about having a niece is sharing things with her that I loved at her age. Lucky for me, she is a reader, just like her auntie, and her mom. Then again, I do give her books every chance I get. Last year for Christmas, I gave her a boxed set of Amelia Bedelia  books. I used to enjoy them so much (the classic version of course), and I thought she would too. This year, I’m sharing this little guy:

wishbone_the_dog

 

(Can you believe there’s a website, I about died when I found it! It made me very happy for a moment.)

 

That’s right, Wishbone!! Everyone’s favorite Jack Russel Terrier with a love for reading and adventure.

 

It was the first TV show that recommended a book to my elementary aged self (weird!), the first of many to come. I have vivid and pleasant memories reading the books as well as watching the show. Even now, I remember that the paperback books had little pictures at the corner of the pages that you could flip through and see move (Wishbone chasing and catching a ball is what I remember) which was an amazing concept at the time.

 

Wishbone also inspired one of my first reading lists. Though the books and the show, of course, delved into classics like Ivanhoe, The Odyssey, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and more, I was just as eager to get my hands on the real thing. I remember writing down the names of the books Wishbone explored with intent to find and read them all. I also believe it was what prompted my attempts to read books like Romeo and Juliet at a young age. I still recall the day my mother spoke with the librarian about me getting a library card that didn’t have an age limit on it requiring an adult’s permission. My first ticket to freedom!

 

In this spirit, I tracked down a handful of the books and even a couple of the episodes to give my niece for Christmas this year, and I’m super excited about it.

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The rest of the books are on their way!

Are there are any books or shows from your own childhood you would want to share with the next generation?

Traditions and Thanks; a holiday post

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and many are currently cleaning their homes, entertaining out of town relatives, and of course, preparing for tomorrow’s meal. Some people love this time of year, others loathe it, and a hearty majority, I’m sure, rest somewhere between both and shift somewhere along the spectrum of extremes during the holiday season.

mom's thanksgiving table
First Thanksgiving at mom’s new home ’12

Cliché though it may be, I’d like to share a few things I’m thankful for this year, one for every birthday I’ve had so far:

  1. Thankful for my mom, for everything she does, for all the times she has been there for me, especially this past year.
  2. Thankful for the traditions that I love and hold dear and were passed down from my parents, and in particular my mother
  3. Thankful for my sister, how much she has grown, all she has had the courage to accomplish for herself and her family.
  4. Thankful for my niece, who is a bit of my heart and one of the reasons I write. She is so smart, kind, thoughtful, precocious, precious, and so much more, and her mom is a big part of that.
  5. Thankful for the niece or nephew that I will meet in June of next year
  6. Thankful for Dr. Heath’s words of encouragement that sparked me to send in my first piece for a contest that set me on my writing path.
  7. Thankful for family that is supportive of my writing, including my amazing stepdad.
  8. Thankful for the wonderful and kind nurses that I met this year, they made the hospital visits easier to bear.
  9. Thankful for phlebotomists that listen when I tell them I have tiny veins that roll and make blood draws as painless as they can.
  10. Thankful for the new apartment I moved into earlier this year, especially since it was on the day intended instead of the possible delay due to previous renters not moving on time.
  11. Thankful for the balcony I have and can enjoy sometimes.
  12. Thankful that my father’s basal cell carcinoma was caught and dealt with quickly and he is none worse the wear.
  13. Thankful for the family that I get to see around the holidays, including my father who is coming to visit this year.
  14. Thankful for books and the many authors that penned them.
  15. Thankful for art, creativity and everything to do with inspiration.
  16. Thankful for passion
  17. Thankful for intelligent, insightful, inspiring, conversation.
  18. Thankful for all that I have that sustains my existence.
  19. Thankful for the growing and fabulous writing community that has begun to grow from being a part of platform challenge.
  20. Thankful for the truest and dearest friends I’ve been able to find in 014cccabb8ed811b1df4d6550ff1c5c1
    this life; my tribe, the people that understand.
  21. Thankful for open-mindedness, even though it seems to be rare these days.
  22. Thankful for whatever resilience is within me and has kept me going when I wasn’t sure I could anymore.
  23. Thankful for all that I have learned and that is left to learn in this world.
  24. Thankful for yoga.
  25. Thankful for Netflix.
  26. Thankful for apple cinnamon scented candles and warm blankets to curl up in.
  27. Thankful for still being here.

 

I’m sure there are plenty of other things big and small to be thankful for, and I try to remember them every day, despite all of the difficulties.

This year, my sister is hosting Thanksgiving at her place with a handful of family. It will be the first year she does this, and I’m sure she will stress herself out about it far more than she needs to, but it will be a wonderful evening, I am sure. I happen to be in charge of bringing the mashed potatoes, kind of my specialty; well, that and the Christmas baking.

The Christmas baking and the decorating traditionally start this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. We used to put up our artificial Christmas tree (I’m allergic to pine and it’s quite a miserable holiday when you cannot breathe), we decorate the house (now I shall be decorating my apartment), and then we would watch A White Christmas (which I still do myself).

 

And in such ways, the two holidays are integrally linked in my mind and I begin to look forward to the next holiday season as soon as Thanksgiving is over. There are certain movies I watch now as my own tradition, and I’m excited to know already where I will be putting my tree (my “Christmas” lights are up in my living room year round because I very much enjoy the lighting any time).

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This lighting makes me happy

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and invite you to list a thing or two that you are grateful for this year, or one of your favorite traditions or memories. Best wishes to all!!

 

Veteran’s Day Tribute: A Man Named Art

Today, is Armistice Day, better known as Veteran’s Day; a day of honor, thanks, and remembrance of all of those who have served their country in times of War. Sadly, most people only think of veterans on this day, if ever at any other time when a reminder isn’t directly in front of them. (The history of this day can be found here on the Veteran Affairs official site.)

Veterans_0

As much as I may be tempted to use this moment to recite the numerous disconcerting facts concerning veterans returning from combat and the mental health “treatment” they receive, how many dispossessed veterans make up the homeless population, or any other soapbox worthy spiel, that’s not what I want to post about today. Today,  I want to tell you about a man I met over seven years ago. A couple of years ago, I wrote the story of how I met him, and why I will never forget him.

This is the story of..

HomelessVeteran1Rev

A Man Named Art

When I was 19, I decided I wanted to move as far away from my home town as I possibly could. This led me to move to California, about 3,000 miles away from home, to live in San Diego.

My boyfriend at the time, we’ll call him J, worked at a fast food place a few minutes from the apartment we lived. I usually drove him to work. There is one big main street in the little city we lived in of Mira Mesa, with lots of stop lights. Down this road you will find homeless people on just about every corner.

There was one man I grew to recognize by sight. He had a big bushy brown beard, tanned and leathery face repeatedly baked in the Sun, a worn and patched camo jacket, and raggedy pants that looked like they’d fall to pieces. He also wore a baseball cap, and walked with an extreme limp.

Some of the homeless had signs, some did not, some of them looked like drug addicts, others would fall asleep while holding out their cups of change. But this one man, I remembered.

On this big main road, I had to make a left turn down another street in order to get to my apartment. It was an annoying street in this way because the lights to turn left took a long time, at least 10 minutes, by the time all of the other lights had a chance to change.

It was at this light that I would first speak to this one raggedy looking homeless man. I had my window rolled down partially, for the breeze. I didn’t realize it was still down by the time I had stopped at the light. I saw the man limping up the line of halted cars, he had no sign or cup, was just walking past the car windows. A car or two in front of me rolled down their windows just far enough to shove a $1 bill out of them. When he came to mine, it finally dawned on me that my window was down. I’m not a confrontational person and was not looking forward to telling this man that I would not give him any money. Most homeless people I’d encountered were drunks or druggies, usually just trying to find more money to slowly kill themselves with.

However, this was the beginning of something else. He stopped at my window, and looked at me. I looked back at him, trying to find my voice to say “no”, when he looked at me and said, “I hope you have a most blessed day,” and he gave me one of the most genuine smiles I’ve ever seen, and then he limped past me. He didn’t ask me for money, or a smoke, or shove a cup in my face and jingle it. He just wished me to have a good day. It touched me.

Sometime later, after a couple of more light stops and “hellos” back and forth between this man and me, one day, he didn’t travel down the line of cars as usual. This day, he turned to me, smiled, and started a conversation. He’d grown used to me, and I to him. A time or two I gave him an extra dollar I found in my pocket or left over change. But this day, he said “so, how’ve you been doing?” I replied “Not too bad, I suppose. How are you holding up?” To say that I had no idea how to talk this man so casually would be an understatement. I was afraid of offending him, or reminding him that I had a home I was going to, and he did not. He looked at me and said “Well, I have air in my lungs, so I take that as a good sign”, then he chuckled, gave me a smile, and then limped off down the street.

A month or two of these casual greetings led to a “hello” one day that ended in me learning his name, Art. I liked the name. I’ve always loved art, and have explored what I can do with art since I can remember. It was a good name.

One day, I was making chicken for dinner. The packets at the supermarket came with four, even though I was only cooking for two. Sure, I could have saved them and had left overs for the next day, but I had other plans. I told J he was to go find Art, and bring him here. J looked at me, surprised. I told him we had plenty of food, Art might as well have a nice meal for once.

It took about 20 minutes for J to track Art down, but he did. Over my threshold limped the bearded, camo jacket clad man I’d said hello to so often. The old book bag on his back was coming apart at the seams. He looked nervous, unsure of what to expect. I smiled at him and asked him to sit down at the table. Then I asked him if he liked chicken and macaroni. He nodded, and then looked at the table. I brought him over a plate with the two extra pieces of chicken and a big helping of macaroni. He looked at the plate, then at me, and said “Is this all for me?” I told him yes, and that he should dig in before it got cold.

It was over this meal that I learned much more about Art. He was a veteran, had served in Vietnam. On one of the bases he had been stationed at, he had been hit by a Humvee, which had almost completely shattered his hip bone. The medical facility he was taken to had decided to just put a pin in it, which was very painful to walk with, and of course, was the cause of his limp. Between the pain in his hip and the pain in his mind, he drank, heavily. He’d had a couple of children, to be honest I don’t remember how many. His wife had died. He knew he had a grandson, but he had never met him. He told me that he was not a good man when he had been drinking. He didn’t know what else to do with himself. He’d tried to get jobs doing construction, since that was a trade he knew, but with this hip, he was a liability, and no one would hire him. I also learned that he hadn’t touched a drink in nearly 2 years. He hoped to prove to his son (the father of his grandson) that he was worthy of another chance. He told me when he’d been sober for 5 years, he would track his son down and go see him. That was his plan. To live and be sober for 5 years, and hopefully he would get his family back.

I wanted to cry. It was one of the saddest stories I’d ever heard. This wasn’t a movie or a book, this was real. This man had served his country, and when he came back broken, they told him to deal with it all himself. It’s a sickening thought. No one who has protected and served their country should be treated like this.

Art ate everything but the second piece of chicken. He wanted to know if he could save it and take it to a friend of his, another homeless man. They sometimes pooled their money together after a week or two, and rented a cheap hotel room, so they could get a shower and a bed for at least one night. I packed up the piece of chicken and gave him the rest of the macaroni with it.

We took him back up to the main street. As he got out of my van, I handed him some blankets I wasn’t using, an old sweatshirt, and J even gave Art a pair of jeans that didn’t fit anymore. I also gave him a little money, not that I had much myself, but I felt that he needed it, and would use it for something other than alcohol or drugs.

Whenever I saw Art on the street, I waved and smiled. If I had the chance, I’d stop and talk to him, check up on him.

One day, I didn’t see Art in his usual spot. There was another homeless man. He’d taken the prime spot because Art wasn’t there.

More days passed without seeing Art anywhere. I was worried. J found the man Art sometimes pooled money with, and asked him about Art. We were told that he was in the hospital.

I found the hospital that Art was at and decided I would go visit him. Before going, I got a book of crosswords, word searches, a pack of pens, and a “get well” card. If anyone knows how unfun hospitals are, it’s me, so I thought something to do to keep his mind off everything might cheer him up.

When we walked into the room, Art teared up. He couldn’t believe we’d come to see him in the hospital. I handed him the little bag of things to do, and his get well card. He gave me a big smile, and a most sincere “thank you”. He told us he found out he had colon cancer. They weren’t sure what they were going to do yet, since everything had to go through the VA. We stayed for an hour or so before leaving. Art took my hand, and thanked me one more time.

A week or so later, I called the hospital to talk to Art. They informed me, he had died. I was so angry, so sad, and so heartbroken that he didn’t get a chance to finish those 5 years and that he never got the chance to try again with this family. My only comfort was that, at the end, he knew at least one person would remember him, had cared about him.

It’s been almost 5 years now since I met him, and I still remember and think about him. It still makes me angry to see how a country can ask men and women to fight for it and die for it, but if they are unlucky enough not to die and instead come back injured, that the country they fought for would do the least it could to help them.

But, for ever and always, I will remember a man named Art.

thanks-vets