I think I’ve met Clark before, although he insists we haven’t. He could have been the one who talked to us in the summer of 2002, when I was visiting from California with my boyfriend at the time. I recall the thick, foggy glasses, the deeply lined skin, the untrimmed beard, the curly hair that spreads out like fingers. But mostly, it’s the voice – scraggly and slow, wandering over the words and picking up each one for examination. I remember that he – or this person like him – asked my boyfriend and me if we were married. When we said no, he asked if we were having sex.
While Clark doesn’t seem like the type to care whether or not an unmarried couple is sleeping together, he is very much attuned to his need for romance. His attitude towards his life and himself is blunt – both in how he speaks of it and in his casual summaries of various failures. But at the end of our talk, which he seems anxious to wrap up so he can get on with his day, he fixes his eyes on mine and says, “I want to fall in love.”
I remember walking by homeless people as a teenager, and supposing they had somehow come to terms with their emotional states, including any longing they might have for romantic partnership. In fact, the thought didn’t even register that they may have such a longing. As if the need for food and shelter obliterated all other concerns, and until those needs were met, they thought of nothing else.
Of course, I was wrong and narrow-minded. And yet, Clark has still surprised me with how close to the surface he keeps that wish, with his willingness to proclaim it. I applaud him. And yes, I want to fall in love, too. Just one other thing I have in common with a complete stranger.
Clark won $10,000 once, but a woman took the ticket from him during a sexual encounter. The first sentence he chooses to describe his current situation is, “I need to make a big score in the lottery to make it out of homelessness.” Later, he says that if he could just make that big score, he would “drop the lottery like a bad habit.” A gambling addiction support group, he said, is something he “could try once or twice.”
Growing up, his father drank on and off, and cheated on his mother. He and Clark fought, and Clark left home early. “Everything was going along rather good. A couple of broken love affairs and that’s the name of the tune.” He said he has an alcohol-related disease, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, in which “a piece of my brain fizzled out.” The cause, he says, is “drinking and not eating.” His only remaining family alive is a sister. He was staying at Pine Street Inn, but currently is staying with a friend who got an apartment.
Another man who knows Clark says that talking to him is like hearing a waking dream. It’s hard to make sense of it. But I could see those green eyes clearly, could easily decipher the need in his voice, when Clark told me he wants a woman to love. “Maybe,” he said, “she’ll straighten me out a little bit.”