When I meet Davey, it’s on a Sunday afternoon in February. I am sinking into a familiar net of sticky self-absorption. The day is your typical late-winter bleak in New England. Freezing rain, troubling wind, gray sky. It’s hard for me to see beauty in what’s around me. My environment is a palette of dark, wet pavement, ice, high snow banks, woods and metals. The only color comes from stray bottles and candy wrappers mashed into black-crusted snow. Parking meters, street signs, brace themselves rigidly against the wind, salt-streaked and frozen.
I sit in one of my favorite cafes and scribble notes about what I want out of life in the margins of a magazine filled with writing I admire. A recent break-up haunts me. The real terror behind it is a scrabbling need to figure myself out, to make sense of the how I’ve lived.
With the discipline of someone who drags herself out of bed to exercise in the morning, I leave the café for Harvard Square, to find someone to talk to. I don’t need to vent; I’ve already plumbed my family and friends to the max, prayed and reflected on Scripture, sat quietly, attempted to clear my mind of all. Nothing feels like it’s working. Looking for a homeless person to interview feels just as incongruous and useless as everything else in my life. The faithful part of me knows to keep looking anyway.
Davey sits on a sturdy box in his usual spot (I’ve seen him many times before) outside a particular store. He doesn’t look happy. Check. We’ve got that in common. Our faces both express what my former church pastor referred to as “grim drivenness.” Bracing against the wind and what life will bring next. Soldiering on. He agrees to talk to me and I crouch next to him, the ground too wet for me to sit.
The hood of Davey’s heavy black parka surrounds his face, insulating his already quiet Scottish brogue. His answers come in short spurts, with hushed afterthoughts that emerge as he considers the questions more fully. In the 1980s, he came from Scotland to San Francisco – becoming part of the punk rock music scene and “trying to live my life.” He lost his job and his place out there, but in the midst of it all, got sober – and has been for 16 years. After California, he came to New England to “see a different side of America.”
To my surprise, I start traveling back in time with Davey, to memories of punk bands we both knew and loved– GBH, Agnostic Front, The Dead Kennedys. Davey, though, wasn’t a casual observer and sometime-participant, as I was. He was a roadie for Anthrax and Suicidal Tendencies. “Fantastic movie,” he says of “Suburbia,” the show about punk rockers that my friends and I used to watch over and over. He had a life like that, he said. Except instead of abandoned houses, he lived in apartments.
I don’t get much of a sense of Davey’s family. He has a mother and a brother who are still in Scotland, but it’s not clear why he can’t be with them. I don’t feel like prying. He asks me questions, too, in his weary, calm voice. Are you married? It’s not a come-on. Simply a question, with polite surprise when I say no.
We get a bit philosophical. His assessment of life, on this particular afternoon at least, is as gently gloomy as Scotland fog.
“At the end of the day, you’re always alone. It doesn’t matter if you’re with people. You’re always alone.”
When a man walking by gives him an umbrella, he marvels at how generous people are.
“I feel bad, though. He needs an umbrella.”
We talk about our hopes for the future, what we’re grateful for, what’s most important. He’d like to go back to California. He’s not happy, but that’s okay. To be happy, he says, takes time.
“Why do we waste so much time and finally get it, and get old?” he asks me.
Neither of us has an answer. But I still hope there is one.