About hiddenstories

teacher, writer

I’m Just Getting There Fast As I Can, Same As You

It takes a certain kind of person to live in the woods on and off since 1998.

Jimmy has what it takes.

The first time I saw him, I was driving in Belmont, near McLean hospital, and there was a man, walking on the sidewalk, carrying his belongings on a bag tied to the end of a stick. Original hobo. I marveled and drove on.

The second time I saw him, it was on the bus. He wore mirrored shades. It was winter. Shorts exposed his bare calves, which were riddled with thick veins. His face was fuzzy with whiskers, wrinkles, chapped skin.

We exchanged a few words. Probably about the weather. I realized this was the same guy I had seen walking in Belmont. Not because of his stick, which I don’t think he had. Rather, it was the way he carried himself – slowly, as if trying not to fall apart. But steadily, too, like he couldn’t be broken. Continue reading

Searching for Healing

Matt makes me think of life’s unfairness, and the stories we like to hear about how people overcome it. Some people scrabble from hardship to emerge as high-profile success stories. They grasp onto their dreams and push their way out of the muck, with tears along the way. They arrive on mountaintops, finally admired, inspiring others with what they’ve overcome. These are the stories that get made into movies. The ones for which people are always hungry.

Then there are stories, like Matt’s, whose triumphs remain secret to most.

Matt is confined to a wheelchair. His hair is neatly combed, his eyes, behind glasses, a clear, light blue. His speech slurs, his neck bends towards his chest, so he has to turn his head carefully to focus on the listener. It looks like it hurts to get the words out.

He has wrestled demons, and doesn’t know where they come from – or if they travel by a different name – genetics, environmental poisoning, personality. He’s still searching for healing.

That search, and the One to whom it’s directed, are reasons enough to shout Matt’s journey from the mountaintops – however halting, however incomplete, however gradual it may be. His continued hope that he will feel better, the push of his mind toward wholeness, is his gift. This gift comes the way breath flows through the body, the way a heart beats without anyone being able to make it stop or start. Some days, you can argue with this gift, or try to ignore it. But it keeps coming back. You can’t measure its value. That’s why, however bleak things look on the outside, something in me quickens when Matt talks about what he wants most. Continue reading

A Gentle Scotland Fog

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. Continue reading

I Want to Fall in Love

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.” Continue reading

Still Here, And For a Reason

We’ve been talking for about twenty minutes when Jack recalls a pastor’s statement to him that God has him here for a reason. But “God and I aren’t on speaking terms right now,” he says.

“Why?”

“Why would you think?”

With the quiet helplessness of a person whose faith has never been tested the way his has, I remember. I’m talking with someone who has been viciously wronged by a supposed holy man.

We hear stories about older mentors whose words stay with a kid his whole life, and make him strong. But Jack’s story shows the lasting damage that one person can do to another. A teacher and priest molested him, he says, when he was 12 years old at Catholic boarding school. Continue reading

Messed Up In a Good Way

I instantly have a desire not to piss Joe off. Not because I worry he will physically hurt me, but because I don’t want to be exposed for the guilty liberal, sheltered, naïve soul that I am. This is the type of guy who does not abide bullshit. In the middle of my questions, he asks me if I’m a counselor. I say no, why? He tells me it’s my questions. I’ve just asked what his biggest hopes are for his life – one of my standard lines of inquiry for attempting to get to the heart of things – and now, I feel foolish. But he does have an answer.

“What I hope for is always anything good. I love my family, I love my friends. As far as the future goes, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I live day to day.”

Joe fought in Iraq during Desert Storm and Desert Shield, and comes from a long line of military family. He doesn’t say much about his experience over there, except that he “used to jump out of planes and shoot people,” and has seen his share of dead bodies. Continue reading

Faith or Mental Illness?

I want to apologize to Mary for having acted as if she made complete sense to me. But how else was I supposed to hear her story if I didn’t believe it, at least right then? The fact remains, though, I am uneasy with Mary. She says things that, to me, could not possibly be true. And she says them as if they were true, with utmost confidence. This is actually familiar. It sounds a lot like faith.

Among Mary’s claims are that she is in law enforcement, that investigators are looking into evidence of a potential bombing plot that she uncovered next to a trash can outside the T station, that she is an advisor to President Obama. She recently suffered a stroke, caused by “abuse from the Department of Transportation.” Her watch is purposefully set 30 minutes ahead.

One of Mary’s most-wished-for goals in life is to publish a pamphlet she wrote a long time ago on mental illness and “psychiatric rights to informed consent.” She cares about the government following regulations, and about the rights of patients. She also makes afghans for babies who are in the hospital, and carries bright yarn with her. The T-shirt she wears reads “Grow Strong Faith, Harvest Hope, Show True Love.” Continue reading