There’s room at the bottom

Yesterday, in Bellevue, I saw a homeless man who staggered along 4th street near the Downtown Park. He looked worse than the average homeless person, somehow, and dragged a bag of things behind him instead of pushing a stolen shopping cart. Every now and then he stopped and swayed and then shook his fist at passing traffic or cursed at imaginary objects on the sidewalk. I watched him as he bumbled about, and as I always do, I wondered how it was that he had ended up on the streets. Was it drugs? Or some tragedy? Or was it just a series of small things? How had he come to be here, on this particular street? Did he have friends who lived in the park? Where were his parents? Where, if got his bearings, was he going?

“Fuck you!” he shouted at the sky.

I sat on a low wall to which he now staggered. A few meters from me he rocked to a standstill. Under the dirt and matted hair, he was no older than thirty. He muttered something I couldn’t make out, and then, as if in reply, he screamed in disgust and slapped himself.

“Pussy!” he cried.

He repeated this double act a few times. He swayed back and forth, mumbled some slurred statement and then exploded in violent disagreement, slapped himself, and once missed.

As I walked back to my office I marvelled at the ease with which I’d seen his apparent self-loathing as a sign of hope, as a glimmer of the man he perhaps once was, or could’ve been. But I knew it wasn’t so. Maybe it was true instead, I thought, that a homeless man is the home of many homeless men.

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