It’s a beautiful day, but colder than it looks because of the wind. Louise and I decided to take Tempe, one of our dogs, and go for a walk at Waterfront Park. A perfect opportunity for my weekly gift.
We parked down by the Esplanade. The wind was whipping as we joined the joggers, bikers and other walkers crossing the Hawthorne Bridge. “Brrrr!” we said a few times.
I was glad I had put on my down jacket and brought my gloves; Louise was, as usual, not wearing a coat. She was sporting a lovely lavender mohair sweater that my mother knit for herself quite a few years ago. She and Louise shopped for the yarn together when we were living in Port Angeles; it was a bargain, which will come as no surprise to many of you. (In case you haven’t read the earlier posts, my mother was a bit of a cheapskate. I learned from the best.)
It was the last sweater my mother completed. A life-long knitter, I never saw her use a pattern. While in England during the war she sat in the dark movie theater and knit socks for the soldiers. She taught me most of what I know about knitting but forgot how to do it herself in her last years.
The wind kept up as we walked north along the path. We passed the Morrison Bridge and the floating Maritime Museum. I was scouting around for an opportunity, mostly looking for someone who was on their own. It seemed like everyone was part of a couple or a family. Or moving fast. Lots of bikes and runners (I admit I really don’t understand those “barefoot shoes”).
As we got near the Burnside Bridge the Municipal Treatment Facility provided a break from the wind. Louise went off with Tempe to sit on a bench. I saw a woman standing alone and strolled by. Her mouth was set in a hard line and she refused to meet my eye, even as I lingered nearby and said hello.
Then I saw a man lying on his back on the pavement next to a low wall. A small black suitcase and a backpack were propped nearby. The man was shading his eyes from the sun and reading a book. I got closer and saw that it was a well-worn copy of “A Painted House” by John Grisham.
I got closer. “Beautiful day!” he announced. “Yes, it sure is,” I agreed. “Except for that wind.”
“That’s why I picked this spot,” he explained. “It’s nice and warm in the sun and the wind isn’t so bad.” He didn’t budge from his position flat on his back as he told me he had spent the last two nights in a shelter. They empty the place out at 5:30 am and he’d been trying to stay warm ever since. “Are you doing okay?” I asked.
“Well, I can’t move around so great,” he admitted. He told me he’d had some injuries and has a lot of trouble with his breathing. I positioned myself to block the sun, which was shining directly into his eyes. “Hey, thanks,” he said.
His name was Peter. He told me he had recently been in the VA Hospital where they diagnosed him with pulmonary fibrosis. “It’s sad,” he said. “I’ve got three to five years unless I can find permanent housing. Then I can get on the list for a transplant. They say I’m a perfect candidate.”
He told me how thankful he is to have medical coverage through the VA. “These new pills they have me on, they’re $200 each pill. I looked it up on the internet. And I take two every day. Daba something. Here, I’ll show you.” He sat up and opened his suitcase.
Peter told me how he originally landed in Portland a few years ago. He heard from an old friend that she was in trouble and dropped everything to come here. It didn’t work out and she’s been dead two years now. He took it hard, real hard.
He wondered why I had stopped to talk to him; people usually don’t. I said that, in fact, there was something I was hoping he could do for me. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” he warned. “I can’t do much of anything anymore. Nothing physical, anyway.” I reassured him that it wouldn’t require any effort on his part, just the willingness to accept a gift.
“I could really use a bus ticket,” he said. “The hardest thing for me is just getting around. I can’t walk far with all this stuff. I have to have it – I need to have a change of clothes, a nice pair of shoes and a towel with me. But it’s heavy.” He patted the suitcase.
“Open your hand,” I said. He held his hand out and I put the hundred in it. His eyes got big. “Oh!” he exclaimed. Then he looked me in the eye and said quietly, “Do you really feel compelled to do this?”
That made me chuckle and I explained a little more about my compulsion to give money away. “How wonderful for you that you can afford to do that!” he said, without a trace of bitterness. “Thank you so much! This will go far for me! I can buy three month-long bus passes. This will help me out so much!”
He shook my hand a few times. I told him about the blog and he said he would check it out next time he gets to a computer. “I really want to read some of the other stories,” he said with a smile.
We said our goodbyes and I left him sitting in the sun.
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