Monday, December 12, 2005

a handful of stones, a foxglove plant

The plant appeared on the curbside early in the morning, roots clinging to bits of sandy soil, leaves still moist in the early morning fog. It is not unusual to find plant orphans at my doorstep or at the edges of the parking lot garden--some months ago a climbing rose with deep red flowers; not long ago a languishing pothos with yellow splotched leaves. The pothos, repotted, dangles over the window. The rose is at the end of the north wall, where someday I hope to guide it up the crumbling side of the building.I planted the foxglove along the wall where it will add a certain magic to the garden come summertime.
As I was tucking the foxglove roots in, and wondering if it will flower in white or in deep splotchy pink, an agitated young woman clutching an orange kitten came up to me. Her human traveling companion held one of their three puppies and was trading shouts with another guy. The woman, breathing heavily, said "will you call the police? That guy is crazy. He's saying all sorts of things about us, and they aren't true."
I told her no, I wouldn't call the cops--and her friend, who had walked away from the scene, dogs tumbling along with him, agreed. Police complicate things a lot sometimes. But I knew the guy who was bothering them, and agreed to go talk with him.
I've known--let's call him David, which is not his name--since he was a small child, with wide dark eyes and an intense spirit. He cried easily as a little child. I never knew what happened to his father, but his mother had quite a struggle raising him on her own. As he reached his teens he was diagnosed with various mental conditions, and fell into bad company. Last summer his mother moved from the area, leaving him to fend on his own--no child any more, but a young man living sometimes in the bushes, going hungry, tormented by fears and visions. There are a few of us who know him, and try to help him as best we can, but it is often like dealing with a feral cat. He is frightened, suspicious, and proud.
When I reached him he was yelling at another kid, someone who had a dog on a leash. He was claiming the dog was sick, poisoned, and poisoning all the other dogs. The shepherd mix looked healthy enough to me, and his exasperated owner was trying to explain that the dog was fine, had up to date shots, and no, they had not been up in the big city to the north recently. David was hearing none of this, and the guy was getting angry. Voices got louder and louder. I stepped between them and said something about "hey, let's calm down". And then, naively, I spoke to David. "What's happening, David?" I asked. "Are you okay?"
He gazed at me wildly. "How do you know my name?" he demanded. I explained that I had known him since he was a small child, that I had known his mother, and that I was worried about him. Would he maybe like some soup, I asked, thinking that sometimes food helps him settle his mind.
He was fine, he said, and no, he did not need to eat, he was beyond that. But then he glared at me. "If you know me, why did you steal from me?" he asked. It is true that for months he has been stopping by the bookstore, asking whether someone had left a package for him. No one has, and from time to time I have wondered what the package was supposed to contain. I was about to be enlightened.
"I know you took my package" he said. "It had my name on it, and it had good drugs in it. You took it, and you used those drugs, and you stayed up every night for seven days..."
He went on to describe in rather graphic detail all the things I did during those seven days and nights, most of which involved sexual things. Had it not been such a stressed encounter I probably would have laughed; as it was I kept saying "no, you are wrong" and he kept saying "I know you are lying, because your eyes are transparent, and I can see into your head, and there are birds in there, and colors, and I know".
Didn't look as though the conversation had much future. Fortunately, the people he'd been yelling at before had taken their gear and various companion animals away, and there wouldn't be a fight this afternoon.
I too took my leave, wondering what had triggered this episode. David will go months sometimes coping pretty well, and then go off. There was the time last year that he came into the bookstore and claimed that on the poetry show on the radio my partner had read poems that revealed secrets about David's life; secrets no one knew. I finally convinced him it was merely an odd coincidence by giving him copies of the poems--ancient Greek poems--and showing him that they much predated his own birth.
And there was the evening he showed up at the door, hungry, sad. I heated some food on my hotplate and talked with him a while. "I'm sorry. I do bad things sometimes" he said. "Please, will you forgive me?" I said yes, yes, of course, and hugged him.
But this day I was unsettled, and worried. Still, he seemed to be calming down, whether or not he believed I was stealing his drugs.
That night another young man came by, to show me his handful of pretty stones. Did I think they were worth a lot? They were jadeite, gathered at the beach near Big Sur. And, by the way, did I have a warm blanket--his had been taken. Yes, I found a sleeping bag, and made a note to myself to put out another call to our community for warm blankets and sleeping bags. We have no shelter here, but so many wandering the streets, and in a cold week I may give away 20 blankets or warm coats. He asked about food services. No, there is very little here. "Have you eaten today?" I asked. He looked at the ground, up again, and said, quietly, "No."
Well, wait here, I said, and went to see what I could throw together--a couple sandwiches, some fruit, some water. He's going north, and may find better help there. Meanwhile, those pretty stones...
Worthless, really, but I didn't tell him. I remembered gathering them with my father, happily splashing in the ocean waves, my dad joking that we were rich now, with our handfuls of green stones.
We were rich, of course, but not in the way my traveler wished to be. We had the salt on our skin, and the ocean, and a blue day full of laughter. Green stones, childhood, a time before the many twists and turns the world would bring us. A time almost before sorrow.


Blogger Caroline said...

Well, hi, this blog has no pictures, but is really interesting 4 me... wow, u r great writing things and showing them, see u later... :)in my blog. I have delievered u something, well a message... :) BYE!

4:02 PM, January 12, 2006  
Blogger Caroline said...

Jarvenpa: I like ur blog, is cool. Well, maybe we can communicate by adding comments 2 each other and... I don't know, like that is a good idea, so see u in the next comment... :) bye!

4:19 PM, January 13, 2006  

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