Yesterday afternoon my husband and I were sitting around the house when I said, “Let’s go up to Starbucks to get out of the house.”
We walked up to Starbucks and while I ordered us an Arnold Palmer (black tea and lemonade) my husband found us a table. I saw that he had chosen one of the few empty tables next to a homeless man. I waited for our drink and then joined him.
I took out an essay I was trying to revise and said, “This is hard for me to rework. I understood immediately what the editor wants, but actually editing this and making it better is tough.”
The homeless man sitting in the corner said, “Are you a writer?”
“Yes.” I answered him.
“How many books do you have?”
“I have one book that I wrote by myself, and my husband and I published an anthology of fifteen poets. So, I guess I kind of have two books.”
“I am a writer too.” He said.
“What do you write?” He asked me.
I had often told people I write poetry and essays but I had never told them what the poetry and essays were about. I made a guess about this man sitting near us, and decided to answer him honestly.
“I used to write poetry, but now I write essays about living with paranoid schizophrenia.”
“I was diagnosed with that too.” He said.
“What do you write?” I asked.
“My next book is going to be about the power of hello.”
My husband and I agreed that the power of hello was an excellent topic for a book. He told us his name, Brian. He recited a poem he wrote in high school that he said was published. We talked about Frank Lloyd Wright, Hillary Clinton, Monty Python Movies, a British television show, and how he was going back to Michigan at the end of the month.
“How will you get to Michigan?” I asked.
“The city has this program. If you do some community service they will buy you a bus ticket to wherever you want to go.”
“Is someone in Michigan waiting for you?” I asked.
“My father, he is eighty-five.”
Brian said he had some really expensive Coach glasses. He took them out of a bag and showed them to us. They were pink and maroon. My husband and I told him they were nice. Brain said he thought they were worth a lot of money. Then he handed them to me and said, “Here, I want you to have these.”
I tried to refuse the glasses. I told him I didn’t have any money to give him for them. He said, “A gift is a gift. I don’t need any money.”
A gift is not just a gift when it is one of the few things you have.
I hope Brian writes that book about the power of hello. I know his experience on the streets has taught him that most people won’t even look you in the eye. I also hope he takes that bus to Michigan, and receives the care and treatment he needs.
I’ll keep the glasses. I’ll fix them up with my prescription. I’ll wear them as a reminder of Brian, our shared illness, and I’ll try never to forget the power of hello.