Red is real. I don’t know his name, though I did at one time.
When I first saw him, he was probably 15. Maybe older. It was hard to tell because he was big for his age. He was a least six feet tall then, but I knew he was young because his face was youthful. He rode a bike. One of those BMX-type bikes that kids that age ride. Yeah, and a blazing shock of red hair. He had the kind of unconventional good looks that could have landed him movie or television roles. In another life.
I live in a very small town, population around 10,000. Maybe less. I work downtown, such as it is. Downtown encompasses a few blocks. My office faces an alley that’s on the route from the soup kitchen at St. Mark’s to points elsewhere, like the GoMart a block away. Across the alley is a house that’s been converted into a duplex. Renters come and go. There have been good people living in the house, some just starting out, trying to save money and build a better life. There have been others not so well intentioned. Over the years, the police have been called to the house many times.
It was when the house was occupied by others that I first saw Red. He would cruise in on his bike, have some contact with people in the house, then ride away. I sort of knew what was going on, but I had hoped that this kid was just sowing oats, that maybe he would mature and take a different path. There was life in his eyes and something told me there was pontential for great things.
Then I didn’t seem him for a while. Months. Maybe a year or two.
Then his picture in the paper. Busted for something, I don’t remember what. I know it was drug related, but it was more than just possession. It was obvious to me that he hadn’t taken a different path and that he was doing what he had to do to feed his addictions.
I started seeing him on the street again. No bike, just walking. He seemed ok. I wondered if he had gotten help. Maybe he was turning his life around.
Then last night I made a trip to the store. It was raining hard. I sat in my car listening to Ben Sollee on Mountain Stage before going inside. When I came out, Red was walking along the drive in front of the store. He was oblivious to the rain. Then he stopped. He started circling his left wrist with his right hand. Back and forth. I thought maybe he was trying to get something off his arm. Then I saw there was nothing there. He was muttering to himself. He had that look. Frustration. Anger. Fear. In his world, not ours.
Then he started walking again. The look was gone, and he was just a guy walking in the rain.
We see people like this all the time. Seemingly too far gone to help so we just drive by. Like I did. I look back and wonder if I should have offered him a ride, but I know that wouldn’t have been very smart. He was obviously unstable and given his past, even talking to him might have been a mistake.
But I can’t help wondering what life is like for him. That’s the point of the story. He’s tragically broken.
But he’s still a person.
Every now and then we all need shelter from the storm.