J-Man’s Unwanted Birthday Gift

February 4, 2014 — 2 Comments

I believe I’ll lose the repetitive “Helping The Homeless” title.  It’s neither very catchy or informative.

Yesterday I checked in with J-Man to see how he’s been doing.  Aside from his odd behavior at times, he’s always a pleasant host and inquires about what sort of day I’m having and if there is anything exciting going on in the world.  I told him the Seahawks won the Super Bowl on Sunday and I’m afraid that’s about as much insight as I could provide on the game since I stopped watching after half time and spent the first two quarters socializing.

Speaking of odd behavior… I have to clear my mind of a few things that J-Man does that (internally) aggravates me.  Said simply, it’s his complete lack of foresight/forethought for the future.  Although, you might argue that may be what placed him in this position to begin with…

I can think of all sorts of examples, but I’ll truncate it to these three:

  1. Hygiene.  He’s homeless; I get it.  He isn’t always going to be clean or smell like roses.  But have some dignity, man.  For example, he has this odd habit of picking at his sandwiches and tearing pieces off that he may (or may not) dip into a sauce before eating.  That’s not what drives me crazy.  It’s when his fingers are covered in ketchup and he just wipes it right on the front of his shirt as if he’s wearing that new ketchup stain on his chest like a badge of honor.
  2. Cleanliness (around camp).  The last time I visited I saw the remnants of soup splattered just outside his tent, with the majority of it still on his tent.  (This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed this.)  When I asked him about it, he simply said that he was done eating, didn’t want any more and threw it out.  Only, he threw it out right outside the door to his tent.
  3. Thinking ahead.  Someone else was kind enough to provide him with brand new clothing a couple weeks ago.  Several pairs of jeans, warm shirts, socks and even a new pair of boots.  (The guy almost has as much footwear as I do now!).  It was stacked in a pile on one of his containers when I suggested he might want to bag it to protect it from the weather.  He did and tossed the bag back on the ground.  I tied a loose knot in it and told him that it’d be snowing/raining over the next couple of days and to keep the bag sealed to keep the weather out.  When I asked him about the clean clothes I returned it prompted him to comment about the wet bag of clothes he had.  Apparently he had untied the knot at some point and left it outside (not under his tarp) where it had rained the night before and soaked all the clothing.  As he matter-of-factly informed me about the clothes “still being clean, just wet,” they remained on the ground, in the bag, still full of water.  No until I suggested did he hang them in the sun to dry off.  I fully expect to return tomorrow to see them still hanging where they were, wet because it’s rained since then no one suggested he take them down after they were dry.

Concerning these (and other) frustrations, I admit this is my problem.  This isn’t J-Man’s fault.  He probably wasn’t raised in an environment where he was taught behaviors I treat as if we’re all born knowing.  In very man ways, it’s sad knowing that when I talk to him about these things or try to teach him methods that might improve his living conditions I frequently receive that look as if he’s saying, “WHY would you want to do that?”  Guilt ensues and I feel a twinge of shame for judging a grown man for not knowing things he was likely ever taught.

Moving on…

As I parted company with J-Man, I was approached by a woman in the parking lot who asked for me by name.  No sooner did I identify myself, she told me, “I’ve found J-Man’s mom.”

THIS is where things get interesting…

First, some peeps are gonna need nicknames:
W: The individual that first told me about J-Man and that he had begun to help him after hearing about him from a friend.
T: W’s friend, whom had been helping J-Man for nearly a year now.  This is the woman who approached me in the parking lot.
L: T’s brother-in-law who is also helping keep an eye on him.

T begins to tell me this story about how she had been researching a halfway house that would house J-Man and provide assistance transitioning him off the streets.  In doing so, J-Man had provided her with some information so she could get the ball rolling.  Knowing J-Man’s birth date and SSN, she was able to locate his mother, who lives up North.  T obtained the telephone number of the woman she believed to be J-Man’s mother and called her.

Now this is where the information I have is sketchy, but T simply asked the woman on the line if she had a son named (J-Man).  The woman immediately began crying, fell to her knees and began praying.  She told T that J-Man had been missing for 8 years and today was his birthday.  T had not informed this woman that it was, in fact, J-Man’s birthday (because he had provided her with this information).  The woman claiming to be J-Man’s mother naturally began asking for all sorts of information and I’m not sure how T did it, but she managed to get her off the phone and promised to call her back.

T is standing in front of me, having never met me before, asking me to accompany her to tell J-Man the news.  Understanding that she wouldn’t want to be left alone with J-Man, especially delivering this news, I agreed to accompany her as L (who is nearby) was still on his way over.

Why this is such a big deal and what you don’t know is up until this point is J-Man has believed for several years that his mother is dead.  J-Man has said another family member (“who would not lie to him”) told him a couple years ago that his mother was dead.  Now T has contacted this now-hysterical woman who claims to be J-Man’s mother and eagerly wants to be reunited with her missing son.  (T has been quite the public records sleuth and was unable to produce any death certificates knowing J-Man’s mother’s name.)

As we’re about to head back to J-Man’s camp he appears from the woods and seems surprised to see us there.  T tells him that she has some news for him and proceeds to tell him that she has located his mother.  J-Man seems unaffected by this information at first but as T asks if he’d like to speak with her, his posture and tone-of-voice changes and he begins ranting about “not wanting to hear some hearsay about some crazy lady claiming to be his mother.”

T’s brother-in-law (hereby known as “L”) joins us at this point as T continues trying to reason with J-Man about the possible revelation that he may have been lied to about his mother being dead.  (According to T, the woman’s attitude was every bit of what you might expect for a mother who filed a missing persons report for her son nearly a decade ago suddenly learning he is alive and she knew too many “coincidental” details about J-Man to not be his mother.)  All logic and reason vacate the conversation at this point and J-Man is not convinced that we’re actually trying to help (not harm) him by locating family members.  In fact, the only certainty occurring in the conversation at this point is that T, L and myself are convinced she actually is his mother given his peculiar behavior — only he has no intention of wanting to contact her at all.

I don’t know what sort of childhood J-Man had or if he was possibly abused by his family, but based on what few details I know — his mother desperately wants to be reunited with him and he wants nothing to do with her.  What son wouldn’t want to be reunited with their previously-presumed dead parent unless they truly did not want their company?  So now it seems that J-Man’s birthday present… wasn’t.

I once read “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  Or, more appropriately, life is messy — and being part of a small group of people trying to help a homeless man get back on his feet has reinforced exactly how messy it can be.  I don’t know what events have transpired since Monday evening and I can’t imagine what awaits me tomorrow.  I can only pray that we make wise choices and J-Man trusts that we have only his best interests at heart.  I don’t know how many events like this have to take place before J-Man stops believing that “something big is about to happen” and acknowledges it already has…

Aaron Melton

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2 responses to J-Man’s Unwanted Birthday Gift

  1. Aaron, I’ve loved reading all of these posts…it’s just incredibly interesting. And your willingness to spend time and effort on a complete stranger in need is to be commended.

    How much do you know of his medical history? It sounds (from my obviously barely-informed perspective) like he likely has some mental health issues, which would explain his weird reaction to news of his family, his bizarre hygiene and planning habits and really, the overall state of his life. Clearly not my business, and you may not even feel like it’s yours, but it sort of fits the narrative.

    Anyway, just wanted to tell you that I read the updates and really look forward to seeing them show up in my feed:-)

    • Welcome back, Hillary.

      I’m not looking for any commendations, just blogging a bit about life. Speaking of which, I imagine yours has changed quite a bit since you stopped blogging as well. Seems like you’ve got some catching up to do as well. 🙂

      I honestly don’t know any of his medical history, but he obviously has some challenges there. I’ve been told that W will be taking him to be evaluated in preparation for possibly him in this supportive housing program. I’m sure I’ll know more in the days ahead…

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