This was a story I couldn’t quite fit in, but decided I wanted to share anyway.
One of the patients from the hospital I wrote about in Chapters 4, 5, and 6, was there for a number of health problems, and for severe depression. But Ned was a pretty good guy, a “bloke”, and we got along. We spoke on the phone a few times after being in the hospital together, but after that, I moved to Washington and lost touch.
Jump ahead seven years – I’d moved back to Arizona, and took a job with an animation studio in Central Phoenix. I drove down every week and one day, on the offramp of the freeway, I saw him begging for change.
I turned around, picked him up, and we went to a McDonald’s on the block (at McDowell) for breakfast.
In the time since I knew him, he’d contracted HIV, probably from a bad needle, and lost his wife, his family, and his friends. He slept under the overpass, by the tunnel, because there was room, and the wind was blocked three ways, so it was warmer at night.
And he had not been touched by another human being in TWO YEARS. Not a SINGLE TOUCH.
I bought a couple of apple pies, gave him one, we ate together, then I hugged him, and he nearly disintegrated from my touch.
Every Monday thereafter, we had breakfast together at that McDonald’s, and I always hugged him goodbye.
Then, five months later, he wasn’t there one week. Or the next. Or the next.
It took two weeks to find out, from other guys begging for change, that he’d died in his sleep, from complications from AIDS. But everyone on the street knew that he had a friend who brought him pies, and hugged him, and made sure he knew he was valued. And so I took his four friends to McDonald’s for pies, and sodas, and we toasted Ned. And then I went back to work.
Hadn’t been touched in two years. That weighs on my mind. But I’m glad I found him.
THE BARBIZON DIARIES is not a book I ever wanted to write. And I didn’t want anyone to read it. I still don’t. But I think everyone SHOULD. Because life is too short. And someone needed to be willing to say things that a lot of people need to hear, so I did. Sometimes what’s necessary isn’t easy. Putting that book out into the world was incredibly hard.
You know what IS easy?
Sharing two McDonald’s pies. Giving a guy my extra sportcoat. Hugging him. And saying, “I love you, man.”
Easiest thing in the world.