When: Sunday– Mid-Afternoon- 4/15/2018
Weather: Low 60’s with even more wind
This was the first in the unlikely trio. As I was wrapping back around to the part of my path that overlaps, I saw an older male walking toward me. I had trouble trying to fit him into a particular category. As the gap between us closed, I noticed things that concerned me. He was wearing a rust-colored winter coat. While it was a little breezy, it was not winter-coat weather. He was adorned with a full beard. The beard closest to his mouth was noticeable gray. The rest of his hair was not shaggy, but it was certainly long. His skin was leathery. Texas weather can definitely impact your skin. Lastly, his eyes had a glassy look to them. Just as we were passing, some distance part of him seemed to realize he was being greeted. He nodded his head slightly.
While I am not very knowledgeable about the life of a homeless person, this person allowed me to check many of the boxes I associate with people who do not have much. If not homeless, he could very well have been high. In my many years of walking, this is the first person who did not lend themselves easily to a generic backstory.
Shortly after passing the homeless person, I arrived at the part of the path where I overlap for about a mile. As I was coming up on this part of this path, I could see another interesting individual. He was wearing headphones with something besides Gregorian chants playing. He was dressed in army camouflage clothing. His backpack was also camouflaged but with different shades of green. It also had netting attached to it. He had dark sunglasses on. It was impossible to tell what he was looking at.
As I followed him for a few hundred yards, I was hoping I would not have the chance to encounter him in a more direct way. His dress did not scream “I am a crazy man” as loudly as the possible homeless man. It did, however, say with an indoor voice, “I am less sane than you.” With passing becoming inevitable, I switched into the passing lane. My “on your left” seemed to go completely unheard. His shrouded eyes gave no indication of seeing me. His head did not swivel even a couple of degrees. I continued the rapid pace. I was sure I would feel more comfortable when I was beyond “knife-throwing” range.
With the spur (due to construction–the path to nowhere) tempting me to walk on it prior to going home, I decided not to yield to temptation. I was grateful I chose not to. As he walked down the spur, I am certain I would have felt stalked as he would have followed to a dead end. I passed an older lady walking her dog. I was afraid for her should she have chosen to walk that way. He may have just been a guy who wanted to wear attire to deter inquiry. Or, he could have been one of the two drug users unleashed on my path this day.
The lasts unexpected encounter was the most tragic. (The others were more creepy.). A friend who I really only know from walking surprised me by being on the path with her dog. She lives on the other side of the park construction. For her to get to “our” side of the park, she would have had to drive her and her dog to our side. The construction completion date of the fall made me believe I might not see her for almost a whole year. When she passed me, she apologized for not being able to talk longer. Her dog had, “cut his mouth on some wire and was bleeding.” She was going to meet a friend (possibly where she parked) to get her dog taken care of. I did have time to ask her about her husband. She gave me a look. I clarified my question, “Is he okay…ish?” She let me know he was still at the facility. Then she just continued down the pathway.
The back story is the tragedy of this story. When I first met this couple, the husband, wife, and dog were always walking together. When our walking schedules overlapped, the wife and I would typically have the more meaningful conversation. Both of us have had a few parenting challenges. Their children are older. The husband would sometimes participate at a minimum level. There were some other strange observations. I just thought he was a little “quirky”, and I engaged in conversation with whichever one of them was interested in talking. One time I saw the wife alone with the dog. While we were talking, she made a comment. I must have given her an odd look. She responded with, “Oh, you didn’t know my husband has early onset Alzheimer’s disease?” That information filled in some of the quirky gaps. I continued to see them on walks-sometimes we talked sometimes at a distance. And, they would honk at me if they saw me walking while they were in their car.
Last fall, I again saw the wife without her husband. She gave me an update on the past few months. Her husband would not allow their married son and daughter-in-law to live with them anymore. He was jealous every time his son hugged his mother–he forgot he was his son. He began to be paranoid that someone was after him. He would skulk around the house believing everyone, wife included, was out to get him. After a few bruises and embarrassing incidents, she was concerned about keeping both of them safe. Within a few days, she was able to become his legal guardian and get him committed to an institution where he could try and get the proper medications. Right now, he is in a full-care facility. She has daily extended visits with him. She tries to balance the roles she previously completed plus those of her husband. She has had to give up her hobbies to honor her commitment to him. And, to my knowledge, their estranged daughter has made no effort to visit her father.
I hope I get to see my friend again. As sad as the saga may be, I hope that my listening and encouragement might be therapeutic for both of us. For her, in the telling. For me, in the softening of my sometimes unsympathetic heart that results from the listening.
Walking Bonus: One gentleman today got the pleasure of passing me twice on our overlapping routes. On the final passing, it was on the narrower sidewalk. Even with a leash, it was hard for the gentlemen to keep the dog on the abbreviated half of the sidewalk. To simplify, I passed him while walking in the grass. Surprisingly, I heard a “Thank you”. His small act of appreciation will probably last me for at least 10 times when those I pass fail to realize the gesture I made.