Yesterday I was sitting outside of the soup kitchen with Billy. The mid-morning sun was dissipating the concrete chill of the previous clear night. He sneezed, and said that he wished he had some paper towels to blow his nose. I said I would go and get him some—I got up and used my key to open the front door of the kitchen.
Billy has Parkinson’s. He is perhaps about half way into the degeneration brought on by the disease. He walks with difficulty, using a cane. His mind seems as yet unaffected.
When I returned with the paper towels, Billy was contracting a deal on the street. It looked like he was scoring some crack. When his supplier left he looked at me, and said with a mixture of tenderness and embarrassment that broke my heart, “Man, I don’t want to do this in front of you!” I offered to go someplace else, and he said, “But I like having you around, it feels good.” After a pause he gave me a sidelong glance and said, “And I know why you are here.” I laughed and, probably wanting to hear good things about myself, asked, “Tell me, why am I here?” He looked at me directly for a moment and said, “We’ll talk about that later sometime.”
I hung out with Billy for perhaps another fifteen or twenty minutes, talking about various things. He said that the disease was getting worse, and it was harder from him to get around and to take care of himself. He fell in the shower the other day. Last night he couldn’t get himself up to walk across the street to the Men’s shelter, and slept right there on the sidewalk--didn’t move from that spot.
I remembered how cold it was last night.
He said he didn’t like to sound like he was complaining. I said I knew that, and that it didn’t sound like complaining to me. He said, “Yeah, but it has a sour ring in my ear.” “That’s how I know it isn’t really complaining,” I said to him.
Then he gestured to the drugs still in his hand and said, “These days it’s more about pain-management than getting high.” I told him that I would go and check in with some other folks and maybe see him before I went home.
“What time do you go home?” he asked.
“About three or three thirty.”
I went upstairs and used my key to Robert’s office and cried for a while.
Later when I was walking to my car to drive home, I looked for Billy. I saw him across the street, smoking more crack.
I went home without saying goodbye.