A little old man just walked in. He had wrinkled brown skin, but a childlike smile. He asked me where the Deseret News was and could he walk there. I asked him why he was looking for the Deseret News because I wanted to make sure I wasn't responsible for sending him on a wild goose chase. He said that he had an issue with an article.
This was a man on a mission.
I called a number to confirm the address and drew him a map.
As I drew the map Jim* and Jerry* came in.
They both waited patiently for me to finish helping out the old guy.
Jim and Jerry are both homeless veterans. They both served in Afghanistan and probably Iraq too, but it never came up. I've seen Jerry out panhandling in the neighboring streets. Jim tries to get work at the Salt Palace whenever they have conventions, but for the most part, they live at the shelter and share a storage unit here where they keep their belongings.
The storage unit they have is in Jim's name, but today he leaves for Vegas to try and find more work.
They came in the office to ask me to put the storage unit in Jerry's name so he could get the credit due on the account. This winter, they shoveled my walks several times, and I gave them some credit towards their payment due. With all the snow that fell this winter, I really appreciated their help.
I asked Jerry to sign the first page and Jim cracked a joke about all his kids being able to find him now that he's signed his name. I cracked, "Well, first, Jerry'd have to be with a woman for that to be a problem."
They paused, then cracked up.
I smiled at my horrible joke.
I looked up at Jerry and saw a tear coming down his face.
I asked him if he was crying.
Still smiling, he said, "Of course. I'm losing another brother."
I asked Jim if he was gonna come back to Utah.
He said no.
I asked Jerry if he'd go to Vegas.
They laughed and said that Afghanistan was too hot for Jerry. Vegas would kill him.
Then Jim walked out the door on my right and Jerry walked out the door on my left.
I watched Jerry pause for a moment on the corner.
Tears were still falling down his face.
Life's pretty rough for the homeless, seeing as how they're homeless and all.
But I've never seen any of them cry before today.
Nothing hurts as much as losing a brother.
Today I'm grateful for loss. It makes the having that much sweeter.
P.S. I believe I've mentioned him before-- a homeless guy with a big beard that I once watched walking down the street in mismatched flip flops and shorts in a snow storm holding Little Caesar's Cheese Sticks--he's outside picking up litter right now. He reminds me of Merlin on vacation from Wart in The Sword and the Stone.
*Obviously I changed the names.