[The following column is from my vault, written over seven years ago. I'm running it because my injury makes it very difficult to sit and write new material, and because something I saw a little while ago made me think of it. -Hyperion]

The Hyperion Chronicles
“Not just a column; a way of life”

#59 WE

“Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you have done it to me.” ~Matthew 25:40

WE are the ones you see at movies by ourselves. Yes, we have friends, and we do things with them, but we also know that a movie is not a social engagement. Despite what some may feel, talking is not encouraged. So spare us your pity; we are doing fine.

WE are the ones next to you in the grocery store when you blew up and beat your kid. We agonized: no one wants to tell a parent how to discipline her child, but you were wailing on your little girl, and no one deserves that, especially a three year old. We are ashamed that we stood by with the rest of the crowd, and all looked away, pretending not to see. Next time, though, we don’t care who you are. If you want to attack someone, it’s going to be us first.

WE were in that group of people when you told your racist joke. We didn’t laugh, and now we wish we had called you out. What makes you think that just because two or three are gathered of the same race that gives you the right to spout off your mouth? How dare you assume we want to hear that?

WE are the family that came to your church last Sunday. We know we are not much to look at. We saw the scandalized looks thrown our way. We heard the barbed comments you said to each other as you laughed at us for falling short of your suit and tie, your brand new dress, each freshly washed and ironed. Rest assured our kids heard you too. Yes, we would like them to dress better, but after all the trouble our family has had, we are just glad they came. We sit in the back because we see you staring when we come down front, and God help us if we sit in your pew. We don’t say much, but we hear you loud and clear.

WE were standing on the street corner with our friends when you drove by at 45 miles an hour. We saw you look over at us in horror and reach to lock your car door. We had to laugh; you looked so silly. We were also in the department store the other day when you had a security guard start to follow us. Yes, we had plenty of money to buy your merchandise, but after your little show of strength, we would not shop there if you paid us. This time itwasn ’t so funny. We put up a brave front, and act like nothing you do can touch us. The truth is that each look, each slight, each time you move your purse to your other arm when you pass us by, and each time you watch us suspiciously until we leave; each time is a small cut in our side. They are not very deep cuts, but over time, they add up.

WE were the customer service representative trying to help you get your broken product fixed. We didn’t want you to have a bad experience with our store. Frankly, our lives are much easier when you are happy. We didn’t want you to get the run-a-round when you called our 1-800 number. That was not us. That was someone in another state who didn’t care if you got your problem solved because they’d never see you. And we are sorry you got a phone call in the middle of dealing with us from your daughter, tearfully telling you she had just wrecked your car. We are sorry you had an argument with your wife that morning. We are sorry you are having such a bad day. But none of that is our fault. We are not blaming you—although yelling at your wife is never a smart move. All we are trying to do is help you. If wedidn ’t apologize quickly enough, there is no need to call us incompetent. All day long, we have tried to help people who are angry and want to take it out on someone, and we are tired too. But you have no reason to take out your frustrations for your whole stupid day on us. All that does is allow you to vent some steam and put us in a bad mood right before we go home to our troubled family.

WE are the homeless guys you see on the street begging for food. We are the people you disdainfully avoid and herd away from your children, lest we get too close. We are homeless, and I will not lie to you, many of us are alcoholics and drug abusers, and more than a few of us belong in mental institutions. But don’t believe the propaganda that we all “choose” to be here. Yeah, we had a choice, but it was the Devil’s Bargain we had to make. Each of us has a story behind our sad state, not that you’d care to stop and listen. Some of us ran away from home to escape a father who raped us and a mother whodidn’t give a shit. Some of us served our country. We were in Vietnam; we went when our country called. We didn’t know why we were there, but we went because we were patriots, we were men, and that is what men do. We saw our friends die by the dozens. We sat in a foxhole, with mortar screaming over our heads, and held our buddy’s hand while we watched the life slip out of him. We told him everything would be all right, the lie tasting bitter on our lips. Two weeks from coming home, a routine patrol went horribly wrong, and we woke up in a hospital, never to have full use of our right leg or to hear normally again. Then we came home. We came home, but not to cheers for a job well done; not in pride, but in disgrace. We were spit at, jeered, and called “baby killers,” and we did not understand. And so we drank, we did drugs, and tried to forget what we saw over there, and what we saw over here. To try to forget all of the fallen. Some of us did not do as well. More of our brothers took their own lives after coming home than died in combat, unable to face the shame of being a social outcast, hated and reviled. So here we are. We have given up on life, but don’t have the courage to end it, and we sit here and hope the passers-by will take pity on us and give us some food. We have been in and out of VA hospitals; if you think the government takes great care of its veterans then you haven’t talked to the thousands of service men and women who live on food stamps. We sit here and we hold our pathetic signs up and we are reduced to begging. But we are not going to die if you don’t help us out. No one is making you give us a dollar. So, spare us your patronizing looks. Spare us your disgust, as you get out of your luxury car to head to a restaurant to eat your thirty-dollar steak, which you won’t even finish. We fought and many of us died so that you could drive your car, eat your steak, and live your life in relative peace. We suffered for you, but you don’t seem to care.

WE are all around you. We serve your food, and see the meager tips you leave. We baby-sit your kids, and hear the arguments you have in front of them. We fix your car and cut your hair. We don’t always have new clothes, or a new car, or a nice home to live in. We don’t always say the right thing. We don’t always know what to say. But we are here. We listen, we watch, and we learn. We remember. And WE are not alone.

September 8, 2001

But sometimes we feel alone


Anonymous said...

I remember this column - what caused the controversy?

Anonymous said...

Bah. That first comment was me.

Hyperion said...

Bear - It was the homeless veteran paragraph. I have no idea if there is controversy this time, because I think you're the only one who reads my stuff.

Anonymous said...

Bull$#!t! I read your stuff religiously! (i.e., on Sunday morning, as fast as possible, and in abject fear for my soul if I don't)

Anonymous said...

I read it too!
Your favorite aunt.