Anthony Doesn't Live Here
July 20, 2016
I met him on May 17 totally by chance, or maybe not. I had stopped for gas on my way home and I was tired, hungry and rushed … as usual.
Published on LatinoLA: July 27, 2016
I heard him call out to me. Another day, I might have pretended not to hear him, but today I replied, "just a moment." I finished pumping my gas and walked about 30 feet to where he was. "Are you hungry?" I asked. He replied, "I am. Can you buy me a soda or something?"
I said I'd be right back and went inside. This particular gas station had large chicken tenders and steak fries. I patiently filled up two small containers with ketchup because who likes chicken tenders or fries without ketchup? I picked up a large bag of chips, a banana, a liter of water, and a soda (because although I don't like to promote soda, he had requested it). It came to about $10, and I wanted to buy more, but I couldn't figure out what else to get, and I didn't have much time.
I walked back to where he was, and this time I noticed he had a walker. He probably hadn't showered or changed his clothes in weeks. I asked him his name. "Anthony," he said as he thanked me for the items. I reminded him it was important to stay hydrated and to please remember to drink the water. He said he would and asked, "Do you think we could hang out?" As I looked in his eyes, I could see the childlike vulnerability of his request, the loneliness. He was basically asking "will you be my friend?" and it broke my heart. I responded that my family was waiting, and I needed to get home. "Well, maybe another day?" he asked with childlike optimism. I asked if I could pray for him, and as I did I had to fight back my tears. When I finished praying I asked if I could give him a hug before walking away.
I was sad that I could do nothing more tangible for him. Over the next several days I would look for him on my way to and from work. I would ask God to provide for all of Anthony's needs, to bring him friendship, to keep him safe, to keep him hydrated, to make His presence known to Anthony. One day, I noticed where Anthony "lived." He had a folding cot like those used for camping, a blanket, and a small beach chair.
Because I regularly drove home for lunch, I would see that he spent most of the day laying on his bed with a thick blanket tied to a nearby fence for shade, canopy style. I wondered if he was eating. I wondered if he was drinking enough water. I wondered if he was lethargic from not enough food or too much sun. I regretted that I did not think to invite him to church. Sometimes he would be standing near his things just looking into the distance, maybe at traffic, I couldn't tell. I prayed daily that God would protect and provide him all that he needed.
On July 5 Anthony was not there. His things were there, but he wasn't. I worried something had happened as days passed with no sight of Anthony. I hoped he wasn't hurt. I wondered if his body had given out from lack of food and water, or possibly heatstroke. I hoped he wasn't a victim of a crime. Two weeks later I wondered if maybe he had fallen but couldn't be seen from the main highway and was waiting for someone to come help him, so I drove up the road where he lived. Except for his blanket, chair and empty bags, wrappers, and containers, there was no sign of Anthony. My heart grieved, and I hoped he was in a better place.
Two days ago someone completely cleaned the area, and unless you had met Anthony, you would never guess anyone had lived there. I did, and I will always remember him.
July 20, 2016
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