“Yep. You’re the best!” Cathy smiled as she went to bed. She thought about Tom and his friendship. She realized he had never told her how he became homeless or if he had family. They’d known each other for over a year and there was so much she didn’t know about him.
That night she dreamt of her mother who had died two years ago of cancer, again wondering about the secret.
A week passed and Cathy decided to visit Joe. She looked forward to seeing him. It was a beautiful day; and thought he might like to go for a walk with her. She arrived at the older adult complex. Wonderful trees grew in front of the well-kept apartments. Colorful flowers dotted the lawn of each brick home. It pleased Cathy that Joe had a nice place to stay. She whistled as she walked up to the door.
She knocked, and when no one answered, yelled, “Joe, are you there? It’s Cathy.” She looked through the front window and didn’t see anyone. She yelled again, “Joe, are you there?”
She wondered if he might be in the complex’s recreation room. She walked about two blocks and spotted Joe walking his dog.
“Hi Joe. I was wondering where you were.”
“Well, hello there Cathy! I knew you would come to see me. I just knew it! Want to go for a walk with me and Charlie?”
“So is that your dog’s name? He has got to be the cutest cocker spaniel I’ve ever seen.” Cathy petted Charlie, and he greeted her as though she was a long-lost friend. She immediately fell in love with him.
Joe smiled. “He usually isn’t this friendly. He knows a good person when he sees one.”
They strolled together on the sidewalk, and Cathy felt right at home. Joe’s warm smile went straight to her heart. He was a handsome man with gray hair. He was about five feet, nine inches tall, slender with eyes that looked at you as if you were the only person in the world who mattered to him. Such a rare gift.
“How have you been feeling Joe?” Cathy asked as she observed how carefully he walked.
“Oh, I’m doing all right. My ribs are sore and my arm hurts, but they say it’s healing. It’s harder to heal are my feelings about being shot. It was a surprise. I was just walking down the street in front of the shelter and boom! Next thing I know, I’m on the ground with a lot of blood on my arm The attackers were kicking me in the stomach. They called me an old man among other things.
“When they heard you coming, they left. I really think they would have killed me if you hadn’t come around the corner. I’m afraid to go out at night now, and even when I’m in my apartment I feel afraid. I just don’t know why they would want to harm me. I didn’t do anything to them.” Joe looked frightened and confused.
“Do the police know who they were? Did you get a chance to see what they looked like?”
“No, I really didn’t get a good look. I think they were young, maybe teenagers. They didn’t actually steal anything. I see no reason for the attack.”
Joe seemed so overwhelmed by the incident, that Cathy wasn’t sure what she could do to help him. They arrived in front of his apartment.
“Ya want to come in Cathy? It’s kind of messy, but you know how men are.”
They both laughed.
As Cathy listened to Joe she sensed an underlying sadness. She wasn’t sure why, so she started asking questions about his life. “Do you have any children?”
Joe abruptly said, “That is a topic I don’t discuss!”
His anger surprised Cathy, and her face warmed with embarrassment. She’d crossed a line that he didn’t want crossed.
Joe looked at her with love and regret. “I am sorry Cathy. Talking about my son is a very painful subject, and I don’t tell many people.”
“No, it’s me Joe. I shouldn’t have asked such a personal question. You are entitled to your privacy. Let’s talk about something else. Why don’t we play cards? I see you have a deck of card over here.” Cathy started for the cards, but Joe reached out and touched her arm.
“Wait Cathy. You didn’t ask your question out of curiosity, you asked it out of love and an interest in my life. I would like to tell you about my son.”
“Are you sure Joe? I don’t want to bring up bad memories.” She gently touched his shoulder.
“Cathy, my son was a very happy little boy. We used to play games, and I went to all his baseball games. We were very close. He was curious about everything and eager to try new things and experience life. He was very smart and received high grades in school. Unfortunately, his curiosity took a wrong turn when he was fourteen and some of his ‘friends,’ introduced him to illegal drugs. He started with marijuana and worked his way up to harder drugs.
“I was unaware of his drug use. I was clueless about the drug culture and thought his erratic behavior was just a boy growing up. The thought that my son was taking drugs never crossed my mind. One day when I came home from work, I found police cars in front of my house and my son in handcuffs. He cried as they put him in the squad car, and the terror in his eyes broke my heart. I went to my wife almost in a panic and asked her what in the world was going on.
“She explained that he was being taken to jail because he’d been caught using drugs at school. I couldn’t believe it. I was in total denial. I yelled and said that they’d made a mistake, and Bill would never use drugs. We didn’t raise him that way. My wife took me into his room, and under the bed was a box full of illegal drugs. Even then I couldn’t believe it. I said they must be his friend’s drugs. He wouldn’t do this! I kept yelling and had no idea how to handle the situation. I just couldn’t imagine the son I loved and had played with as a young boy being taken to jail for using drugs. It didn’t make sense. I wanted to visit him in jail yet knew I better get a hold of my emotions before I saw him.
“The next day, I talked to his friends and they admitted they had been using drugs for about two years, and Bill seemed to be addicted. I can’t explain the anger, guilt, and sadness I felt. How could I have not noticed? How could I have not seen his addiction? My son was an addict. Hard words for a father to hear much less understand. I couldn’t imagine the son I loved taking drugs and associating with drug dealers. How could I have let that happen? What kind of a father am I? My only son had been lying to me. Every time he said he was studying with his friends he was using drugs. The money I gave him for lunch or going to the show went for drugs. All this time he was asking drug dealers for poison which could kill him. How could I have not seen that? What kind of a father would not see that his son was addicted?”
“Joe, I can’t imagine what that was like for you. Were you able to get help for him and your family?” Cathy was saddened by Joe’s heartache and her eyes welled with tears.
“Yes, we were able to get him on probation since it was his first offense, and we sought drug counseling for the entire family. After six months, Bill seemed to be doing better. He was off drugs and became the son we knew before he took drugs. His grades were much better, and he even made new friends who supported him with his recovery. We thought we were on the way to a better future. Then my wife died in a tragic car accident involving a drunk driver. I was devastated and felt anger towards the man who killed my wife. I complained bitterly about drunk drivers and people addicted to alcohol.
“My son took my comments about people addicted to alcohol personally. He felt guilty about his addiction and even felt some responsibility for his mother’s death. When she died she had been going to pick up snacks for a homecoming party at his school. He blamed himself. The pain was too much for him, and he tried to release it the only way he knew. With drugs. They became his life, and he ran away from home.
“That was ten years ago. I haven’t seen him since then, though I’ve tried everything within my power to find him.” Joe put his face in his hands and cried.
Compassion gripped Cathy’s heart; she felt she had to help in some way. As she hugged him, she asked, “Joe, what was your last lead you had regarding his whereabouts?”
“I showed Bill’s picture to the director of a homeless shelter, and he said he had seen Bill about a week ago, but didn’t know where he was now.”
“I’m going to try and find him for you.