Hearts and Clubs
February 15, 2019 – Dash Point State Park, Federal Way, WA
Yesterday, Brent awoke to find me in tears. “I hope I haven’t done something wrong.”
“No, it’s nothing you did. It was a text message I got.”
“Was it something bad?”
How could I explain and make it sound the least bit logical? No, it was nothing bad, at least not in theory. I had sent a WhatsApp message to Diego in Italy, wishing him Happy Valentine’s Day, and as I pressed the return button to send it, a message from Diego popped up on my screen. We’d sent the same greeting at the exact same moment. How could I explain to Brent that the love of my life had been incapable of returning that love for ten years, that the relationship had withered long ago after his breakdown, that I had continued to hold on, hoping and praying that things would somehow return to “normal?” I should be in Italy now, but I’m not. Instead, I am crying over what I’ve lost, what could have been.
Sitting here in a tent, experiencing the basics of survival, has given me a rare opportunity to reflect and analyze. For others, however, it is a daily struggle to exist. I met my friend Brent just before Thanksgiving, which coincidentally is the same time period 20 years ago when the tree fell on my Whidbey Island home and uprooted my life, sending me to Italy on a quest for love. But back to Brent. My granddaughter Emmy and I, having just seen the Grinch movie, were passing time in Renton until her mom could come and pick us up. Emmy is a dog lover—she can’t pass one without saying hi, so of course she wanted to visit the pet store. She ran ahead and I heard the familiar refrain, “Can I pet your dog?”
I looked up and spotted a lone man sitting on the bench with a beautiful Siberian husky named Loki who Emmy was already caressing. Long black hair, a wool cap, beard and moustache, kind eyes, mountain man. I don’t remember much about that first conversation, though it went on for some time, long enough to elicit “I’m cold… let’s go” from my granddaughter, which is almost unheard of. I do remember one thing, the way he talked to Emmy. When she informed him at one point that Loki’s harness could be fastened in a better way, he didn’t take it personally (i.e. Who is this kid trying to tell me what to do?), he listened carefully and followed her suggestions. About 10 minutes into the conversation, Brent casually mentioned that he was homeless. Though I hadn’t expected to hear that, it didn’t surprise me either. Said he was new to the area and didn’t have friends, would I give him my phone number. Surprisingly, without hesitation, I complied.
That day, Valentine’s Day 2019, Brent tried his best to make me feel better, and I knew I’d made the right decision. This “mountain man”, who had led a life that was crazy even by my standards, was indeed a kind and sensitive man.
Our intentions that day were to find a doctor in the area for Brent so he could take care of his shoulder which he’d injured a month earlier while trying to survive in his Auburn tent. He’d had two x-rays, but nothing was broken. He needed an MRI, but the doctor refused to prescribe it without first trying a course of physical therapy.
We never made it to the doctor. We stayed in the tent, listened to the rain, played rummy and cribbage. I tried to beat Brent, but he’s a tough one to get the better of in a card game. I noticed that in between hands he was doodling on the “Readi Board” we had placed across a storage container to make our card table.
That night, over a bottle of wine and a bit of weed, on that day of love and romance, we performed a rite of cleansing, hashing out our numerous relationships, why they didn’t work, what we learned or didn’t learn in the process. When things “flow” as Brent puts it, we can talk forever.
I don’t ask for much in a relationship, that way I’m not disappointed. On Valentine’s Day that night, just feeling the warmth of Brent’s body next to mine was about as good as it gets. I’ve missed that.
But today is another day. We have things to do and places to go.