A long walk

On Monday, I left my office and headed to my car after an exhausting rollercoaster of a day.

My brother, about whom I’ve written many times on this blog, has been a patient in a psychiatric ward for the past several weeks following an unfortunate incident in my hometown. On Monday, I learned that he was to be discharged from the ward and sent to a nursing home for care. I was stunned by the news.

Joe is 56 years old, and while he’s spent decades abusing drugs and alcohol which have taken a serious toll on his health, I never expected him to end up in a nursing home so soon. He’s been in and out of rehab centers, jails and prisons, and homeless shelters much of his life. But a nursing home is another thing altogether, a place people go towards the end of their lives when they can no longer function on their own.

Truth be told, I don’t know with certainty how incapacitated my brother is right now. I hope his stay at a nursing home is driven more by the lack of a space in another sort of facility than a testament to how desperate his situation has become. Still, I couldn’t (and still can’t) stop thinking about how my brother got to this point, about all of the years during which–bit by bit–Joe found himself less capable of pulling himself back up when he hit the pavement.

On my way to my car on Monday, I found myself standing next to a homeless man at a stoplight. He asked me how I was, and while I typically would have offered a brief response and forged on, I turned towards him and locked eyes with the man. He looked to be somewhere in his 50s, and his blonde hair had grown into a long tangle that escaped the sides of his worn baseball cap. His cheeks were red and he carried a strong scent of whiskey on his breath.

He and I walked side-by-side for a couple of blocks until I turned off to find my car. And we chatted, about the weather–“still warm in Birmingham”–the day we’d had and where we were heading to next. The man told me that he had a long walk ahead, since he was “going up to Vulcan, up on top of the mountain,” an uphill climb from where the university sits in the valley.

“Have a good one,” I told him.

“You too, Mam,” He replied.

I climbed into my car, thinking about my brother’s fate and how much the man I’d just met reminded me of a gentler Joe, still wandering to an identifiable destination.

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