My heart breaks inside. I shed tears for her. I shed tears for all of them.
I knew her, you could say, as well as you can know anyone you meet on the street, Church Street. Bought her paints and paper for her art. Bought her coffee. May have loaned her a buck or two or three. Never got them back. Didn’t know Amos. Can’t know too much about someone you meet on the street, either.
Beaten to death for not a good reason. And, in a homeless camp where she spent the night, because she missed the bus back to Milton where she had a place to live and family. I hope the killing wasn’t motivated by gender animus, but who knows?
No way to die; especially when you don’t want to and aren’t ready to. So many I knew on the street suffered undignified deaths as they struggled to understand life. She was always looking up, even when she wasn’t.
Amy tried to help others, despite her own personal problems, as much as she tried to help herself. Knew a ton of people and didn’t like a whole lot of them. A noble person she was. And that isn’t easy when you don’t have comfort zones to hide out in or a complete understanding of whom you are.
Before I left Burlington, we spoke. I suggested that she not come down from Milton every day and that she find things and people up there who would be of interest. “Nope,” she said, “Burlington was where her life was.” And, that is where it ended. Badly.
Everyday I walk into my building, I pass this grate. Yellow tungsten light plays with the grate from the outside; bluer fluorescents on inside walls divide the inside. Empty space partitioned by shadows with no particular message.
I shot this without thinking about the shot, except to shoot it. Then when I converted it to black and white, I saw what I didn’t see. Just the magic of photography.
Everyone called him “shroom.” Must be short for mushroom, but I don’t know. He would stand at the bus stop at Cherry and Church. Everyday, until recently, I’d see him whenever I went out for a walk. He wore a black coat, more like a cape, the only coat I ever saw him wear. He had a leather hat and reflective sunglasses.
I’d nod and he’d nod. Got a “whassup” every once in a while. He’d just stand there looking back and forth. I asked one day what he saw, “everything,” he said, without explanation. Never got a sentence out of him, though I tried. Not that he was unkind or unfriendly. I just wasn’t one of his crew or into his business.
When you see a person over and over, you feel like you know him. Taking photos the way I do requires a relationship, even if it doesn’t involve the exchange of personal information. People express themselves to photographers through appearance and gesture. The interactions lack actual intimacy, despite putting the three of us, him, me and the camera, in close proximity. So, it’s odd that I would have any feeling about his death or the loss of another person whom I know from the street.
If you wonder what he died of, I was told long ago that he had lung problems, exacerbated by who knows what. He smoked. They all smoke, even if it isn’t healthy. A reliable source said that’s what killed him.
As Chet Baker sings, … everyday is Valentine’s Day.” Not for Molly. She’s still on the street. Hard enough not having a place to live.
David’s back, too. He’s still lost and adrift. But, he thinks he’s cool.
Bill Traveller doesn’t get any older; his lines grow deeper, hiding years of travail. Where has he been? Where have they all been? Places I’d never go.
And, Katie looks like she’s Catherine the Great, just off a barge ride down the Volga.
So, people, not many, have asked what I am doing for Thanksgiving. Does it matter? I will eat something that’s on my diet, nothing special. Gave up Turkey years ago. Used to work in the Courts enabling people to spend more time with their families. Then Sharon and I would go to Peter Luger for dinner. In VT, everything closes down. I’d go to EB Strong, a local steakhouse, but it isn’t open.
Dawn looked cold. Felt worse than it was today. If it were March, people would say its a heat spell. She didn’t manage her money well this month. Out of cash until December when she gets her check. What will she do?
Russell had a guy living with him who punched him out and then tried to have him kicked out of his place. He prevailed. Has a turkey and trimmings from the food shelf. People feared the shelf would run out of Turkeys. Someone yelled at Russell for being in line, because he didn’t look homeless or needy enough.
And, there’s Molly again. Close, but not just there. She’s got Ed’s dog to keep her warm, but the cold bricks on the street don’t care. She can do it. Just not sure when. Until then, we got to pay our dues and not eat more than we give.
The road to recovery can be bumpy. Just cannot give up hope. David fell off the wagon again, to use a trite term, which used to refer just to drinking, but now, who knows. He’s got no place to go and no place to hide, except the park and the street. Warm today. Tomorrow, could be cold. After all, it’s Vermont.
Nicknamed after a raffish cartoon character, he resumed his birth calling, David. He had a place to live and some work. He lasted for close to a year. Too soon to know when he’ll return or as what.
When I saw him over the past few days he said needed to bolt from Dodge. He asked for $10 for a bus, like they would have let him take a bus ride somewhere. Then he asked me what I would do if someone said something about my Mother. Don’t know why they would, but I don’t care. She and I had a difficult relationship which should be of no mind to anyone. He obviously does care and something obviously happened which if I knew, I could explain, but not understand. Lots of people die in the name of religion, love and mothers. And some even blame their failures on them.
Last time we saw Richard, he and the sailor shared the set. Richard, today, came to feed the Ducks and mourn his sister’s death. He casts potato chips on the water attracting Ducks while remembering his sister. I tried to explain that potato chips weren’t good for Ducks. “…, they come right up to me and eat them. They like them.”
Skip aged since out last shoot. “Hard out here. Slept here last night …. You age fast on the street.”
Lot of effort goes into shooting on the street. Sometimes, you gotta find them. Sometimes, you gotta have equipment. Never know, as a street shooter. Then I gotta get them to stand still, which really isn’t easy if they are stoned, drunk, on meds or angry. I could go on. The biggest stressor? Do they trust me? Damn. I love seeing them. Fear their deaths. Questioned about the people I know or knew, I show them a portfolio of recent photos. Most of my notebooks have two copies, because I haven’t been able to find the person pictured. Never give to people who promise to deliver. Another thing to carry.
So, Richard talked, after he heard from me, “… about being alive, being alive, being alive.” “You gotta do what you gotta do, … even if it means doing what you can do.”
I have been taking pictures of Cheryl for a while. Funny how when a photographer knows the subject, the images improve. You can feel the trust and see the honesty, despite the desultory plight.
She has nothing, right now, she says. The evil step-mother took her money, leaving her homeless, a condition which caused her to have to return to jail to max out for lack of a residence. No one has given her any supplies, which she included in her requests just in case anyone would think she had a drug or alcohol problem which needed to be fed.
She delivered a message from a woman in jail who I have photographed. With no family or friends, the woman asked if I would write her. The woman faces the same prospect of maxing out due to a lack of a place to live. Not many supportive environments out here for people who have paid their debt. Dismas House heads a short list. But they kick you out if you don’t have a job, a problem for people with mixed substance abuse and mental problems.
Ryan looks out for her.
Four months ago, she looked like this. What did society gain by keeping her in jail.
We care about him, despite his declarations to the contrary. Yesterday, he complained that too many people lectured him. “Social workers, street workers, friends and my mother ….” Well, Eric, it’s because we don’t think you will survive the winter.
“I just want a place to say what I know to be true. I know what they want me to do. Go to Voc Vermont. Eat at the Food Shelf. Sleep at cots. Then they’ll give me a place. Suppose I don’t want that? I want to be free. How bad am I doing? I do what I want. So, I drink too much. People have lived on the street for years, 30, 40 years. They tell me I’m just a baby.”
Ramon walked by. Offered Eric a cigarette. Ramon had a store bought pack. Eric took one and then rolled his own.
Never saw her before or her sign. Gave her $1. Asked for permission to shoot and about the kid. “Go ahead she said he’s with Dad.”