Joe. I’m scared mostly of Joe. He’s the only other white kid on the block, kind of a young age, maybe 20. He’s addicted to drugs, we think; he is hard to look at, horribly emaciated. Whenever he walks he holds his side, like he might lose his insides if he doesn’t hold them in. I’m scared of him because drugs make a person desperate. An addicted person doesn’t make their own decisions, their addiction makes the choices for them. Robbery, mugging, violence, anything to enable the habit. You never know what they will do. I don’t want him to know we have a Wii, or computers, or even a TV. I imagine he lives some kind of dark reality there in the corner of his room, haunted and dazed by the shapes swirling past his shaded eyes, hard to touch, disappearing. Half-alive. Alone.

It’s a cold night, feels like Autumn, and I’m surprised until I remember it’s September… We sit out on our stoop though no neighbors are out, trying to stay visible, to let them know we are here. We talk a little and watch some stray cats crouch beneath cars, chase themselves down streets. Simple conversation floats across the breeze. We see Joe then, walking up the street. Holding his side, some cash in his hand. We say hey, and he stops over. We only just met him the day before. He asks how we are liking the place, he looks it over, says it looks good. James asks how long he’s lived on the block, he says about 2 years. We nod, prepared for the slow pauses that so often happen in conversations with neighbors, but I am surprised out of it, as he goes on. “I live with my parents, we got a mixed family. My dad’s white and my step-mom’s black. I just had a kidney transplant. My dad just paid the rent plus utilities, so there’s no food in the house. My stepmom don’t work, she’s sick, she got kidney disease and lupus. Thankfully I’m gettin my [food] stamps on the 10th, but I ain’t got no way of getting food anyway. I’m just goin up to get something to eat [from the corner store]… ” 

I can’t listen anymore, I’m so horrified, so disgusted with my misconception of Joe, the guy on my block. He’s sick, so sick. I think of the whole loaf of bread sitting on top of our refrigerator, the dozen eggs, the 3 boxes of cereal—–I can’t listen anymore and I burst out “Let us give you some food!” And it doesn’t even come out as a question, I’m begging him to let us help him. I can’t live with this abundance. I can’t let you live alone. He starts to refuse. “Nah man, I’ve been borrowing so many people’s food already, I can’t do that, I can’t take your food.” I didn’t realize that I wasn’t even listening to his refusal as I walked up to the door. “You stay here,” I ordered. “I’m gonna bring you some food.” He agrees, says he’ll be back, he’s going to Eight Brothers (corner store) for a ginger ale and some Tylenol. James meets me in the kitchen, and I’m searching for what to give him. What does a hungry person need? I want to give him a meal, some vitamins, fruit and protein. James grabs a shopping bag and we fill it with a box of Frosted Flakes, some pop tarts, popcorn. I put some eggs in a Tupperware and wonder if he has a way to cook them. It doesn’t matter. We stuff some more in, then nervously wait on our stoop for him to come back round the corner. I don’t know why I felt nervous, maybe that at the last minute he would see the bag and reject what we so desperately needed to give.

We see the silhouette of his frail form against the streetlights. He comes up and James stands and gives him the bag. He starts to object, “Nah, man I can’t take all this, I can’t take your food.” James just hands it to him, says  “No. We’ve both been blessed with jobs, we have income, we can buy food. Take it.” He takes the bag, and some kind of cloud passes over his face. Gratefulness? Shame? Either way, a cloud the color of tears. I’m surprised again as he says “Thanks man,” and his arms are wide, and suddenly he and James are hugging. “Tell us if you need anything else,” I say, not ordering this time. Just hoping. “OK. Just pray for me to get better, that will help. I was going to art school but cant because I’m sick. I want to go back, I miss it. Doctor says to rest but I don’t really rest. I need to rest.” He heads back home, exhausted from a short walk up the block, around the corner. We promise to pray.

Joe.

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