Colton sits outside every day of his life. He brings his wheelchair everywhere he goes. Every possession he owns often sits in the seat of that wheelchair when he isn't in it himself. His thick red beard shines in the sun over his rawhide, leathery skin. I don't think Colton owns shoes. Instead he dons dark blue corduroy slippers every time I see him. His smile is filled with rotting shards of teeth, but he lights up everything around him when he does smile. His blue green eyes are full of pain and misery, but also life, joy and adventures past.
"You wanna know the definition of class," he asked me today as I shared my standard greeting with him. His eyes instantly turned bloodshot and began to water. Fearful of what he would tell me, I couldn't help but be curious about his story. I've long been a believer that everyone had a story. Being a story teller myself, I was curious about his.
"Sure," I responded, almost reluctantly. The conversation we had before this was about suicide 1-800 callers. It had been a rather serious talk. Was the definition of class actually a touch of sarcasm?
"I'll tell you about class," he said, and smiled weakly. "If I can keep myself from crying." He wiped at his eyes as they were beginning to trickle down his face a bit like dew streaming from tall blades of grass. As they mingled with his beard, the color of the hair darkened to resemble that of a western sunset.
"My wife was an amazing woman," he said, as he wiped his eyes again. "I came home from work one day to find her waiting for me. She told me to get changed because we were going out. Let me tell you, Honey. Don't ever tell a man that you're going out and not tell him where you're going. It'll drive a man crazy. If you want to drive a man crazy, just do that to him, it works every time." He smiled, the shattered picket fence teeth glowing the color of a ripe papaya. I smiled back.
"Anyway, I told her that I needed to know where we were goin' because I didn't know what to wear. She told me to dress nice 'cause she was takin' me some place nice. I got dressed and we left. She still wouldn't tell me where we were goin'.
"She took me to a really nice restaurant. From our table we could see the cliffs and the ocean and the waves crashing. It was really nice. I'll never forget it. We both ordered Strawberry Margaritas. We sat there for a long time just talkin'. God, I loved her. She was so beautiful.
"You know how Margaritas separate when they've been sitting for a while? The ice starts to float at the top and the liquid all goes to the bottom? Everyone stirs their Margarita with the straws, right? So I started to stir my Margarita. I heard something in the glass go 'clink' and I asked what the Hell it was. She looked just as surprised as I did.
"I cussed a bit under my breath and told her to flag down the waiter if she could. I tried to fish out the piece of glass from my drink by working at it with the straw I had. I thought it must be a piece of a beer bottle, because whatever it was, it was a darker color and I couldn't see much of it. The Margarita was really thick.
"Do you know what it was," he paused, looking up at me. His eyes glistened with fresh tears. My heart could only guess, but I allowed him to tell me.
"What was it," I asked.
"A wedding ring." His face crinkled into a painful grimace. "It was a damned wedding ring." He sobbed once. "That's class for you. C-L-A-S-S." He spelled the individual letters out, his voice breaking on the second S. My heart went out to him. Against my better judgement, I asked the question I was dying to know.
"What happened to her, Colton?"
"She killed herself."
It's the first time in many years I was so moved by the story of a homeless man that I did something for him. When I went inside to purchase my case of bottled water, I bought him some soup and gave him one of the bottles from my case. As I walked back outside and handed him the gifts, he smiled at me once more. His eyes were dry, his heart had healed and he was the same Colton I had known from before.
"You're a sweetheart," he said to me, his picket fence teeth showing broadly. "Thanks, Honey." I said goodbye and walked back to my car. As I drove away, I waved to Colton. He shouted after me, "I love you Honey," and laughed.
Everyone out there has a story to tell.... all we need to do is listen. Sometimes it can change the whole world for someone else.