My perceptions upon meeting Matthew were nothing less than instant curiosity of his displayed meekness and mild manner. He stood in the distance as I was talking with another gentleman. Yet, somehow he seemed to silently reach out to me. Of course, that perception could be wrong. He could have just been curious as to why I was there. However, as I watched him out of the corner of my eye I knew that there was a story that he held, a story that I wanted to hear, a story that he wanted to share.
As I approached him I noticed the a sadness that seemed to encompass him. Although I have seen this same type of sadness from many in the streets, it somehow seemed different with him. Typically there is an accompaniment of at least some anger with those I interview but not with Matthew. With Matthew it was something else. With Matthew it was defeat and surrender.
Matthew: I grew up in suburbia and pretty much like a lot of people did. I had a pretty well off family. I went to Catholic schools all my life. I graduated from ***** (Well known Catholic High School).
Matthew: yeah, all my life until now.
Sherrie: Until now.
Matthew: And then uh, I got married and was married for about ten years. Then back in 07 I found out that I had Kidney Cancer.
Matthew: That is when everything went south pretty much, or started that way at least. I had a house, cars and everything, all I ever wanted. You know.
Matthew: Then I ended up having to have one of my kidneys taken out and I couldn’t work at all.
Sherrie: In a saddened voice all I could say was, “Wow Mr. Vale.”
Matthew: I slowly started losing everything, including my wife. (chuckles uncomfortably). That goes without saying though.
Sherrie: I’m sorry
Matthew: Let’s see. Yeah, and then it just progressed from there. Losing one thing after another and not being able to pay for anything.
Sherrie: What kind of work did you do?
Matthew: I worked on the river. I worked on the barges.
Sherrie: You worked on the barges! Did you like that?
Matthew: Yeah, I started as a deck hand and I was a captain when I had to quit. So I went all the way from one end to the other.
Further in the conversation:
Sherrie: Yeah, you have hope for that and that’s good. Hope can be very powerful…very very powerful so I’m glad it’s there. If you could tell me about the worst part about being on the streets for you, what would that be?
Silence for about 15 seconds
Matthew: Being alone.
Sherrie: Who do you miss the most in your life?
Silence again for about 10 seconds. I began to notice that this question meant a lot to him for him.
Matthew: Probably my wife.
Sherrie: Is she still alive?
Matthew nods yes but doesn’t say any words.
Sherrie: Was there just a lot of stress in the marriage?
Matthew nods yes again but still stays silent.
Sherrie: Yeah, well you went through a lot.
I begin to notice that he is looking to the opposite direction and I can see his lower lip beginning to quiver. I put my hand on his back and begin to rub in a circular motion in hopes of a least a little comfort.
Sherrie: Are you alright? Mr. Vale I’m sorry.
Matthew begins to cry and the tears stream heavy down his face. My heart begins to break even more than it already was and I continue to try to offer as much comfort as he will allow.
Matthew: (shaky voice and still crying) I just haven’t thought about that in a long long time.
Sherrie: I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories. I’m sorry.
Matthew: It’s alright.
Sherrie: Do you want to take a breather?
Matthew nods no
Sherrie: That is one last thing you don’t want to have to worry about. Let’s switch gears. (I could sense that he wanted to) Tell me something fun about yourself. What is your favorite hobby? Well, you probably don’t get to do it anymore but what was it or would it be?
Matthew: Uh, ride motorcycles
Sherrie: Oh yeah! I like motorcycles!
Matthew: I had them all my life until the last few years.
Sherrie: What kind did you have?
Matthew: I had everything. Harleys, Hondas, street bikes, dirt bikes.
Sherrie: You really lost a lot. Didn’t you?
Matthew: Everything Now everything I own I am either wearing or is in that blue bag right there.