“I found these on the sidewalk” he said through alcohol saturated breath as he proudly showed off the cellophane wrapped bundle of carnations with their tips glowing hues of red and yellow. “Nice” I replied, hoping that would be the end of it and went back to frying my brain with social media. He wasn’t done. “They’re usually $8.99 at 7-Eleven” he continued. “Do you think she’ll like them?” I barely heard him ask the question and I didn’t answer it, but something compelled me to put away the iphone and give him my attention. I never learned his name, but within just 15 minutes as we swayed, squeaked, and pinged through the many stops leading to mine along the #12 route, I connected with him more than I could have possibly imagined.
I agreed with him when he stated how cold it was and that he should probably get a new pair of gloves. He had lost his at some point, most likely at a friend’s place, but he wasn’t sure. I celebrated with him when he told me that had won $614 playing Keno. I commiserated with him when he taught me that “anything over $600 requires that you find a way to Salem in order to claim it”. I laughed with him when he told me that the lottery officials took his photo, complete with a desert oasis backdrop, for their “winner’s circle” marketing campaign and it was now posted in the bar where he had won. “You wouldn’t believe how many people hit me up for money after that! It was gone fast.” I smiled with him as he reminisced about how he and the love of his life had run off to Las Vegas to get hitched and then enjoyed “a great life together” living in SW Portland. I said “I’m so sorry” when he shared that his wife, who had been an emergency room nurse, died at the age of 49 due to complications from the diabetes she had suffered since childhood. I touched his arm and said “it’s ok” as he apologized profusely for his tears. I just listened as he told me he had fallen into a battle with alcohol and then homelessness after her death.
When my stop came, I stood, put my hand on his shoulder and said “Take it easy”. He grabbed my hand and replied “God bless you. Thank you for listening to me”. As the bus pulled away and I made my way up the street, I started to cry. I cried for him, his wife, and because of what I wish I would have said “Yeah, I think she’ll like them”.