The harsh-sounding bell jangled as it does a hundred times a day here at Street Sense, signaling that a vendor is downstairs, needing to buy papers, needing to come up, maybe make a phone call or ask for a dry pair of socks or write a haiku.
That afternoon, it was volunteer Roberta Haber’s answer the door, so she disappeared down the stairs. When she came back a little while later, she sighed.
It had been one of her favorite vendors, a hardworking guy with a shy, luminous smile and a habit of talking to himself.
After he lost his place at the shelter, he had, in sly, yet urgent contravention
of Street Sense house rules, stowed a duffle bag in the office storage closet.
And when he had rung the bell, he had asked only for a small favor, Roberta explained. “He just wanted to look at his stuff.”
Every night, I turn a key, and a door opens into a small, well ordered place in the world that is mine. I switch on the light and I see my books there, and my couch and chair and rug. My stuff is there, silently greeting me. It is with a sense of gratitude and awe that I enter. I am home.
When the last vestige of home is a bag in a closet, there must still be some comfort in looking at it, touching it, in knowing it’s still there.
Some vendors use some of the dollars they earn selling Street Sense to pay for the storage of their things, what is left of the homes they once had, before they were thrown out or locked up, before they fell behind or got sick. Sometimes they cannot make the payments and lose those things.
I talked to a vendor recently about the loss of the things in his storage unit. He mentioned with the most regret the loss of his notebooks, his writings.
“You are still the poet who wrote those words,” I reminded him. “You will have to rewrite them.”
Are there things to be gained, to be learned, from losing the last vestige, the last comfort of home and then rebuilding, rewriting one’s life? There must be, I thought to myself, hoping his lost words would return to him in a fierce new flame.