I finally got up the nerve to ask the only homeless man in my small, very White, Northern California town his name.
It turns out his name is Ron, short for Ronald.
With a sideways smile and a glance that shows the wisdom of both knowing and forgetting, Ron likes to spend most of his time walking the grey borders of the wetlands that obscure our neighborhoods with a stark frailty and misty fragrance all year long.
Somewhere in his mid-fifties, Ron is handsome to say the least, although not in a conventional manner.
No, “most girls are not like me”, as my father likes to mutter, under his breath that accompanies my every thought and girly pose.
Most women of a gentle aging would not be attracted to a sun-drenched man who seldom, if ever bathes. Nor would any of my suburban girlfriend-moms and even my city-dwelling childless adventuresome black-jacket chicks bat an eyelash or reveal tanned thighs for this lad.
But I do.
Yes, it is true that he probably hasn’t washed his shoulder-length hair in months and that he has no job and most likely, no bank account or Hedge Fund.
He also has no rugged muscle car that I know of, credit cards, island vacation getaway to escape to, or even a good wool suit. Nor a bad one for that matter.
Just last week, as our town grumbled and settled into the commotions of yet another holiday season almost over, Ron smiled anyway and gave a nod just to me—just to me, I think.
Sometimes he hums and talks to himself gently, while he runs his hands up to the sky and down back again to the hot sidewalks.
At other times he can be seen sitting bent over by the water’s lined-duck edges, with a cigarette and a found newspaper, making the earth his home.
His tall frame stands at about six-foot-two and he often glides near the skyline as he disappears into the fog and comes into the sunlight just when I need him to.
Afternoons when coffee and tea and chocolate won’t give a solid pick-me-up, there he is, all gracious and complete, all swaying and steadfast, all heart and without letting go. Always that gentle soul, not unlike the soaring eagles and burning orange sunsets that also appear at the top of my lonely window.
Ron may not have a lot of qualities or characteristics that women look for, or for children and young adult-type creatures who we have taught the ugliness of crass judgement and ambivalence to.
What Ron has cannot be learned or taught, it cannot be borrowed or bought, but can certainly be hoped for and sought.
What this gentle being has is the kindness of a warm soul, wanting for nothing, not even for all of the applause that we will never give him.
He is neither vulnerable or feisty, neither glib or fallen, neither a recluse or an opening act.
Rather, he is simply himself in any moment that he happens to find the glory of himself in.
Light and bold all at once, he does not seek my approval, nor does he idly gossip about his latest possessions or beg for our forgiveness.
Yesterday, I found myself lost in my mirror’s unapologetic reflections as I glazed some red lipstick over my pouted wanting mouth, hoping that Ron may notice me as I drove by him to pick up my children from school.
Maybe he would linger a little longer as my hair bounced in the winter wind. After all, he recently told me that I had beautiful hair, just like a girl he once loved.
Perhaps as I glide slowly by, in my black Volkswagen, all smooth and listless, he will sing my praises again, while I ask him to ride with me.
We would ride to the rocky beaches of San Francisco, while we listened to endless sonnets by gentle male singers.
Or maybe we would drive to the outskirts of town, where only alcoholics and wanderers and naughty teens venture, while we smile along the tall dead wildflowers.
And after a year or so, Ron and I may plan a trip to the gardens that graced both of our childhood memories, ingrained in salt and sugar and hopeful promises that grow big and firm only in our endless miles and hearts.
In a single hour, I bet you we could even recall every star that ever soared above our youth, as we lived wildly and authentically, only to bask in the glow of shuttered and protected houses forever.
On a lingering bend of a walkway, we might decide to run deeply and long into beds of weeds and forgotten trails, as we make up reasons why we want to get lost again and again and again, while we never ask anyone what time it is or when we have to go home.
Tomorrow morning when I wake up in my usual darkness of five am, as I await the birds fluttering and perching—and wish only that daylight will break soon for my Asian-inspired eyes, I shall await his streaming of feet somewhere along a beaten or paved street near my ledge of grace and faith.
As he reminds me that what is important and most tangibly sweet about this impossibly complicated and suffering life is not what we seek to possess or own—whether it be a person or a fleeting sense of importance.
Rather, what matters to a fault and line is just how grey and soft we can make our gaze with our eyes as others pass by us, along soft wintered blocks of neighborhood leaves and busied people and even along the dark situations with animals and food and colder nights.
Or along the longest highways that reach into our grandfather and grandmother’s songs, that often spoke of danger and misfortune, and scared us right into living the very life we are living right now.
Ron, my friend and partner to my wonder girl’s imagination.
You are the richest man that I know.
The rest of the women and men can just watch us.
As we stroll along the edge of January with hearty legs and even heartier tales.
That we will be able to pass on to every soul that follows our steps, in maybe a hundred years, or maybe never, as we watch and smile, smile and watch, from the heaven we built together, finally home in the only way that matters.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Francesca Biller
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock