We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.
I first met Theodore in an alley beside a liquor store. He'd fallen asleep next to the shopping cart containing his worldly possessions - shoes, a pair of pants...a dirty blanket. Dressed in a soiled, tattered waist-length coat, his half-consumed can of Steel Reserve sat nearby, warmed by the summer morning heat. My bike patrol partner roused him, explaining that we had to pour out his beer and move him along.
Theodore blinked at her, bloodshot and watery eyes trying to focus. Leathery skin. His flattened nose made him appear an old prize fighter, but the battles that made it that way were for honors much closer to the ground. Win, and he kept the six or eight dollars in his pocket and the can of beer hidden in his coat. Lose.... Police officers like us would watch as his mortal remains were zipped into a bag. Affable to a fault, yes ma'am, no ma'am, he did what we asked.
I ran into him often last summer. Too drunk to walk, sometimes. Fewer and fewer possessions. Then, he disappeared.
I saw him today, sitting alone in an alley. Someone had "tuned him up" - beaten the shit out of him. Looking years older, both eyes black and swollen, he explained that he'd fought three guys to keep a dollar and a quarter in the parking lot of a store. He'd spent most of the summer in and around Denver, but had come home to Lakewood. Life had been cruel to him, he commented, the beautiful wife who'd left him especially. Tears ran down his cheek as he described how self-esteem would never again be his. He clutched a blanket, the last vestige of someone else's kindness. His last possession. But then, his eyes brightened.
He asked about the police woman who'd been my riding partner on the day I'd met him. A gentleness overtook him, peace. She was doing well, I offered. I would say hello for him.
"She was always nice to me," Theodore said, contented smile on a beaten-down face.
I wished him luck, and rode away.
UPDATE: One should never underestimate the power of an attractive woman.
I ran into Theodore again, sitting on a sidewalk in a shopping mall. People surrounded him. I wanted to ensure he wasn't being rolled - again. Instead, I met his son.
Dad had been sober for almost 6 months before relapsing, "Ted" explained. Ted had searched for weeks in vain for his father, seeing him only a day or so ago walking along Colfax Ave. Today, he'd come to take him home.
Theodore resisted, fists balled. He was happy on the street, could take care of himself. The drenching rain twenty-four hours past had soaked him, but he was fine. Content. I tried several techniques - I'm an experienced former SWAT negotiator - all to no avail.
"Deputy Harris will be angry with me that I left you here," I said in desperation, applying the name he used for my friend and bike patrol partner, former Lakewood Police Agent Alicia Harris.
"Really?" Suddenly, I had his undivided attention. "She cares?"
"Yes. I told her hi for you. I want to tell her you're off the street. I want to tell her you're safe."
He gave me as much of a hug as I would permit before he got into his son's brand new luxury car. Ted shook his head.
"I never thought he'd come with me."
Theodore had no choice, really.