Walking a Mile With a Meth-Head

Emmanuel shows up on our front porch about once a week. His name means “God with us,” but if there’s anyone on the planet who appears to have been forgotten by the Divine, It’s him. He stands at about 5’4″ and has maybe a handful of teeth left. when he speaks, I catch about half of what he says, but there’s a childish innocence in his eyes that betrays the years of hard living he has endured since then.

Sometimes he offers to do work; sometimes he asks for food. Usually he just wants money. I’ve written before about my struggles with this, as the controlling side of me wants to have a hand in how he spends “my” money. This particular day, he’s looking for fifteen dollars for rent.

“I told you you had to get clean before I’d give you any money man,” I shook my head. “I can give you some food.”

“I’m clean, sir, I’m clean,” he always calls me that, even though he’s nine years older than I am. He was speaking more clearly than usual and his eyes were unusually bright. “Come with me sir. If you’ll drive me to the Catholic Woman’s house, she’ll tell you I’m clean.”

“I can’t do that,” I said with a knot in my gut. I was supposed to leave to pick up the kids in a couple of minutes, and to be honest, the last thing I wanted was a meth-head in my car. “I can give you food; that’s all today.”

Emmanuel’s gaze lowered and he stepped off the porch without another word. He hit up a soccer mom in an SUV who was picking up her kids from the preschool across the street. She saw him coming, slammed her car door shut and drove off.

Friday night is date night in the Piatt house, at least as often as we can make it happen. Amy’s new favorite place is an Indian joint downtown, and though we just ate there last Friday, the patio was likely open for dining since the weather was so good. I agreed and we headed downtown.

Just as we boxed up our leftovers and polished off the dregs of the wine, here came Emmanuel through the back gate. At first he didn’t recognize us as he got closer, but by the time he reached our table, the dim spark of recognition grew. “Oh, sir, you’re the man with the nice house,” he said.

“Good to see you, buddy,” I lied, looking around to see how many other guests were watching us. He didn’t smell too bad today but his eyes were lees clear than before.

“Sir, I’m still looking for fifteen dollars for rent,” he said. “The nice Catholic lady will let me stay on her couch and will feed me if I can pay her. Next week Posada is getting me an apartment, but I’ve been sleeping in the park, sir.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Yes sir.”

“Sit down. We have some extra food, if you don’t mind spicy.” The chicken tikka masala and saffron rice stood no chance in Emmanuel’s presence. By the time I went inside and came back with a fork, he had finished mine and had moved on to Amy’s chicken saag. As I sat down I could feel the owner standing over my shoulder. I gave him a “thumbs up” to reassure him we didn’t need him to usher Emmanuel out the back gate.

“You still hungry?’

“No sir. Thank you sir.” I could feel the eyes of the other patrons burning into my neck. A part of me wanted to hide under the table or suggest he move on, but he wanted to talk. “What do cows like to do on the weekends?”

“Can’t say I know the answer to that one.”

“Go to the moooovies.”

“That’s pretty bad, Emmanuel,” I smiled. He returned my smile with a boyish, toothless grin, accented with bits of saffron rice.

“I know the Bible too, sir.” He proceeded to rattle off the entirety of Psalm 121 (King James version) without a blink.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

“Where did you learn that?” Amy asked.

“I memorized it,” he said. “I know more. I lot more.” I believed him. So we went to see the Catholic lady.

She lived a dozen blocks away but we decided to walk it for a few reasons. I was a little buzzed from splitting the bottle of wine, plus it was really nice out. Oh, and I still didn’t really want a meth-head in my car, even if he quoted scripture and told mediocre jokes.

“If Russia attacked Turkey from behind, would Greece help?”

“That one’s actually pretty good, Emmanuel.”

“My uncle told me that one twenty-five years ago.”

“What do you want, Emmanuel? I don’t mean the fifteen bucks. What is your dream?”

“My own place,” he said, “and a nice pair of shoes.” The closer we got to the Catholic lady’s house, the sketchier the neighborhood was. Front yards, cordoned off by chain link fences, housed groups of people, sitting on couches and plastic chairs on porches, many drinking from tall boys. Amy walked several steps behind us, her cell phone out and ready, just in case.

“There sir,” he pointed across the block, “with the light.” He passed through the front gate and called through the screen to a woman sitting on the couch. She put down the remote and came to the door.

“Emmanuel says you’ll give him a place to stay until Posada kicks in?”

“For fifteen bucks, yeah.”

“And you’ll give him something to eat when he needs it?”

“It’s really not that much,” she shuffled from one foot to the other and back again. “My rent’s $275 a month.” She looked down at Amy’s wrist. “You got a lot of jewelry.” Amy held her hand out to let the Catholic woman inspect her adornments. Costume jewelry, really, and a bracelet with more than a dozen different images of Mary.

“A friend of mine gave me this one,” she said, sliding a silver-colored one over her hand. “You can have it.” I handed her three five-dollar bills as Emmanuel’s eyes filled with tears.

“Thank you sir,” he said, grabbing my hand and kissing it over and over. “Thank you.”

“Is this real?” the Catholic lady asked, holding her wrist up to the light.

“It’s not silver,” I said dryly. “Don’t bother trying to pawn it.”

We walked back to the restaurant to assure the owner that we did not, in fact, get stabbed thirty-three times in the alley like his friend back in India.

Who knows what they used the fifteen bucks for.

Who knows if she’ll try to pawn the bracelet or not.

“What did the cowboy say to his cows?” I said to Amy. “I herd you.”

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://lifebeforethebucket.blogspot.com/ Adrian Waller

    This is a beautiful story, Christian. I’m going to try to share this with my readers this coming weekend. Love it.


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