Are You Hungry: Dinner With A Homeless Veteran
"I was a hydraulics specialist on the Apache Helicopters during my time in San Antonio," he said. Brad Kirby didn't smile when he spoke about his 4 year commitment and service in the United States Army between 1991-1995. He wasn't proud of how it ended. "I just left, missing my new wife and my family and ready to start my life after was just too much, I just went home."
Kirby traveled all over the U.S. being the son of a career Navy dad and even after an hour of breaking bread with this man, I still do not have an answer as to how he got here. If you travel anywhere it seems around Tyler's retail centers, you will commonly see the homeless and/or hungry posted at exits mostly near a Wal-Mart, holding a sign professing their need for help. Poles and surveys have received mostly social media attention that state over 72% of "people" are, "tired of looking at that", "put out by the beggars", or my favorite, "ain't given them any money to buy cigarettes or beer".
Leaving the Walmart at Hwy 64 and Loop 323 in Tyler Wednesday, I was hoping to get home in time to mow and trim the acre and a half Margie and I call home just South of Lindale. Kirby was standing at the north exit at Hwy 64 with a sign that read, "Would Rather Beg Than Steal." I had not had dinner yet and my wife was trying to save lives at UT Health Centers CVICU Unit, so Kenny was on his own. "Are you hungry" I asked through the passenger side window. "Yes sir." I told him I was headed to the Church's Chicken at the corner if he wanted to join me for a black pepper bourbon smokehouse chicken. Like ANY smart man, replied, "Yes sir, let me get my bike and I will meet you there."
Any man that can come to grips with his situation, however sad or gloomy it may seem to some, yet face it everyday without shame or the over-rated "pride" that can poison a man if so weak, has a seat at my table anytime. I analyze people as I speak to them and watch them in hopes of either making a new friend, or adding to the posse I will avoid in my day to day endeavors.
Brad rode his bike into the parking lot and leaned it up just outside the front door and walked in carrying his backpack acknowledging sweet Moe who was working behind the counter at the Shell Convenience Store at 64 and the Loop. He was a regular it was learned as he frequently stops to wash up or rest before his ride "home" every night. Kirby "stays" behind an RV park somewhere in the Swan community sleeping in a tent under a grove of trees in his tent he is very proud of.
During our short hour visit at Church's devouring (both of us) our aforementioned smokehouse chickens, his smile came through at times while telling me his story.
This is often the time when people automatically assume the homeless and downtrodden are all playing sympathy cards as hard and as often as they can. Brad Kirby wasn't that kind of man. He stared a hole in me eye to eye every time I spoke, yes and no sired me to death, and immediately apologized when I made him aware of the children within ear shod of his street language. He told the truth without ever attempting to come across as "needing anything."
"I used to be an a**hole," he said. "I think my mom still lives around this area somewhere, I just haven't talked to her in a few years." Asking about his wife brought a bit of noticeable anxiety as it was apparent his troubles had been the cause of her absence. He lost his phone and most all his belongings, as few as they were, when someone found his tent a few months ago and took everything but the tent. He was leveled by a bottle thrown from a truck while heading home one evening that caused a gash on the bridge of his nose with a cut running under his right eye. The only thing he remembers was waking up bloody much later with the bottle close by. Damn shame no one had the 48 seconds it would have taken to just check on him.
He has been bitten by enough scorpions the past few months that he feels he is becoming immune to the pain they cause. Tyler Police have arrested him a few times for soliciting and panhandling but in his own words, "they treat me with a lot of respect and just let me know I need to move on now."
Kirby's bike tires go flat every once in a while but other than that, "I love my bike," it's how I get around and survive right now, it's what I have."
"I miss my kitten I had for a while, I fed her first when I would get back, but she never came back after I got robbed." "When you go it alone, and you fight that A.D.D. thing, sometimes it's nice to have somebody with you."
We cleaned up the table, Brad took all our scraps to the trash before pulling a 180 and asked me if I had dogs I wanted to take the scraps to.
He cared. It mattered. I realized at that moment that we had laughed for a while. He even got to a point in our conversation he realized he had relaxed for the first time "in months."
We walked out the door after sending salutations to Moe and he strapped on his backpack to head "back to work." I had a 10 spot in my pocket, and then it was his. He seemed shocked that after a pleasing dinner and conversation, there was dessert he wasn't expecting. In my heart, I don't believe he was expecting anything. As he slid the $10 into his pocket, he began to cry. It wasn't so much a grateful cry as much as a cry of relief that he got to relax and make a friend for the first time in a long time, something I feel he never thought would happen again.
It took almost 68 minutes of my life, $22.18 of my wallet, and absolutely no energy whatsoever. I did not get robbed, stabbed, sick, infected, cheated, dirty, damaged or negatively influenced in any way, nor did it ever occur to me that I was wasting my time.
Brad Kirby NEVER asked me for anything, never apologized for his life, or appearance, or transgressions that may or may not have been the cause of his current lifestyle. I have opportunity at my fingertips everyday to get that 10 spot back, to sleep in a warm bed under the roof of a house with groceries at my disposal. I don't NEED a bike, or a backpack, or a tent, or a sign. I understand the day of "The Ungrateful American" is upon us, but Brad Kirby ain't one of them.