It was a busy time, but no matter. I had to take out my garbage which I carry over to the parish dumpster, a simple choice. My mind was in neutral.
I lifted the lid to toss in my contribution and saw to my shock the upper half of a body lying on garbage sacks gathered into a lumpy mattress. More bags served to blanket the lower half of the man’s body. His eyes were closed. He was young; his hair as black as the garbage bags, falling in long spiral curls. My mind jump shifted into high gear panic mode. Was this a dead body tossed into the dumpster?
Then his eyes opened, his arms grabbed his own possessions in a backpack. The man struggled out of sleep to his own fright.
He spoke. I spoke. I don't recall what either of us said. Words of surprise, shock, fright, fear, astonishment, packed together like a snowball ready to throw.
“Are you gonna report me to the police?”
“I only call the cops for a corpse!”
“I just wanted in from the rain and a safe place to sleep.”
“I’m fine. Just need a shower.”
“I had no idea anyone was in there. I thought you were dead, dumped there by an attacker.”
He arranged the sacks to cradle his body. He took my garbage for a pillow. I lowered the lid and backed away to go back to my house. But I couldn’t leave him that way. How could I ever explain this to my guardian angel or to my friend who told me the story of the Good Samaritan?
I turned back, lifted the lid again and told him he could come to my house for a shower, wash his clothes, have something to eat, take a nap, even stay the night. He would be safe. I introduced myself, told him who I was. His name, he said, was Justin.
He borrowed my bathrobe, threw all of his clothes into the washer, took a long shower, and while his clothes were drying, we got better acquainted. Justin is 27, a full blooded Native American. His father is Sioux, his mother, a Dakota. He was born in Portland where he still has relatives. He was raised on a reservation in Montana. He did not graduate from high school but he did get his GED. He successfully passed his initiation into the tribe with the traditional sweat lodge ceremony. He loves the outdoors, feels very close to the earth and God, especially on the sacred mountain of his tribe near the border of the Rocky Mountains.
My turn. I told him when I was in junior high my family lived on Puget Sound near a Native American family of the Coast tribe. I had a friend my age in that family and he taught me so much about the forest, its trees, its wildlife, berries, edible plants, digging clams at low tide, picking oysters, roasting a whole fish on hot coals in the outdoor fire pit. I felt like I could have been adopted into their family and tribe.
Justin had a job in Portland fixing and rebuilding wood pallets. His problem was transportation. He caught the earliest bus possible, transferred twice more and always was 45 minutes late. His boss tolerated this for a few months but finally let him go.
I invited Justin to supper, a simple soup with lots of vegetables and pasta. If he wanted he could stay all night on the pull-out bed. He thought he would.
He wanted a cigarette. He said he smoked three or four a day. That’s not nearly as bad a habit as I once had! He pledged to smoke outside, not in the house and he headed for the closest store, taking his backpack and clothes sack with him and walked into the night. He didn’t return.
I do not know why. I had been very careful not to be intrusive, to be respectful of him and his native ways. He had remarked that it was hard for him to ask for things, to seek help.
How to I end this story? I don’t know.
Author: Don Durand