Once upon a time, I was a young man. And I had some vanity. Don’t we all . . . .
I had every hair color and style under the rainbow. I knew I was a faggot, even then, and I was trying to craft myself into an image that I was attracted to. So stupid. But I was a kid.
One day, I followed my favorite hair stylist into Quincy, Massachusetts. That was cool for me; my comic book shop was in Quincy. I could get my hair done, get my monthly “stash”. It all worked. I boarded the bus and made my way. Those were the days. I was wearing my favorite long coat. It was like a trench coat, but made of wool. I wore that coat for years. Wore it out, in fact.
I ended up beside a man who was, I guess, what would be called “troubled”. I’m sure you’ve met people like this before: it’s clear something isn’t quite right, but it’s difficult to define exactly what. He started talking to me. Just talking. My Mum would kill me, but me, I’ve always had a good handle on whether I’m in danger or not. At sixteen, yes, she would have killed me.
He said to me: “You must be a businessman.”
I said, “What? Me? No!”
“Well, I saw that coat and I thought you must be a businessman.”
I replied, “Not me. It’s a nice coat, but I’m just a kid.”
He was fixated on his childhood. He mentioned he was spending time in an institution in Quincy. Yes, a psychological institution. He spoke much about marijuana. Even then, it didn’t mean a thing. Ryan Murphy provided my latest cliché’ in American Horror Story: Asylum: “I don’t judge, Jude. I never judge.”
At one point in this man’s conversation, I happened to look across the bus at the other passengers. They were looking at me the same way they were looking at him. Time delivers some perspective. I was a child. These adults judged me, words unspoken, upon my casual association. It was, as if, well, you must be crazy, too, to be talking to him. I never forgot that feeling nor how unfair that was.
Was I that guy’s hero? And will I ever know? It was a time and a place in space and a circumstance and a mood and. . . well, clearly no one else on that bus was willing to talk to that man. Why not? It costs you. . . what? Respecting someone costs nothing.
I’m not sure why I’m telling this story. It was one of few defining moments in my life, but I haven’t told it in a very long time. I suppose my point is that I had been picked on, as every kid has, but that was kid stuff and I’ve always handled bullies well.
But, when those passengers on that bus looked at me, I realized that poor man was looked down upon like that every day of his life. It wasn’t a moment for him. It wasn’t a cute little story he could tell years later. He was harmless. All he wanted was an ear to bend, that’s all.
I suppose my point isn’t that my ears easily bend, but, rather, why is what I did such a difficult thing for most people? Who is the hero here? That stupid kid, sparing scant minutes of his life to listen, or that troubled guy fighting every day to live a better life? I never forgot that moment. It’s been thirty years now.
We have to try to help others where we can. Life wouldn’t make much sense otherwise.
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Steve Hutchins supports heroism in all its forms and resides in Whitman, Massachusetts.