In early February, 2018 I had my heart set on buying a pair of Air Pods. I was sold on everything except for the price so, I made a deal with myself – if I want them, I’ll walk for them (somehow in my mind this rationalized the $159.00 price tag)!
The day I decided to get my pods I prepared myself to walk to the Union Square Apple store location. Knowing I could make it to the store on foot, make the purchase and get back to work in just enough time, my plan was set. There was only one problem – I’d have to walk through San Francisco’s Tenderloin district to get there. I haven’t been through that area in probably twelve or so years and I if it were still anything like I remember from high school, this would be a bit of challenge.
The Tenderloin is still one of the worst neighborhoods in San Francisco – plagued with open drug use, homelessness, violent and sexual crimes and poverty. Subtract the popular street names of Geary, Market and Eddy; the average person would consider the Tenderloin a scary place. I certainly do.
At the start of my lunch break I came prepared for my walk to Union Square through the infamous “TL.” Track jacket – check. Nike running shoes – check. Now, eyes forward, heightened vigilance, avoid the sidewalk (yes, walk in the bicycle lane in the street) and no matter what, do not engage.
I was about halfway through my journey and in the heart of the TL when I heard a male voice say “…is that Andreea?” I wouldn’t have even given it a second thought however, I always know for sure that someone knows me when they actually pronounce my name correctly – and this person did. I looked around a bit before my eyes fixated on a man walking towards me. It took what felt like forever before my brain could process the person I was seeing and even when I registered who this man was, I still couldn’t believe it.
The man who stood before me was an unrecognizable version of a person I used to know. In high school he was handsome, funny, charismatic and full of potential.
The man who stood before me on that day seemed as though he had lived many lives. He appeared to have aged far beyond our 29 years, he looked unhealthy and thin, his clothes were worn out, he had missing teeth, long greasy hair and he couldn’t stand still. He was jittery, anxious and unable to control his own movements. I froze at the realization of who this person was…the guy I used to know… and I was at a loss for words. I somehow managed to mumble “….uh..um..how are you…?” yet I cannot even recall if I said anything else or if he even answered me. We stood facing each other for what felt like forever but it could not have been more than only a few seconds. My eyes left contact with his and I glanced over at the man he was standing with who, sadly, resembled more of a creature than a person with glossy, yellow eyes, a twisted mouth, holes in his shirt and slow walking like a zombie.
My mind was racing, I was shocked, flight-mode took over my body and I quickly started to walk away from them, yelling “…it was good to see you…” not because I meant it, but because I didn’t know what else to say and I could barely gauge my reaction.
As I continued to the store, made my purchase and made it back to work, my mind was in a haze and I found it difficult to concentrate the rest of the day. I could not shake the image of him and the poor state he was in out of my mind. I couldn’t fathom the things that happened to him or the journey that lead him to that state on that day. The image was haunting and my heart broke for him as a human being.
I have worked in law enforcement and criminal justice environments for more than than ten years and I have seen first hand the affects of substance abuse, physical and sexual abuse, homelessness, incarceration and met with men and women who have fallen victim to so many tragic circumstances, yet I never felt effected until this particular day.
In life we all have turning points. Some monumental and some more subtle. This experience was a turning point for me. A moment where my perspective changed and I now see people in a new light. Even those I do not particularly care for, I can now appreciate their presence, here, as functioning human beings and I care for them.
I pray for that guy I used to know… that life will be kind to him and that his journey will result in peace and health.