The past few years, I’ve gotten to know a man named Kev.
He is a homeless man, although we often chat as if we’re old friends. I often forget that he goes home to a shelter — or a park bench — each night. It all started with me giving him a bag of clothes, and from there we talked about family and food and even philosophy.
I’ve gotten to know a lot of homeless people over the years, but Kev was different. In fact, I often wrote about him because he left such an impression. He cared about me, so I cared about him. It was, I suppose, a normal friendship.
But there was still a lingering question: “Why is he still on the streets after seven years?”
He was a clean-cut, well spoken guy who didn’t drink or smoke. Every time I talked to him, he seemed to have an ambitious plan to get off the streets. He was open about his mistakes, and he tried to turn them around.
The other day, I was walking home after a long day at school. And I saw Kev, so I smiled and shook his hand. We chatted for a while about Occupy Wall Street, since he’d been living at Zuccotti Park for the past few weeks, where he was being fed and housed. And then he said, “Let me introduce you to a friend I met down there.”
We walked toward his friend, who had a striking resemblance to Laurence Fishburne. On the way, Kev turned to me and said, “His name is William.”
Then he said, “But, dude, tell me your name so I can introduce you.”
I’d talked to Kev every week for almost two years, so I said, “Kev, you don’t know my name?”
And he said, “We just met a few weeks ago; how the hell would I know it?”
I walked home that night feeling confused. On rainy nights, I wondered how Kev was doing. I started working on a mobile app for homeless people because I wanted to care for other people like Kev — because I thought Kev cared about me. But not only did he not care; he didn’t even remember.
I haven’t seen Kev since that night. I keep wondering whether there’s something wrong with him — psychological problems. Or whether he was just using me — survival reasons. I guess I can’t blame him for either.
I just feel betrayed. But I guess it’s not about how I feel, since that’s probably the last thing Kev thinks about when the first droplet of a storm hits his cheeks.
Still, helping people like Kev requires us to care for someone who doesn’t reciprocate the same feelings — it requires us to care for people who will not always notice or even care. It requires us to keep an open heart while guarding it closely, which we’re certainly not used to doing. I can certainly say that I can do it, but I’m not sure if I can.