A Friend of Mine
by lynn gipson
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A Friend of Mine
The homeless man stood on the corner of Main and Second streets. He clothes were dirty and tattered, and his eyes were blank and staring. He seemed lost, although he had walked these streets many times in the past three years and knew them well. He knew every proprietor willing to give him food and a little change from time to time. He knew every “crazy” on the streets to stay away from.
Jenny Baylor was waiting at this very corner one Monday morning for the walk signal to come. She was in a hurry. She was late for court again. The judge had admonished her the last time for keeping her client and the whole courtroom waiting. She saw that no cars were coming and stepped out with the signal still flashing Don’t Walk.
Suddenly, she heard a loud car horn blast and felt someone pulling at her. She hit the pavement just as the car rounded the corner, missing her by inches. Then she felt herself being pulled up by someone and gently deposited on the curb. Sitting there for a few seconds she realized she was all right and turned to look at the man who had saved her life.
“Are you okay?” the man asked.
Jenny heard a voice she hadn’t heard in years. She recognized it right away. It had to be Gary Saunders, her high school boyfriend. She looked at him and instantly saw it was indeed him. What in the world had happened to him? She thought to herself.
“Gary? Gary Saunders? Is that you?”
The man looked at her for a few seconds, tears welling in his eyes, and turned and quickly walked away. Jenny called after him but he disappeared into an alley behind Albert’s restaurant. Just like that -- he was gone.
Jenny gathered herself together and continued on her way to the court house, thinking about what just happened and who she had just seen. Gary Saunders had been the most popular boy in her high school. Captain of the football team and class valedictorian. She was so proud to have been his girl friend for two years. They were crazy about each other, as teenagers can be. He told her more than once, “I’m gonna marry you one day.” Jenny would smile and say that sounded like a wonderful dream.
After graduation, however, they sadly parted ways. She went off to Harvard and he entered the Air Force Academy They wrote each other for a while, but as other relationships developed in their lives, slowly lost touch. Jenny became an attorney and Gary was sent to Afghanistan as a pilot. Ten years had passed since their last meeting, but Jenny had never forgotten him.
Jenny worked for Legal Aid. She heard the calling while in law school. Corporate law didn’t appeal to her in the least and she never felt the need to become wealthy. She always was that kind of girl, pulling for the underdog. Several of her clients were homeless, but none had the background of Gary Saunders. Most came from poverty and broken homes. Some were mentally ill. Those who wanted it got counseling from a social worker Jenny became good friends with.
After that first encounter, Jenny went to the corner of Main and Second street every morning for two weeks looking for Gary. She would wait there for awhile and then walk up and down Main and even through the alley behind Albert’s restaurant. She had to find him and help him if she could. She began asking around, talking to other homeless people and they all seemed not to know him.
One Saturday morning Jenny got up early and decided this would be the day she would find Gary. She intended to search all day long until she found out where he was staying. Someone, somewhere, in the downtown area had to know something about him.
She went door to door of businesses. Some people remembered seeing someone of his description around but did not know his name or where he slept at night. Finally a man at one of the restaurants said he knew him. He usually slept in the alley just behind his restaurant and the man said he had give him food on many occasions.
“But be careful now, some of the alley people ain’t too friendly.” he said.
Jenny searched the alley and found a man asleep on the ground next to a dumpster. She called out to him gently intending to ask about Gary. He woke up and looked at her through bleary, bloodshot eyes that gazed directly towards the purse she was wearing on her shoulder. He rose to his feet and grabbed the strap, knocking her off balance and onto the ground.
Suddenly there were shouts and wrestling and then, once again, Gary was pulling her to her feet. She was okay, just a bruised shoulder where the man had tugged at her purse strap.
“What are you doing here, Jenny?” Gary asked, in a stern voice.
“Looking for you! I’ve been looking for you for two weeks. Where have you been?”
“Around. You shouldn’t be here Jenny. What do you want with me?”
“I want to help you. Please, let me help you.” Jenny said, with tears rolling down her face.
“You can’t help me, Jenny. No one can. Besides, I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine, Gary. Why are you living this way? What happened to you?”
“A war happened, Jenny, a war.”
Jenny understood now. One of her clients was a homeless veteran with post traumatic stress disorder. He chose to live on the streets rather than burden his family with his mental illness. The only way he could live with himself, he said, was alone. Severe flash backs of the conditions of war caused him to become erratic at times and a danger to his loved ones. He was now getting counseling and medication, had found a job, and a room to live in. He was slowly getting back on his feet, thanks to his attorney.
“Gary, let me take you to lunch. You just saved my life for the second time in two weeks, I at least owe you a lunch. I won’t take no for an answer. Besides, we have some catching up to do.”
“I hate for you to see me this way, Jenny. I am so ashamed.”
“Don’t be. I’ve seen people a lot worse looking than you.” Jenny said, with a smile.
They went into a nearby restaurant amid stares of the people eating there. Jenny spoke quietly to the waiter, who seemed aghast at Gary’s attire. “He’s a friend of mine.” The waiter then showed them to a table in the far back. As they finished ordering, Jenny looked at Gary and told him it was truth telling time.
“This is me, Gary. I know you better than you know yourself. I loved you for two years, and we talked about everything. You know things about me I’ve never told anyone. So shoot!" Jenny said, using a term they often said to each other in their teenage years.
“I was on a mission in Afghanistan with Jeremy Johnson, remember Jeremy?” Jenny nodded. Jeremy was a friend of theirs who went into the academy with Gary. Jenny remembered someone saying he had died in Afghanistan.
“We bombed a village where some members of Al-Qaeda were supposed to be hiding. Both of our planes were shot down. We were taken hostage.” At this point Gary was almost sobbing. “We were tortured for information. Jeremy broke, and told them what they wanted to know, and then they beheaded him. I was returned to my cell for further questioning the next day. That night, our own recognizance forces came in and killed most of them, and rescued me.” Gary stopped, no longer coherent.
“It’s okay, Gary, you don’t have to tell me anymore. What about your family?” Do they know where you are?”
“I call them once in a while to let them know I’m okay, but no, they don’t know how I’m living. I had a wife and daughter, Marie and Jenny. Marie left me five years ago because I couldn’t be a husband or father when I got back. Marie is now remarried. I named my daughter after you.” he said with a hint of a smile.
Jenny sat quietly for a minute, taking all of this in. A wife and daughter, she thought. Jenny was still single. She had been so busy saving the world she never had time to become serious about anyone. Most men were intimidated by her dedication to her career anyway. A few thought she was crazy to waste her law degree on the kind of people she defended.
“Gary, you’ve got to come home with me. I mean it. I inherited my grandmother’s big estate house. You remember it. There is a cottage out back, you can stay there and have all the privacy you need. It is just sitting there, empty. Please. I live at the place alone and I could use a man on the grounds.”
Something inside of him made Gary agree. He felt as if a prayer had been answered. He had prayed continuously for help of some kind because he really didn’t know what to do about his life and the way it was. He knew Jenny well. She had never been the kind of person to judge anyone by their circumstances.
Gary moved into Jenny’s small cottage behind the main house. He looked around and saw a library of books on the shelf that lined the entire back wall of the den. Jenny had insisted of paying him a salary to become her security guard and look after the gardens out back. She intended to hire someone for this anyway, she told him.
Gary settled into his new life slowly. He kept watch over Jenny and her home. He enjoyed working in the flower gardens The nightmares stopped coming and he began to feel more like himself again. It was good to have a home again, and with his salary he was able to buy some decent clothes. He got a haircut but kept his beard. Jenny said it made him look quite handsome, so he just wore it neatly trimmed.
He started reading some of the books from the back wall, and ran across one on ministering to homeless people. He had become quite close to God during his captivity. He had a degree in sociology he earned while taking courses in the Air Force. It started him thinking about how he might help street people.
Gary and Jenny were now spending a lot of time together. They went out to dinner and sometimes he had dinner waiting on her when she got home from work. They started attending church together the way they did in high school, and both rededicated their lives to Christ. Jenny was thrilled to see Gary coming around to the way he was back then. She was also falling in love with him again. She didn’t know quite what to do about that.
One night at dinner Gary brought up the subject of becoming a Minister to the homeless. Jenny was thrilled. She told him that was a wonderful idea. Of course, the salary would be almost none existent. He didn’t care. He had finally applied for his benefits from the government, and they were coming in now. He stopped taking money from Jenny for his so called security job. He was falling in love with Jenny as well and did not want her supporting him.
So Jenny and Gary began working diligently with the homeless. She would bring him her homeless clients and he would walk the streets talking to the indigent about Jesus. He not only brought many to Christ, he also counseled the mentally ill and helped get medication for the ones who needed it. They eventually raised enough money from local businesses to open a small shelter at the corner where Gary had saved Jenny from the speeding car.
Finally, one day Gary asked Jenny to marry him. She jumped up and yelled “At last! What took you so long?” Gary replied he didn’t have much to offer her in the way of material things, and she told him she had all she had ever wanted.
They were married at their shelter for the homeless. Gary’s daughter Jenny was there, having been happily reunited with her father. Both of their parents were there as well. It was a grand day for all of them. Gary’s best man was a guy he befriended while still on the streets. Jenny’s maid of honor was her friend the social worker who counseled her clients. Other than family, all those in attendance were homeless.
Due to an inheritance from his grandfather, Gary was able to start a small church in one of the old buildings near the homeless shelter. Jenny sold her grand mother’s estate home and they bought and refurbished a loft apartment near their shelter. The rest of their money went into supporting their ministry and the shelter.
Gary is back on the streets now, but for an entirely different reason. Jenny still works at Legal Aid helping those who can’t afford an attorney. They both work at the shelter and also work diligently to raise funds for Gary’s ministry.
One night quite recently their conversation somehow led back to their days in high school together. They fondly remembered him playing football and their night together at prom.
“I told you I was gonna marry you one day.” said Gary. Jenny smiled and kissed her husband.
“Sounds like a wonderful dream.” she told him.
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