His opening statement is, "I'm not gonna' lie to ya'..." Right there you know there are some fish tales on the way. Kevin does not disappoint. Stories trip from thirsty lips, one chasing another, as he coolly appraises his mark. He thrusts a soiled and sticky hand toward me. I take it in my own. We exchange names.
There is murder in his eyes (I'm not big on eyes being the "window to the soul." I never get anything from looking people in the eye. But his are scary different.). I'm sure that if he hasn't already done it, he will.
But we aren't talking about murder. We are talking about need. Because Kevin needs. He needs to be dealt with honestly in his jobs. He needs to be left alone. He needs to stop drinking and he needs to stop doing drugs (It's been two months since he last smoked pot and two years since he last used Crack. My "two-weeks-sober" theory blown all to pieces in one conversation!).
Kevin's not getting off the street. He knows that. He doesn't even pretend to want to. He battles the urge, well articulated and more than a touch menacing, to just break in and steal what he needs, when he needs it. But, he assures me, pale, dull, almost-lime green eyes never wavering from mine, he's just not that sort of guy. He'd rather ask me straight up for my money than stick a knife in my back and force me to hand it over at some ATM. I wonder.
Street-filthy finger jabbing the sky, he talks about "that Guy up there" repeatedly. "I spend an hour a night tellin' God how sorry I am 'bout what I had to do that day." Just to make it by.
He tells more stories. He turns to my eleven year old son who's silently observing our exchange. Not much taller than I am, Kevin is almost eye-level with my boy. He points aggressively at Jamy, his voice revealing the only emotional intensity we've seen so far, "You. I'll say this to you: Don't hang out with people who tell you that stealin' and beatin' people up is the only way ta' be their friend. Hang out with the people that are half like that and half geeks. 'Cuz the geeks'll be able to get ya' a job later on."
Dubious advice, I think, as I rest my glance on my very uncomfortable boy who has taken a half-step toward the protection of his patiently observant daddy.
"Kevin," I interject, "we've got to be on our way. When I talk with God about you today, what can I ask Him about for you? What do you need right now?"
Courage. Strength. For the first time in our conversation there is the tiniest crack in his bravado. It's hard sleepin' in my tent all 'the time, he says. It's hard to resist the temptation to do stuff. The temptation to drink so much more than he is right now, to live like a thief, to use his knife as more than just a stay-away-from-me warning.
Courage and strength.
I offer him my hand in farewell; his grip is strong. I'm embarrassed, ashamed, by the repulsion I feel at its grime (I ache to wash my own ~ scrub it, sterilize it clean, but hours later I can still feel the solidity of his muddied fingers wrapped around my own life-is-easy palm).
Kevin's sleeping outside tonight. He'll sleep in the same filthy skin he walked around in all day. His knife will be his best and safest companion, and he'll be yearning for daylight and a thirst-slaking drop. His moral code will tell him that it's okay to pimp if that's what it takes to make a dollar. It will tell him that it's only okay to beat a guy if he steals from you ~ If he beats you first, or defames your character, you turn the other cheek. It'll tell him that God is real and that God can only be God if we keep messing up so that He can help us.
I'm not going to lie to you, I think that's some kind of crazy. My well-fed, addiction-free suburban existence doesn't require a lot of courage, so it's easy for me to sanctimoniously dismiss his code. Not so easy to dismiss Kevin, though. Kevin and his stories, his veiled threats and his advice, and his street-filthy hands. Not so easy to dismiss Kevin.