Reaching to the back seat, she handed a Kleenex to the diapered and runny-nosed boy that sat calmly in his car seat, nasal discharge flowing down his upper lip.
"Here Aiden, use it please. No, no! Don't throw it. Now, here's another one. I want you to wipe your nose just like I showed you. You're a big boy, you can do it. Good job Aiden, now you have a clean face again! You're such a big boy! Now hand Mommy the Kleenex, thank you sweetheart.
Smiling and kicking his feet against the seat, Aiden's bright hazel eyes looked out the window in constant desire for toddler stimulation. Watching the trees pass by, he suddenly yelped "Mommy! Mooooooooo!"
Glancing to her left, Christine saw the cows her son had picked out from the vast expanse of greenery. "That's right, those are cows! What do the cows say Aiden?"
This time his response was even more passionately delivered. "Moooooooooooooooooooooooo!
"Aiden, be quiet. I'm reading. You don't hafta say 'Mooooooooooooooooooo', you can just say 'moo',” a disgusted voice announced, “That's what the cows say anyways.”
Hiding a smile, Christine corrected her oldest son.
"Chevelle, your brother is learning, and its important you don't correct him. That's my job, I'm the Mom. What's your answer?"
Less than enthusiastic, Chevelle answered with the well-practiced disdain of a seven year-old boy. "Yes Moth-er."
Almost immediately forgetting the incident, Chevelle looked outside and noticed that something was different. "Hey Mom? Where's Old Tiny Tim?"
Taking full advantage of the red light, Christine scanned the freeway underpass that they passed by on their way to and from school each day. The crippled, stinky homeless man they called "Old Tiny Tim" was nowhere to be found.
He was always there with his cane identical to the one in the boys' Christmas Story movie, holding a sign at the intersection that said "Anything helps.", waving a blistered, dark-brown, leathery hand at the vehicles that passed him by. Several times Christine had given him something... a handful of change collected from her husband's pockets while doing laundry, some produce, or a box of canned fruit. Each time he received the gifts with a "Thank you ma'am, God bless."
Strange, he had been at that particular corner every school day for the last four years.
"I don't know honey, maybe he's gone to eat or take a nap. It is really hot outside."
As the SUV began to move at the bidding of the green light above, Chevelle answered slowly.
"No Mom, he always has his mat in the shade over there by the fence, remember? He hasn't been there all week. I wonder if Old Tiny Tim's okay."
With a roll of her eyes, Christine responded, "Okay, tonight when Aunt Joann comes over to play games with you Dad and I will see if we can find him before our date. How does that sound?”
More than thoroughly satisfied that the situation was in good hands, Chevelle responded,
“We'll be playing Monopoly. Only Aiden hasta' be on Aunt Joann's team this time. Last time he swallowed the car - my piece."
Christine laughed quietly to the windshield. They were quite the family.
Pulling out of the driveway that night, Christine filled her husband in on the events of the day.
"We'll just go to the corner he's always at, and if he's not there still, we'll try downtown." Guess there would be no movie this week.
Fifteen minutes later they left Old Tiny Tim's intersection. Five minutes after that, they took the downtown exit, discussing which streets they should cruise, possible homeless shelters to visit, and whether this was just a waste of time. In the following hours, their perspective changed drastically.
They drove slowly down back streets perpendicular to alleys where dozens of homeless slept each night. As the SUV cruised slowly through downtown, young men and not-so-young men wearing huge jeans stood in the shadows or next to their classic pimped-out vehicles, shop owners swept dirt out their back doors, and massive, bald, suited men guarded the entrances to minor-prohibited establishments, but not a homeless person was to be found. The discarded mattress city below the freeway overpass was completely vacant.
Christine's initial concern turned first to worry, then an unsettling uneasiness, then alarm as street after lonely street they passed became a soulless shadow of the previous street.
"Should I call 9-1-1?" Christine asked her husband. He always seemed to know what to do.
"I'd like to go down a few more streets, then I'll step inside a bar and a shelter, but if we haven't seen any homeless by then, we'll drive to the police station.
An hour and ten minutes later the authorities were notified. Three hours later not a single blue-uniformed officer was successful in finding a single homeless person. They had all vanished in a single night. By five o'clock the next morning local newscasters were interviewing shelter volunteers, bartenders, social workers, and church outreach coordinators. By seven o'clock, as the state of Indiana left for work, anyone who drove or rode a bus was aware of what was now being called a "state of emergency". By ten o'clock that day, the world became aware that the entire United States had, in a horrific single evening, lost every homeless person in the country to an unknown act of God or terrorism.
The statement issued at three o'clock that day by the President, though full of condolence and resolve, was severely lacking information. That evening analysts laid on the table every possible explanation for the world to consider. As country after country turned its conversation to the topic, hearts were heavy and fear hung contextual to the event that had transpired.
Guilt and questions flew for months on end as confusion and frustration turned to hopelessness, memorials, speeches, even empty grave sights dedicated to those who vanished. Four years later eighteen hundred documentaries, television specials, and film events, had been created to examine and give tribute to the terrible loss that America suffered. Eight years later the resolve had dissipated into a textbook lesson and speech transcript of the President and homeless began to repopulate the cites. And eleven years later Chevelle graduated high school and gave his salutatorian speech on what had come to be known as Tragic Monday.
“Some of the most hated, loved, and ignored people on earth are our homeless. They existed by the millions taking from society and giving nothing back. Nothing, we thought, until they disappeared, leaving a part of our lives so many of us never knew existed, empty. And so
America tasted en masse, compassion.
Our guilt, our helplessness, and our lack of answers to the questions that arose from this terrible phenomenon awakened us to our actions, or lack thereof, and we came to realize that every form of life is a gift, whether or not it contributes to society.
"Every soul, every personality, every human is a fantastic creation not to be pushed aside" Tragic Monday told us.
We are united not by color, by race, or by belief. We are all one because we are all living, breathing images of God; participants in this limited time on earth we share together."
© June 2008, JPE