This is the story of a man named Kenny.
A veteran who served our country in the Marines. A father who moved to New Orleans just two months ago, seeking a new life for himself, his wife and their little girl. An alcoholic who began last week happy with his family and ended it homeless and alone with a 12-pack of beer.
I met Kenny yesterday via his email response to my ad seeking yard help. (Remember last week’s column about my ravenous weeds? Well, now they’re so big I think they’ve registered to vote in Saturday’s special election!) Kenny mentioned he had been a Marine, was now homeless and was trying to get his life back on track. I figured his experience as a Marine made him uniquely qualified to tackle my back yard insurgents, so I invited him over to check out the job.
By the time Kenny walked over from lunch at the Rebuild Center, Mother Nature was in full mourning over Sean Peyton’s season-long suspension. There was no way he was going to do any yard work, so I offered him a dry t-shirt, hot shower and a place to hang out til the storm passed. He eagerly accepted all three.
After he cleaned up and dried off, Kenny came to hang out in my kitchen.
“Man, I love this city,” he said. “I know I’m homeless, but New Orleans is the first place I’ve felt at home in my entire life.”
Kenny then explained to me how, as a 19-year-old, he had had a wonderful AA sponsor, a big bear of a man who worked for the Pennsylvania electric company. Mike was his name and Kenny said no one had ever done more to help him get his life together. Then, one day, as Kenny drove up for the meeting, Mike’s wife showed up. In tears. She ran up to Kenny, threw her arms around his thick neck and sobbed the words, “Mike’s dead.” He had been killed on the job.
“I had seen him that morning, alive. Now, it was evening. And he was dead,” Kenny said. “I never went to another AA meeting again.
“Until last week, after my wife and daughter left me and I had heard about this great group that met at St. Anne’s on Esplanade.”
That meeting changed everything for Kenny.
“It’s amazing,” he told me, leaning against the island in my kitchen, carefully drinking water from a cup so as not to lose the front tooth “that’s only got a couple of days left.”
“I’ve been in trouble in lots of places. Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia. Nobody cares about you there. I mean, the shelters do because they have to, but regular people? They don’t care. You’re nothing to them. Here in New Orleans, people care. They watch out for you, they try to help you. They want to help you. Everybody does. There’s just so much I love about it here. And there’s so much love you get back.”
Kenny stayed for about an hour and a half. We talked about books (he likes sci-fi), loves (his wife, his daughter, his other kids in other states), and birthdays (his is just eight days away). I told him how my mom always said that birthdays were the most special days of the year because they belong just to you.
“I never had thought of that,” Kenny said. “Yeah, I like that. I know I’m homeless and all, but the truth is I haven’t felt this good since before I joined the Marines. It’s all because of New Orleans. I actually think I can get back on track. Maybe even get back with my family. I just need to make it through the next eight days.”
By then, the rain had stopped and Kenny put back on his soggy socks and wet boots and picked up his dripping poncho. I told him to take good care of himself, keep with the meetings and stay in touch.
Standing on my stoop, he turned around and said, “Don’t worry about me, man. I’m going to make it. I mean, I’m in New Orleans.”
Yes, this is a story about a man named Kenny. And a city named New Orleans.
Brett Will Taylor writes Love: NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his blog at thestoryblogbwt.wordpress.com.