by Justin Mulwee
There’s a tingle in the back of my skull. An itch I can’t quite reach. It shouldn’t bother me. It isn’t my concern. But perhaps every once in a while, the things we can’t get out of our heads just might be there for a reason.
It’s a Tuesday like any other. We slowly survey the streets from within our Cadillac cage. Paper crunches and glass shatters as an assortment of household garbage is crushed beneath our tires. The people here blend in with the refuse, a collection of misfits thrown out with the trash. Hopelessness pours into the street like raw sewage. The stench of defeat permeates the air. You can almost see it creeping along the ground like a thick fog, nipping at heels, curling around throats.
A girl about my age makes her way down the sidewalk. She first catches my eye because of her beauty. And yet, it is a hollow, lifeless beauty, like a faded photograph that has long betrayed its subject’s likeness. The youthful spark is absent from her eyes. It was replaced instead with nothing, the special kind of abysmal nothing that comes after the struggle and after the despair.
She rubs her arms and stares ahead blankly, hugging herself as if attempting to literally hold herself together with her arms. She's white, and stands out in a black neighborhood. In fact, her face is wholly devoid of color, and against her black hair it looks like polished porcelain. She is a ghost: a remnant of a lost cause, unable to live and unwilling to die. With barely enough willpower to stand, she seemed as though one good breeze would blow her away, and she would be gone forever, remembered no more.
"There's that junky girl again," my father says. "Is that the one you saw before?" Asks my mother. "Yeah, I saw her on our street." "That's a shame."
We stare through the glass like tourists in a museum. I wonder when someone last looked at her like a human. A restless love wracks my bones, begging release. I want to bolt out of the car door and wrap my arms warmly around her frail body, buy her something decent to eat, declare God’s unconditional grace and love for her at the top of my lungs.
But that’s crazy. And our car has already waited its turn at the stop sign. On we roll, down an empty street, to our house just around the corner.
It’s been a while, and I’ve all but forgotten her face, just like everyone else that has passed her. Regardless, one thought lingers like a mild headache: I wonder what her name was. It’s nothing crippling or profound, just a casual nuisance to my intellect, a minor threat to my impenetrable complacency. To me it seems almost as though that one question could save the world.
Heroin addicts are nothing rare down here. They’re like lost dogs. You glance for a minute, then walk away and hope their rightful owners will find them sooner or later. It’s not that you don’t care. You know it's sad, you wish they would get better, you pray they find Jesus, but most of all you hope to God they don't steal the Mother's Day flowers from your front porch again when they need a fix. Because in the end, they’re just lost dogs.