I got a text from a strange number, and all numbers are strange unless they’re in my contacts. My app for screening strange numbers, Robo-killer, is an aggressive and merciless thing. It doesn’t do nearly as well killing off texts, but we’re getting there. The text reads, “Mike, this is Susan, call me.” And I ignore Susan. She’s likely some Russian sex worker who had read my profile and sees that we live near one another and she would like to show me her breasts for four bucks a month. They found Greg’s body” is the next text and now I know who it is.
I remember the very moment Greg decided to ruin his life. We were both working at a restaurant named “Shoney’s”. I was a cook and Greg was a dishwasher. He was making about four bucks an hour and he came up to me and said, “I think I’ll become a cocaine dealer.” Now, this guy was going to college, had a great girlfriend, Susan, made decent grades, his family was helping support his education, and he wants to be a cocaine dealer. Greg couldn’t sell more cocaine than he snorted and you can guess how quickly things went from stupid to worse.
Greg started stealing. First, he stopped paying his rent and bill at the apartment he shared with two other guys, and he started borrowing money. Then things started disappearing. He sold me an aquarium, a fifty-gallon tank with all the accessories, for twenty-five bucks, and a couple of weeks later I discovered it belonged to one of his roommates. I offered to sell it back to him for the same price and he told me for twenty-five more he would forget the whole ordeal, which was decent of him.
They kicked Greg out and he moved in with Susan. He stole her bike and sold it to a pawn shop. Susan’s parents stepped in and offered Greg a place in their garage, and Susan’s mother got a call while she was at work. Greg was having a yard sale with her stuff in the driveway. He sold some small appliances, and some of the woman’s jewelry. They kicked him out and he lived for a couple of days in the front lawn of his ex-roommates’ apartment, sleeping in his bed next to the street. It was an odd and sad sight. But the first hard rain ended that and Greg took his bed frame to the pawn shop and sold it.
As far as I know, that was the beginning of Greg being totally homeless. That was the first time I remember someone telling me he was seen at Exit 16, holding up a sign, looking for beer money.
Greg’s family quit him after he asked for tuition money and used it to throw one hell of a party. Susan got a restraining order. Everyone learned to let Greg into your home or your car meant he was going to steal something, anything, he could. Once he stole a stack of sticky notes from me. Half a stack actually. I always wondered if he tried to pawn them.
A maintenance worker found his body near the interstate back in May. Because Greg had been homeless since the mid 1980s there really wasn’t a trail to follow, except when he had been arrested, spent time in jail, and picked up for being too drunk to stand up.
Eventually, they did find his family, and they found Susan. She had tried to help him as late as a few years ago. Her husband, Jim, who knew me, and hated me, from the last part of the 80’s, went with me to find Greg, and we were going to get him into rehab, but Greg has slipped away into the void of underpasses and culverts.
There isn’t a cause of death. Drug overdose, alcohol poisoning, kidney failure, liver failure, dehydration, starvation, heart failure, take your pick. The body had been wherever it was found long enough for it to have begun the process of returning to the earth. Greg was in his late fifties and the way he lived was harsh on the body. He had been living on the road for over thirty years.
I don’t have a moral for this story. I really don’t know what I’m trying to say. I’m sad, relieved, and more than numb. A lot of people tried to help Greg, and as hard as they tried Greg tried harder not to be helped. Maybe that’s it, Greg’s final message to the world, and this one is true: You just can’t help some people.
Whatever else happens, I hope they spread his ashes on I-75.