On my way home from helping with registration, I saw Dan walking away from an apartment complex. My immediate reaction was to call out his name and make a sharp left into the complex (thankfully, there was no traffic).
He recognized me and gave me that big off-to-the-side smile of his and said “Hey!” I gave him a big smile right back and asked, “So whatcha been up to?” He crossed his ashy, scab covered arms and leaned into my car and said, “Actually, I’m out lookin’ for five dollars.”
My smile faltered a little, “Oh, I don’t have five dollars.” And he said, in his slow and easy way, “I ran outta gas over there,” he gestured with his head off to the right. I said “Oh” or something like that and then asked about his baby. He told me that his son is staying with his grandma right now. Then a car pulled up behind me and waited instead of going around. So I looked at Dan and said, “Well, I gotta go now.” And he said “OK.” Then I drove off.
I was probably a half mile or so down the road when I started figuratively kicking myself in the shins. Why didn’t I at least offer to drive him somewhere? The thought had not occurred to me. I went over the conversation in my head, nope, he didn’t ask or leave awkward pauses or even drop hints. But I worried (still worry, actually) that he would think I’m an asshole for not offering. Then I start analyzing everything.
He knows that I know some of what he’s been through. I know that he knows I was homeless and still trying to recover financially. I’m not sure if he’s noticed I have a new car since he left school in December and my Buick died in the middle of May. I put thoughts into his head, ideas into his mind and I start judging myself for overspending in certain areas last month resulting in serious budgeting crises this week. If I hadn’t bought that book or shirt or coffee or salad, if I hadn’t made that road trip or got those gifts, then I could’ve helped Dan.
The truth is, Dan is often in dangerous situations with dangerous people. The truth is, I really don’t know what the whole situation was. The truth is, my heart broke when I saw his arms. The truth is, giving him the $5 might not actually help him. The truth is, if I’d had cash in my wallet, I would’ve given it to him.
The truth is, I have no way of knowing or controlling what Dan – or anyone else – thinks of me and I cannot go back and do that decision over. And that’s OK.