Tom, the Guy Under the Bridge

The rocks under the Elm Street Bridge were hard, jagged, and leaned a bit toward the water. They weren’t comfortable, but they were what I had. All of my possessions splayed out for every passerby to view and judge, I stashed my grocery cart a few steps away, well hidden by the trees and undergrowth. My bicycle was repeatedly stolen. Initially, this arrangement was a deal I had made with my family: they dropped me off the summer, I slept outside in the warmth of the Indiana summer, and I didn’t bother them for four to six months of the year. I didn’t bank on the fact that one winter they wouldn’t’ show up to take me home. I didn’t agree to sleep under the bridge through sub-zero, snow-filled Indiana winter nights. I never realized how little protection even a thick down-filled sleeping bag provides when the wind whips around the concrete supports of the bridge and my coffee cup has long since been emptied by my body’s desire for warmth. I didn’t expect them to forget about me.

Similarly, I didn’t bank on coming home one day to find that someone had erased me. All of my possessions were gone. They had even stolen the piece of cardboard I had scavenged from the dumpster behind the Marsh on Walnut. I had been using it to sleep on; after I removed most of the rocks, I used the cardboard to soften the hard clay of the river-bed. It gave me an eighth of an inch of give, more than the dirt itself would relax against the weight of my body. Whoever stole my bed, also took every last morsel of my food. I know some of it seemed like nothing anyone would want to eat—outdated bread, unrefrigerated Ranch dressing, stale orange juice I kept cold by dipping it in the cool running water—but someone took it all. My home had been razed. All my earthly belongings gone for the sake of urban beautification. I was unsightly, and someone saw to it that I was removed from the scene.

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