I saw him from a distance. Perfectly situated against the brick wall, seemingly waiting for me to come talk with him. After months of this project I know to listen to that kind of intuition. As I got closer, I recognized him. I don’t forget people’s faces when I’ve photographed them. He remembered me too, from back in November when I found him painting a house. http://bit.ly/1dfBIGl I love reconnecting with people I’ve talked with before.
I asked Walter if I could chat with him for a while, and quickly weighed the merits of sitting on a wet piece of cardboard over a more wet bench. I chose the cardboard and sat down. I asked how he’d been since I’d seen him last, and as he answered, I was reminded how much I enjoy his kind, calm energy.
“What was the saddest time in your life?”
“Probably when my sister died. I was 15. She was 8. She fell, or maybe she was pushed…you know…kids fiddling around on the jungle gym at school. But she didn’t die there. It was a couple of days later. She ruptured her spleen because she’d fallen just right on a pipe or something. But she didn’t tell anyone. She soldiered through it and then two days later at school she curled up in the fetal position and passed out. By the time they got her to the hospital she was dead. I was at school in the gym when they came and got me and told me I needed to go — that there had been a family emergency They didn’t say what. But when I got home I knew it was something really bad because there were all these people there I didn’t know. It was so long ago…it’s hard to remember what happened.”
“But you probably remember how you felt.”
“Yeah, I do remember that. I went outside and sat by myself for a long time. My brothers probably had a harder time knowing what to do. They were so little when it happened. They probably wanted me to tell them what to do. But I didn’t know. My mom just shut down when my sister died. She just stayed in bed. Didn’t eat. That probably lasted for months. I ended up being a surrogate parent in a lot of ways. Getting everyone ready for school, making pancakes, and you know, of course there’s always one kid who can’t find his boots or something. No one trained me on how to do that stuff. My parents told me what they wanted me to do, but they didn’t teach me how, so I just had to figure it out. My brothers had some hostility toward me for it. Not so much toward our parents, but mostly just at me. But I know there were some situations I didn’t handle so great.”
“Well I don’t remember this, but my brother Raymond tells me one morning my he wouldn’t get out of bed, so I shot him with a BB gun. But, he was the first one on the bus that morning, so I guess it worked.”