Because Your Face. . .

“And wondered if I need your face
To ease my pain
Maybe I won’t ever see that face again
But loving you will have to last at least till then”

-Holly Near & Jeff Langley

The empty red plastic shopping cart from the Target store padlocked to the street sign outside the boarded up Blockbuster Video?

Yeah. That’s mine.

Most people don’t even see it. Almost nobody wonders what that cart carried last. And I’m guessing that no one wonders where the last load of that shopping cart is right now.

Which is fine. Because it’s nobody’s business.

The cart holds everything I own. Where I keep it at night is my business.

I keep nothing in a shelter. I can tell you that. I’ve seen rusty can opener knife cuts, screwdriver slashing to the face fights just to get into a shelter. Then inside the shelters? Once you’re in? Even in the ones where they keep the lights on all night, I’ve seen real fights. The kind you don’t talk about.

So I got a place for me and my stuff at night. It will last as long as it lasts. I don’t really think about it that much. The nights come early, with October in the winds. So I unload my stuff and lock the cart up tight by the time the sun goes down.

Now your picture? That old snapshot? That always stays with me. It got a little messed up when I stuck an old bar of soap next to it in the pocket of my jeans. But never mind about that. I couldn’t see it all that well anyways. My eyes ain’t the same since that day a crazy pick up driver almost hit me, my glasses came whipping off and shattered on the street. But I remember the picture so well that I guess it doesn’t matter.

It started like this. You were bending over some tomato seedlings, surrounding them with basil. Back when the whole north side of Chicago seemed to have community gardens everywhere. Ours was in Old Town, across from a Standard Gas Station and Lincoln Park where the hippies had tried to set up camp. It was spring of course. But there was something in the wind off the lake that said autumn. Something that said this was more about continual beginnings and endings than it was about a solitary season.

Coming up behind you, quite a view I might add, you were wearing short cut off jeans and a yellow top. You stood up, turned, put your hands on your hips and said, “Hey, why don’t you take a picture. It lasts longer!”

So I did.

We talked gardening, summer, the other people who had the plots, the conversation was like some sort of river that just never stopped. As the sun came up higher, we traipsed across Wells Street to Nookie’s and had pancakes, bacon, eggs, orange juice and a lot of coffee. A breakfast like we had known each other forever.

Over the years, buildings went up where the garden used to be. No more scraggly carrots yanked out of the urban soil. But I held on to that picture of you.

Years of dwindling chance meetings. A White Sox game where I obnoxiously lectured you on the evils of smoking. That Jill Clayburgh movie where you did the play by play and rooted for the weaselly investment banker to kick the bearded artists’ ass. I remember a postcard from Japan where you just wrote, “Watching lesbian sumo wrestling. Wish you were here.”

But I never let go of that picture of your face.

Finally there was that last time. Again seeing you first bending over from the rear. This time in the recycling bin. Outside a 7-11 store.

That time, I was busy not understanding that being broken in a billion pieces could be the springboard for hope. You tried to show me that. I didn’t get it.

How it would end up this time is that I would decide, with virtually no thought at all, that another marriage destined to end was the right answer.

For a very short while, I saw both you and her.

Then one day when you called to ask if you should take a pound of chuck out of the freezer for dinner, I said no. And I never made it over for dinner.


Left just with that picture of your face.

Which is why when I saw that face again this morning, just as I was going to unlock my red shopping cart, when I saw that face it all came flooding back. The garden, the breakfast the stolen moments through a lifetime. I saw your face.

It was early. Sunday morning. She was walking her dog along Lincoln Avenue. Both of them curious, young, and calm. She had that look in her eyes—like you—that the world was a very amusing place. Jeans and a baseball cap. And your face.

Now most people, when they pass the old man pushing the shopping cart through the streets and alleys, most people don’t see me. Some pretend not to see me. Some just do not see me.

But as she passed, she and her dog, she looked up. She looked up and saw me.

Then she smiled.

And I saw your face.


This piece originally appeared in

2 Responses to “Because Your Face. . .”

  1. Ted Schneider Says:

    Powerful writing! The world has changed dramatically for many people but if you are lucky enough to not be affected as much life goes on and you ignore those in need. There are many in need, many desparate for a somewhat normal life and they live for glimpses of their positive past to provide some sense of being and hope. I see it with the PADS program at our church – amazing those in need in my area that are quite often overlooked by most.

  2. Matt Paust Says:

    Roger – By jove, I squirmed through the portal and here you are! Looks a little empty here without all the spam, but it surely is a clean and well-lighted room. Good luck on your ventures. – Matt Paust

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