life sucks, except when it doesn't

At just past one p.m. it's sunny and thirty-five degrees. No school and no nurse means a long day with Calvin, who has been ramping up to a seizure for several days, albeit in the midst of his best month-long stretch in the past year and a half.

Despite the gusty conditions, I decide we should venture downtown, so I bundle up the two of us and set out. Our first stop is Morning Glory health food, a small store wonderfully crammed with items leaving little room to move. Today, it's packed with shoppers perusing the aisles and waiting in line to purchase their goods. All I need is yogurt, but Calvin keeps trying to drop to the floor making it difficult to wait in line to pay. With my knee in his back to keep him upright, I notice our friend Daphne who, upon seeing me struggling with my stubborn boy, offers to let me cut in line. The two women behind her don't seem too happy at the notion, so Daphne buys the yogurt for me. I tell her that intend to pay her back doubly.

The main reason we've come downtown is so that Calvin can get in some walking beyond the small and repetitive loops he does inside the house. So although he's acting a bit obstinate, I choose to try him on the sidewalk. Flipping up his hood, I grasp his hand and begin walking into the frigid wind. Every few yards I wipe drool off of his rashy chin with the extra kerchief I grabbed before we left. At the end of the block we greet the same young homeless man we'd seen a few weeks back when the weather was springlike, and to whom I'd given a fistful of change I'd saved up in my purse for that very moment. The man looks to be no more than thirty. He is bundled in layers to ward off the cold, though still looks as if he might be shivering. I hope his beard helps to keep him warm. I tell him that this time I'm tapped out, but that it is nice to see him again. Then we bid him so long and continue on our way south.

Calvin walks four blocks to Local Market—further than he's ever walked with me downtown, and without balking once. We sit for five minutes to nibble on some wild rice, cranberry and edamame salad, and share a milk chocolate salted caramel. On our way back up the street we greet the homeless man again.

"I don't have cash but I do have a credit card," I tell him, "Can I buy you a sandwich at the Big Top?" referring to our favorite deli. "Come with us."

He agrees, folds up his cardboard sign and sets his plastic jug of water on top. When I ask, he tells me his name is James. I introduce myself and Calvin, explaining that James is Calvin's middle name, in part because we like it and it sounds good, in part because it's his dad's middle name, but mostly in honor of four James we know and love: Michael's dad, Michael's best friend in high school who died from leukemia, Michael's colleague, Muller, and our dear friend Garzelloni in San Francisco. Right then, Calvin attempts to drop, so I tell James about his epilepsy and how I am more than half expecting he might have a seizure tonight.

James tells me that someone very dear to him had epilepsy and died too young after having a grand mal seizure followed by a heart attack. Looking into his sunken eyes, I express my sorrow and ask when it happened. He tells me, and I can begin to imagine how difficult it must have been for him, wondering if it was what put him off track. I am reminded how the world should never judge folks who are homeless or struggling and asking for our help; we can never know their reality unless they tell us.

As we approach the Deli—my drooling, wobbling, nonverbal, incontinent, seizure-prone son toggled to me—James and I agree that life sucks, is hard, and that sometimes it is good. We express our shared contempt for the apparel line called Life Is Good, with its shitty little graphics of sun rays and flowers and Labrador retrievers and beach chairs and happy-as-fuck stick figures. He holds the deli door open for us and, as we squeeze by a crowd of other customers, I ask him what he wants to eat. The deli owner, our good buddy Tony, stands behind the counter and greets us.

"Can I have a bacon, egg and tomato on a bagel for James," I say, gesturing to my guest.

Tony, being one of the most generous guys I know, charges only two dollars to my card. Thanking him, I turn to James and say that I'd like to join him for lunch but that Calvin is pretty spent and not very good at sitting still. I pat James' shoulder and he smiles when I tell him it's nice seeing him again, to take care and I'll see him around. As I leave the deli, I wonder if I should turn back and try Calvin's patience; if I can find James again, next time I will.

Calvin makes it back through the health food store to the parking lot in the rear. When we reach the car he smiles (with relief?) and I praise him for what a stellar job he has done walking eight-plus blocks, and so willingly; six months ago he'd drop down after less than one block. My boy beams as I bend down to kiss his face repeatedly. Next to us, a younger woman—one who I think must be a mother—drives past in a minivan. Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she grins at us.

Life sure sucks. Except when it doesn't.

A similar scene from four years ago.


  1. It is such a privilege to know and love you and Calvin!

  2. Beautiful day. So reassuring to share a planet with your family