BY BOBBI ALMEIDA
One hundred fourteen words. That is the length of the article that announced the passing of a Marian House client. Not an obituary to talk about his life or family. Not a picture of him smiling or carrying on with his friends. One hundred twenty-one words, if you include the seven-word headline that basically said police found a deceased male and were unsure if the death was natural or crime-related. No other details were available and likely never would be. If I am being honest, I am surprised it got that much attention from the media; after all, the man “appeared to be homeless.” What better way to dehumanize it than to use the word homeless and bury it at the bottom of the news articles?
The man who passed was named Jess. His street name was PANDOM (forgive me, Jess, if I got that wrong.) That was an acronym that described his lifestyle. I got to know him through my job at the Marian House. He would always have some inappropriate comment or smart-alack thing to say to me, and I would respond with empty threats about suspending him for it. My favorite memory is of the day I went to unlock the front gate, and Jess was first in line (as he was most days). I was talking to him as I fumbled to get the gate unlocked. As I am struggling, for whatever reason, with the lock and key, Jess looks at me and says, “Hey, Bobbi, the gate is already unlocked; you just need to open it.” Everyone in line just started laughing. Jess threatened to tell everyone of his crew, and I, of course, threatened to suspend him if he did. Only one of us followed through with their threat that day.
Jess was the type of guy who you knew had your back. His circle was small, and he referred to them as the camo crew. To say these were his friends would be a huge understatement. This may not have been the family he was born into, but this is the family God gave him – the family that meant more to him than anything else in the world.
The day before Jess died is quite memorable for me. As usual, he was at the Marian House with the camo crew. This day was different, though. Jess was at the table eating when another client kept bumping into his friend. I don’t know what words were exchanged, but I do know that whatever was said, it led to a physical altercation. The client that was bumping Jess’s friend ended up hitting Jess. Security responded and, after several minutes, were able to get the other client off the property. I returned to check on Jess to find he had a large cut on the side of his nose. At this point, he was less concerned about the cut and more concerned about talking to me about what happened. I got his permission to take a picture so I could document the fight. A picture that now means more than words can say. We sat in client services while he cleaned the cut and began to tell me his side of the story. I stopped him long enough to tell him that I had witnessed the whole thing. I had been watching the other client due to how he was acting. Jess wanted me to know that he was only trying to defend his friend and that he never struck the other client. Jess was concerned that the physical contact was going to cause him to be suspended. He was proud of the fact that in all his years as a client, he had never been suspended from the Marian House. And he never would be.
The next day Jess was in, along with a few from his crew. I remember him leaving that day. As he was leaving, he told me to be safe, to which I replied, “You be safe out there.” I then hollered, “I would tell you to stay out of trouble, but that is asking a lot.” He came up and talked to me for a minute, then turned to leave again. I once again told him to be safe; this time, he turned to me, put his arms out, and kind of shrugged. He gave me a huge smile and then walked away. Kind of poetic now that I think about it.
I did not know much about Jess’s life other than he was the kind of person you were lucky to have as a friend. Anytime something happened when he was around, he would immediately ask if I was OK and followed it up with, “Do you want me to take care of it?” Then he would smile. That infectious smile that let you know he cared.
I don’t know Jess’s religious beliefs, but I feel like maybe he was the kind of person that knew he was going to heaven but wanted you to think he was going to hell. That was part of the rough exterior that he portrayed. The tough guy had no regard for rules, and there is no way that heaven would want him. That is where he was wrong. I just hope the gatekeeper in heaven had better luck with the lock than I did that day. And if not, I assure you, Jess will be there to make sure they never live it down.
Since I was given the news of his passing, it has weighed very heavy on my heart. The day after hearing the news, I was listening to music, and this song came on. I truly didn’t give it much thought until technology went crazy on me. The third time of hearing the song, I realized it was a sign. Sunday was our last goodbye for now. Jess did not appear to be the country music type, but I hope he can appreciate why this verse brought me to tears when I heard it:
“Fighting the good fight
Til the good Lord calls you home
And so be well, my friend
Until I see you again
This is our last goodbye
But it’s a hell of an amen.”