William died some time ago, but I haven’t been ready to share my thoughts and feelings about him and his passing with the world.
I knew William from the Bridge. He was a good man. He was one of the area’s native people, one of those Indians, he always called himself with pride. He sold at the Bridge, alone when I first new him, then later with his mother.
When I was homeless and sleeping in a picnic pavilion at a rest area, William was one of the few men I wasn’t afraid of. He and another nice guy named Tommy set up next to each other every day and could always scoot over just a little to make room for me. William always treated me politely, respectfully, as a friend.
William struggled with alcoholism during the more than five years I knew him. His mother thought he was doing ok if he only drank beer. She pretended his drinking 18 cans of Bud Light nearly every day was no cause for concern. If he was only drinking beer with a low alcohol content, she could believe the amount he drank wasn’t an issue.
Some days I got really annoyed with William. When he was drunk, he’d lie to the tourists at the Bridge. If visitors saw him with beer can in hand or at lip, he’d tell them it was his birthday, which he thought would make it ok to be drinking alcohol in public, at work. If the birthday fib let to a sale, all the better. He told potential buyers that he collected all the rocks on his tables and polished them too, even though I knew all his rocks came from other vendors. He even bragged about collecting rocks from other people’s mining claims; I was almost positive he’d never done any such things and was only repeating stories he’d heard from unscrupulous rock guys. I suppose he thought claim jumping sounded exciting and was a good story for the tourists. In the end, I realized it wasn’t my place to get upset by William’s lies; he was only doing what he thought he had to do to earn the money he needed to live.
William had been elected vice-president of the Bridge vendors association and was so proud of his position, even though in reality it meant very little to anyone else. I’m the president of all of this, he’d tell tourists while gesturing broadly. Sometimes he’d boast I’m the president of this whole bridge.
He was also proud of the times he’d stopped people from jumping off the Bridge. I never witnessed him doing such a thing, but William had stories about stopping people from jumping by hugging them or tackling them or ushering them back to solid ground. Even if none of these events actually occurred, in his heart, William wanted to save everyone who was sad, distraught, suicidal. In his heart, William surely wanted to be a hero.
William had a daughter. He’d become a father when he was just 18. The girl grew up in California with her mother who William said had a drug problem. The daughter was barely an adult when William died, but at least she had a dad throughout her childhood. I think of that girl and my heart aches for her. How difficult it must have been for her to grow up with a father suffering from alcoholism and a mother suffering from drug addition. I wonder if she’s following in her family traditions or if she thinks it best to remain a teetotaler.
When I was around, friends would occasionally try to talk to William about his drinking. Of course, he didn’t want to discuss the problem. I’m just me! William would proclaim, or he’d say loudly I do what I do! He didn’t think he could be anyone other than who he already was. He didn’t think he could do anything other than what he already did.
Sometimes when I saw and heard William interacting with tourists, I wondered uncharitably how he could stand to be a stereotype. I guess like many of us, he just wasn’t ready to be someone else or do anything different.
I’m not sure exactly how William died. I was in California when it happened, working on top of a mountain. I learned about William’s death from Facebook, that twenty-first century town crier. William had been sent to live with his aunt in the city. In the past, this aunt had been able to impose discipline (and sobriety, I suppose) on William when his mother could not. I don’t know if his aunt cut off his supply of beer entirely and the cold turkey sobering up killed him, or if it was just too late for him to benefit from ceasing to drink alcohol because his liver was already shot. In any case, the family is proud to say William was sober when he died.
William was a father and a son and a nephew and a brother and a friend. Like the rest of us, he had his faults and his stumbling blocks, but he was a good man. He loved the Denver Broncos and his daughter and selling at the Bridge. In his way, he really was the president of the whole place. He cared about the other vendors and the tourists who visited there too. He only wanted to love everyone. He only wanted everyone to get along.
By way of farewell, he’d tell vendors and tourists alike, Love, peace, and hair grease. When I remember William, I picture him standing in front of me, sunglasses on, swaying slightly, and I can hear him say, Love, peace, and hair grease.
William was a good man, and he is missed.
Love, peace, and hair grease, William. I hope you are healthy and whole and free now, soaring above us all, an eagle in the sky.