I couldn’t sleep last night. Tired of sitting in front of my computer, I decided I would go to the gym in hopes that some late night exercise would accelerate me towards sleep. Planet Fitness is open twenty four hours, so I headed over there to attempt to induce weakness into my body, in turn making me sleepy. After about forty minutes at the gym, I was over it. At that moment I realized how much of a social place a gym really is. Of course there are people that are in and out with no concern for the people there, but there are others that thrive on a packed, sweaty building. People go there for other people or to people watch. They like it when other people are there. Their egos fuel on other people watching as they grunt while lifting various pieces of metal, believing they are getting bigger with every motion, seeking affirmation from other gym members that this is the truth. Or perhaps its just a place of redemption for those that seek greater control over the bodies, that attempt to reverse the havoc done to their bodies throughout the day with rigorous exercise, feeling comforted by like minded people attempting to find their own bodily salvation in the same manner. Perhaps, but who really knows? Point is, it was too quiet in there for me. It was just the metal and me. People watching was out of the equation and my natural curiosities towards human behavior were defeated by the empty treadmills and the silence of unused weight machines. All restored to their proper place and perfectly scaled by size, the dumbbells even looked like they were sleeping. Just a tad bit too still for me. Thus, I left that lonely place, deciding I would fare much better at home. I got out of there fast. Driving home, I skipped the road towards the highway due to my unwillingness to wait at a red light. I headed straight instead and my path became less direct, but offered me a view of the empty streets of Albuquerque as I traveled down the normal roads. Nearing home I was gifted a red light, but this time it was necessary for me to stop due to a lack of options for diversion so close to home. I was frustrated that I had to sit at light when there was not a car in sight. My mind contemplated running it, but I feared a cop would pop out of nowhere and give me a ticket. So I waited. While sitting at the light, I looked out my passenger window and saw a man on sitting on the bench next to the road. His face was hidden in a shadow, but looked like he had no desire to move anytime soon. Not feeling any less tired after the gym, I decided that this would be a perfect time to see if I could get his story rather than achieve a drone like state while watching another movie streaming over the internet. The light turned green, I drove home, and parked my car. Within five minutes I had my camera and was walking back to the man. As I crossed the street walking towards the man, his face became visible. When he saw me he said, “Hey you’re the photographer guy. I met you before. You took my picture once.” “Your right. I did.” When I got closer to the man he flashed a jolly smile. It was quite a sight, instantly making you feel happy just seeing it. After absorbing his smile, I sat down next to him and asked how it was going. “Oh, its good. You know what?” “What?” “I saw an owl and a cat fighting over at the Pop-n-Taco the other morning. The cat was just walking through the parking lot when the owl swooped down. The cat fought back as soon as it was attacked. They went on for a little while, but gave up after it seemed nobody would win. Really strange, but it was something I have never seen before.” After telling the story of the owl and the cat, he grew quiet. Every few seconds he would lift his cigarette to his mouth as if he would light it, only to bring it back to his hand again unlit, where he would roll it between his fingers. Between attempts to light his cigarette, he would lift his shirt to his mouth, trying to hide his mouth that held no teeth. I figured he was a bit self conscious of this, because he would continue to do this throughout our entire conversation. “Do you know about Vietnam?” he suddenly asked after a long silence. “I do,” I replied. “That was back in the 60s. Back here in Albuquerque, away from the war, I did quite a bit of LSD. We didn’t do nothing crazy. We just hung out and saw things move. My brother went to Vietnam. He went and never came back. I lost my dad and my brother to war. I got one brother left though,” telling me as the tone of his voice and facial expressions shifted towards sadness. I decided to change the subject, asking what he is currently doing in life. “Well tomorrow I get my medication. It took a long time to finally come in. Tomorrow I can clean up. I will shave my beard, cut my hair, and move forward in life. I will finally start to get better and be a bit more normal. At least I hope.” I was given more details about his condition, but I promised I wouldn’t tell. I will continue this story a little further down the line now. “Do you live around here?” “I stay at the motel up there. I had to get out of there and take a walk. People there are always doing drugs. I get tired of it. You know it has been twenty four years since I did drugs. Heroin was my addiction. No needles have touched my arms since then. I had to stop. It was bad.” “No drugs in twenty four years?” “Nope. None of that stuff.” “Thats great.” “I think so. It was hard, but I did it.” I understood his desire to leave the motel after he spoke about his addiction. It is not a desired place to hang around for a former heroin user. My mind wasn’t interested in continuing probing about his addiction, but rather more interested in how he was doing in life. “Are you happy?” I asked bluntly. One of the few times he looked me in the eyes was after I asked that question. His face became serious, wanting me to whole heartedly believe what he was about to say. Looking directly in my eyes he said, “I am. I really am.” It was rather powerful, convincing me in that moment. For some time after he spoke of random events and people in his life. I really couldn’t make much sense of it, but I listen none the less. Realizing that I was becoming tired, I hoped that he would give me a minute to ask a question. He stopped for a moment to light his cigarette again and I felt that this was the time to ask. “What sort of life advice would you give someone?” “In the winter, be a good boy scout?” “I am not really sure what you mean.” “Well, you have to take care of yourself. Get an apartment, be good to your partner, and make sure to have a job. You have to take care of yourself, because it is a tough world out there. I know the streets and they are rough. I won’t even give money to people on the streets anymore. The last time I gave a guy five bucks and was still holding a twenty dollar bill in my hand after giving him the money. He saw the twenty, jumped up, and went after the twenty dollars. I closed my hand to keep him from stealing the twenty dollars and he began biting my hand trying to get it. Can you believe that? The streets are crazy. You don’t want to be on them. That is why you have to take care of yourself. Nobody else will if you don’t.” “Makes sense.” It was now about time to get his photo. So I asked to take his picture, but he said he was a mess and really didn’t want to be seen this way. A bit disappointed that I wouldn’t get his picture, I asked if I could take it his picture from behind in hopes of getting some sort of photo. “Oh sure, that will work.” “Thank you.” After taking his picture, I was sleepy and ready to head home. I stood up and told him I was off. He flashed that jolly smile again and said, “Thank you.” I realized at that moment that I had just had one of the most interesting conversations I had in a long time and this guy had enjoyed talking with me as well. We were just hanging out on a bench, shooting the shit like old men on a front porch. It was quite a good night. I started to walk away and turned around one last time to say my final goodbyes. We exchanged our goodbyes and I headed out. As I was about to cross the street, he called for my attention. I turned to face him again to see what he had to say. “I will see you around friend.” The word friend stunned me. I couldn’t believe that he would consider me a friend. I felt a sense of joy swell up inside of me. I pondered what I would say for a few seconds and then responded, “I will see you too friend.” His smile overwhelmed his face and he quietly chuckled. It was beautiful. Afterwards I continued back to my house in the dark, but now I had just made a new friend. His name is Ernest.
Devyn is originally from Manhattan but came to Albuquerque to escape the big buildings to find inner peace and spirituality. Recently Devyn finished a novel about gender oppression from a psychological perspective. As well as writing, Devyn also creates queer art and is a drag queen known as Fierce Prissy Splash. Devyn eventually wants to be a well known queer author that empowers women and girls. Devyn told me that in life you have to love yourself unconditionally and be your own protector. Devyn is a fantastic person with a powerful message that will change the world.