One of the common tragedies in life is seeing the world around you degrade as time forges on. Eventually age may not be seen as an accomplishment, but instead an unyielding reminder that life will never again be as you once knew it. The places that used to remind you of home subtly change with time into a rustic ruin of familiarity. Those scenic images enshrined as memories of significant moments in your life fade along with your recollection of those memories. In time, the past that you may have once cherished as treasured or ideal eventually becomes an unrelenting reminder that the future will be a lot less memorable.
But not for Charlotte – not at all. For her, the past was not cherished, nor was it memorable. Rather, she had often gone to excruciating lengths to forget her past. Once, she stumbled upon a photograph in the newspaper of where she’d grown up. Whether out of retaliation or an instinct for survival, she set it afire, hoping that any memories she still had of the place would also dissipate into the air along with the ashes of the photograph. She then cancelled her newspaper subscription.
Charlotte’s life was the antithesis of human nature.
Indeed, it was the antithesis of nature itself. In college, she’d learned about a law of nature called entropy. Under this law, everything loses energy and degrades over time. Matter falls away from each other into a lesser, more-chaotic state of existence. Charlotte instantly rejected this idea and consciously determined at that moment to do everything within her power to avoid this from occurring in her life. She had to. If she was to allow entropy to occur at all for her, then she might as well be homeless. This is because homelessness was the natural step from where she’d grown up.
So, rather than embracing the hopelessness of the natural trajectory of her life, Charlotte instead did everything she could to succeed. She declared a major at that same college, naturally science. She then spent all of her time holed up in the campus library focusing on educational success instead of allowing herself to succumb to the temporary happiness that the other girls sought in relationships or friendships. At nineteen years old, she was the youngest person in her college’s graduating undergraduate class. But nineteen was much too young to be able to seriously jump into the workforce with any ability to earn the salary that she knew she deserved, and which would be necessary to pursue the financial successes that she thought she’d earned. With her hard work, Charlotte became married to the fact that she was deserving of a successful life. Not because she was entitled to it or even belonged in that social arena, but because she knew that she could attain it. She knew that she was worth it, even if the laws of nature disagreed. And she was willing to sacrifice all other aspects of her life to obtain what she knew nature did not want her to achieve.
For this reason, Charlotte declared her graduate degree in marketing rather than science. She was not naive; she knew she somehow lucked out in being attractive. If there was one thing gifted to her from birth, she recognized that was it. With her tall, gracefully slender appearance, Charlotte also knew she’d easily get an entry-level position in almost any marketing firm in any large city. And once she got it with her looks, she was confident that she’d then be able to impress the decisionmakers with her wit and hard work to quickly reach maximum earning potential. This is what she desired, but also what she’d strived so hard to achieve to avoid entropy. Always, in the back of her consciousness, was the self-doubt that she actually belonged in the company of those decision-makers. She truly believed that nature had selected her trajectory as eventually being homeless, and she had cheated it.
Perhaps that was why she despised her short, daily commute to her downtown office at the marketing firm which she’d chosen to conquer. She wasn’t sure why she’d chosen Portland for where she’d begin her career. Perhaps it was because the city was up-and-coming and becoming modern.
Perhaps it was because the idea of conquering a larger city like Chicago or Los Angeles was too daunting. Or perhaps it was because of its close proximity to where she was originally from in Battle Ground, Washington. That’s right – she grew up in a battle ground, in all senses of the word.
But location had nothing to do with why she loathed her drive to and from her office each day. Rather, that had everything to do with Pioneer Square.
It was necessary to drive by some corner of Pioneer Square to reach her building located just across the street from the corner of that depressing city center. So, it was inevitable that her morning each day would begin with seeing the multitude of homeless men and women that congregated at Pioneer Square. And at the end of a long work day, her evening every night would conclude the same way as her day had begun – by driving by that same dreadful square.
If Portland and its suburbs were becoming the modern, happening location for young adults, then that modernization was forcing the area’s homeless into the middle of the city. And that middle was Pioneer Square. It didn’t matter if it was the heat of summer or the dead-cold of winter, there were always homeless people using Pioneer Square as their temporary home.
But it wasn’t actually the homeless individuals themselves that Charlotte despised. Indeed, over the past year, she had become visually familiar with the regulars. She began to recognize many of their faces, and even looked forward to seeing them throughout the week – so as to provide her with the assurance that they were surviving despite the difficult circumstances that they’d been given in life.
Over time, she’d recognize faces disappear from the corner. It was sporadic and random with who would disappear, and Charlotte never knew why. She began making stories up about what the disappearing faces’ fates were, even though it was just a ruse to shield her from reality. She’d imagine that some of them decided to travel to other, larger cities – hoping to start over anew there. Others were found by distant relatives and provided an opportunity to improve their situation. And a lucky few were fortunate to have found a selfless stranger who would gift them with a new life – as if they had won the lottery.
Maybe one or two of them even struck it luckier and found someone from a wealthier class to start their life with anew, who saw them for who they really were on the inside despite their unfortunate life circumstances.
Though these were all fantastical stories Charlotte would imagine about complete strangers, they were all made up dreams to avoid what she knew was the likely outcome of several of the unfortunate individuals who had stopped congregating at Pioneer Square. It would seem to many that being homeless is the low point in life, but Charlotte knew that the majority of people would stop being at Pioneer Square for just that reason – because the loss of life was the natural next step from homelessness under the law of entropy. And if Charlotte knew that she really belonged on that street corner among her true peers, then she knew what the forces of nature really wanted her ultimate fate to be. She was determined, at all costs, to avoid this.
But on this co ld, late January evening, Charlotte sat in herwarm, luxurious car on her way home. The stop light seemed to linger on red longer than normal. The hue of the red light pulsed behind the backdrop of snow being wiped off of her windshield repeatedly from the cascading rate at which it fell.
The rhythm of the windshield wiper seemed as if it would never end, and Charlotte’s internal pull toward Pioneer Square intensified. As if drawn by natural instinct, she peered at the square just to the right of her stopped car, wondering which of the familiar homeless she would see battling to brave the bitter cold that night.
Then she saw him. A new face. Actually, two new faces. But it wasn’t the fact that there were two new faces which ignited her impulse to immediately get out of her car. One of those faces was a first for her. One of those faces was a homeless child.