This story is another of my favorites and one I have my eye on as the basis for a novel some day. It was written in November of 1999. John Grisham's book "The Street Lawyer" definately influenced me a good bit on this one. If you have never read it I highly recommend it. By the way, this story is in no way autobiographical. The wife in this story is not Connie. She has never been anything but supportive of my writing. I am very grateful for that.
"So, Margaret do you really want to know how I came to be like I am; or are you just humoring me?" Reilly asked, sipping his coffee. "Either way I appreciate the breakfast."
They were sitting in a small hole-in-the-wall diner a few blocks from the library where they met several weeks ago. As far as Margaret knew, Reilly never got more than a few blocks from that library. She looked at him now, considering what he'd asked, and noted the well-worn but reasonably clean sweatshirt hanging from the back of his chair. That described all Reilly's clothing as well the man himself -well worn but reasonably clean. The deep lines in his face, along with the gray streaks in his black hair, made him look far older than his professed 43 years. Although he towered over her barely five-foot frame, she never felt worried or uncomfortable around this man, not like she did when she walked among other homeless people on her way to the library.
"Reilly, what has happened in your life that you can't believe I'm truly interested in you? I know we have many differences, and I admit I know very little about homeless people other than what I see in the media and downtown. But seeing you writing here in the library every day fascinates me."
Reilly's mouth formed into a rare smile. "It's not something I like to think about, let alone discuss. But I'll tell you, Margaret, because I sense that you do care."
Margaret sat back and focused her eyes on Reilly, listening to him relate his story between bites of his breakfast.
"In fifth grade we had a writing teacher come in twice a week, and she encouraged each child's imagination in the direction of their personal interests. I wrote some outrageous science fiction and westerns back then, and though it was childish composition, I discovered a love for writing that I have never lost
"I breezed through school essays and writing assignments after that. And although the frequency decreased as I got older, I would still write myself a story when I was lonely or upset. Usually I was the hero saving the world, or maybe just the pretty lady, from peril.
"Acquiescing to my mother's idea that I should be an engineer like my dad, I went on to college, which is where I met my wife. She was working toward her CPA, and we fell deeply in love. I graduated first, taking a job making more money than we ever thought we could spend; but two years later she received her CPA and was immediately earning more than I was. It never bothered me, but I think that's when her attitude started changing. She prodded me to work harder and more hours, to impress my employer and get promotions. All that said to me was that we would have less time together.
"We managed to produce two wonderful children, however; and although she worked a lot, my wife was the best mother she could be. But their care became primarily my responsibility. I loved reading to them; and even kept a journal for awhile. The more my wife succeeded, the more she pushed me to better myself in my job. But it only made me think further about writing. Soon I'd pulled out all my old stories, and started writing new ones.
"Then my company decided to close their facilities here and move me to Denver with a big promotion. I thought my wife would be proud of me and willing to relocate; but she adamantly refused to leave her job. I took that opportunity to suggest that I stay home with the children and continue my writing. Although I knew she didn't consider my writing of any value, she liked the part about the children, and agreed. I should have realized, though, that she would never respect me if she earned all the money, as she equated income with success. That attitude continued as she started nagging me to get something published and earn some money, despite our present financial stability. I tried to explain it would be a gradual, learning process, but she didn't understand. And as we argued more, she seemed to go out of her way to make me feel worthless, and eventually had the kids believing it.
"The big blowup came after I'd been home about four years. I had become less and less productive, because her disparagement had taken away any belief I'd had in myself. One night in a rage, she took all my compositions and threwthem in the fireplace, repeatedly pushing me back as I watched handfuls of my life in words go up in flames. I was devastated and just snapped. I took my car and left; and I never went back.
"I found a cheap apartment and minimum wage job, feeling demeaned by both. I was in a deep depression and let her do whatever she wanted, so got almost nothing in the divorce settlement. The cash I did get was spent quickly as I tried to make ends meet. Finally it ran out, my car died, I got evicted, and have called the streets of Orlando "home" for the last five years. I've felt too ashamed to even see my kids since I left. All I have is my writing; and I've slowly built back up a belief in myself that I'm good enough to be published."
Reilly sat back, coming out of the unfocused stare he had adopted as he related his story. Margaret was watching him, chewing on her lip, tears falling down her cheeks.
"Reilly, I've read some of your work and know you will make it one day. Please keep your faith, because you are a great writer and you will prove it to the world."
"Thank you Margaret, and thanks for listening." Without another word, his face expressionless, Reilly left the diner and walked away carrying everything he owned with him.