His name was Sebastian Cole.
His friends called him Bas ‘cause that’s what his brother Wilson called him. The three syllables were too much for his little brother. Bas was all he could handle. It stuck.
Others called him Sebastard ‘cause that’s what kids do.
His Mama called him Baby, but she called all her kids that. It was nothing special. The neighborhood kids who filtered in and out. The foster kids who showed up for a month or a year. They were all Baby. ‘Cause everybody was her baby, her love tending them and protecting them.
His Papa called him nothing. He wasn’t there.
He played little league for a year or two. Basketball in the 8th grade. Nothing after that. His Mama told him schooling was what mattered.
It started to unravel for Bas just before he graduated. Something happened. A girl maybe. A poor score on a test. It coulda been anything. But he had a funk. Missed school for a couple of weeks, barely got back in time for the ceremony.
It aint nothin’ his Mama told him. You’ll be just fine. College’ll be in a few months. You’ll get right with yourself.
Sure Mama, he replied. And he thought that. Really thought that. He signed up for classes at the community college. Got a job at McDs.
Bas lost the job a few months later when he was found muttering to himself. Back by the sink. Staring at the wall. When his manager asked him what was up, he spun around and spat at him. Bas told him he wasn’t no monkey.
Truth is, after no more than a handful of weeks, he stopped going to class. It wasn’t for him. He began to wonder if anything was for him.
He was arrested for the first time when he was nineteen. Bas jaywalked and talked back to the officer who wrote him up. White boys jaywalked there all the time he said, never got no citations. The officer said, Boy, you gotta problem. Bas didn’t back down. He spent the night in a jail cell.
The voices started shortly after that. Telling him to do this. Do that. Some days he never got out of bed. Some weeks he never left the house.
His Mama kept asking, Baby, you okay? He had nothing for her. Just leave me alone, he’d say.
She did until she couldn’t anymore.
You need to get on outta here, Sebastian Cole, she yelled one day.
So he got on outta there.
Found a spot under an overpass. Found a ragged blanket. Got a shopping cart from the market. Scrounged for things. This and that.
Bas spent his days going from soup kitchen to soup kitchen. Or just sitting in the park, letting the sun warm him while his mind went to war.
Come. Stay for a bit. We’ll have a room for you tonight, they’d say to him at the kitchens.
Bas would smile some times and say, no thank you. Other times, he might growl, maybe even raising a fist before stomping away, cart in tow.
He got arrested again. Kicked out of a spot for illegal camping, he raged at the officer, pushed him back. Cuffs slapped on, he showed up at county jail with some bruises that weren’t there moments before.
A few years went by. The voices got louder. The streets harder. Sometimes he thought he saw his Mama on the street. Bas would approach her, asking for help. She’d turn away saying, I can’t help you. I’m sorry. Sometimes, she’d give him a dollar or two.
One day, Bas found a gun behind a trash bin. He released the clip. Saw there were two bullets.
The gun went buried in the middle of his cart. Beneath the old blanket and the bag of recycling.
Sebastian Cole found one of his favorite spots that night. Where a vent spread warm air and he could curl up against it and stay warm. In the middle of the night the voices rose to a crescendo and woke him. Get the gun, they wailed in his head. Get the gun.
He did. Holding it in his hand. Looking at the glimmer of the street lights reflecting off its cold, black steel.
Sebastian Cole’s final moments were spent sitting on a concrete ledge, under pine trees that had stood guard over the old state building for almost one hundred years. His Mama wasn’t there to protect her Baby. The voices told him he had no choice. He held the gun to his mouth.
This morning when I got to work, there was police tape cordoning off the west end of our building. There was a body there. A man who appears to have committed suicide. What else could it be with a shot to the head and a gun by his side. When I was walking to my car at the end of the day, I decided to give him a story. It’s the least I could do. I actually hope that this is not his story. I hope that somewhere along the way he had more happiness than this story suggests, but it’s hard to imagine if he really was a suicide victim.
That’s just brilliant, period.
Fiction pivoting off real life through imagination, sensitivity and insight. Brill, thanks for doing that for that person there. Humanity.
I don’t know how much you know about my writing life, but I only started about 10-12 years ago. I started writing a novel. Towards the end of that effort, I started exploring short stories. The very first short story I ever wrote was something similar to this. I thought of those old Latino men who push ice cream carts around trying to make a few dollars selling frozen treats. I thought I’d give one of them a story. Only I changed it to a younger Latino man. I really liked what I came up with and have liked the idea ever since. Of, as you say pivoting fiction off of real life through imagination. It’s an idea that has always intrigued me –giving stories to those people we come across during the day. Maybe it’s a way for me to get back into this thing a little more regularly, a little more deeply. There are plenty of characters in downtown Sacramento that could fuel my imagination. Thank you for your kind words about this effort.
Great writing, sending healing thoughts to the real person, the character and the writer, that’s a brutual thing to be exposed to. I think using writing in this way is brilliant thing to do. I bet it helped.
I’m blown away by this!
Just brilliant 🙂
Thank you. I appreciate the feedback.
What an excellent talent you have. I read to the end. But I do with most of your work. It reminded me of things I haven’t thought about in a long time. But then that is not unusual with things you write. They draw me in. I am there.
Years ago, in my twenties when I worked at the hospital, in the Psych Ward there were a few case where I was allowed to see true mental illness. Not just the ones who had better insurance than the others. But the ones who heard voices. The ones who were perscribed Thorazine. And the ones who came from a good home were so sad. It was like watching your loved one fall down a hole.
Thanks for reading and for your compliments of this little story. Just something I felt I had to do. Because I work downtown, I see a lot of homeless people and a lot of them talk to themselves and to the voices they hear. It’s very sad.
I read a terribly sad story (true) about Anne Deveson, an Australian author/journalist, and her son who developed schizophrenia. He died or committed suicide, can’t remember which – but it was a similar story of a mother who just couldn’t do anything to save him. Worth reading if you can find it. The worst thing is I think your story is true for quite a lot of homeless people. Why don’t we do better? (and nice writing!)
Thank you. There are a lot of homeless in the area around my office. I try to be patient and considerate of them because I have no idea why they came to the place they are. Far too many of them have very visible signs of mental illness and it amazes me and saddens me that we can do no better than to have them living on the streets.
Wow!! Powerful writing. A very heart wrenching subject handled in a caring story. I like that you gave the man a story. He was remembered and that is more than many homeless people will have get. You are good guy, my friend 🙂
Thank you. Every now and then I capture lightning in a bottle. This may have been one of those times.
It is! It is!