The Man Who Slept in My Shed

Ray was a homeless alcoholic who was also my friend

Photograph by Getty Images

About five years ago, I was separated from my husband and wasn’t looking for male company. That is, of course, when I met Ray. He was right in my wheelhouse: sensitive, artistic and had a wonderful way with words.

I’m embarrassed to admit that he picked me up at the local hardware store where he worked. He was slight of build with curly brown hair and green eyes and he helped me with my purchase of screws (no jokes, please). He asked if I wanted to meet him when he got off work. My husband had my daughter that night, so I agreed.

When I met him at the local coffee house, he was rather shy and hesitant. I figured he had overreached with his initial bravado and I resigned myself to friendship. Ray did become my friend and over that summer and fall, spent many a night on my porch, stargazing and having deep talks about life.

He had rather a hard luck story. He was, and I guess will always be, an alcoholic. Naturally soft spoken and sweet natured, he could (and alas, would) rage when drinking. He had lost a pretty, young wife and a whole bunch of daughters and could no longer venture back to his home state of Oregon, due to an outstanding DUI.

During that summer and autumn, I watched as he tumbled off the proverbial wagon into full-fledged drunkenness. He stopped showing up at work, which resulted in him losing his job and then he lost his apartment. Unbeknownst to me, he would then show up late in the evening and depart the next morning from my storage unit — a fact I was made aware of when I sent my eight-year-old daughter Annabelle down to the unlocked shed one night for some lightbulbs. Ray was laid out on blanket, fast asleep.

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She was as shocked as I was. I didn’t know what to say to him, but I nevertheless put a pillow and some extra blankets down there. I had no personal history with drinking (coming from a long line of abstemious Jews). I fed him and listened and tried to advise, but after a while, he got upset with me. He went back to AA meetings where tired souls would gather each morning to drink decent coffee (this is California after all) and smoke cigarettes.

He was so magical when he wasn't drinking; so deep and wise and funny. And I told him so. I told him he was welcome in my home when he was sober, but it was upsetting to Annabelle when he was on a drunken rant. He hung his head in acknowledgement.

It was fun to tell people about Ray, who lived in my storage shack for several months. Most of the time, knowing of my bleeding heart proclivities and the hippie town in which I lived, people would just nod. A few might have even wished they had a homeless man living in their storage units to provide both levity and pathos to their lives.

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One evening, Ray came to my door and asked me for a ride. He was on his way to Chicago to appear on an exploitative TV show that was pretty much like Jerry Springer, but even more low rent, if you can believe that. It seemed that one of his pretty daughters had written to the show and told them her sad tale of daddy abandonment. The four daughters wanted their day in the court of public opinion.

I looked for the show on my television listings for a couple of months and then there it was. Ray looked so small and contrite while his daughters tearfully castigated him for his crimes of drunkenness. The show’s host really went to town on what a horrible, irresponsible father he had been and how he had lost the love and respect of his family. Ray again just hung his head.

A few weeks later, I asked him why he had put himself in the way of this abuse. He said it was his only chance to see the girls and he felt he had to atone for his sins. Eventually, when my husband Eric moved back into our house with his gear, he politely told Ray he would need the storage unit back.

Sometime after that, Ray decided to move back to his home state. He served out his jail time for his DUI and got back into the lives of his kids. I still talk with him, now and then.

Tags: friendship