Boris is a rarely-medicated, paranoid schizophrenic who spends his days in Madison Square Park. On one of his bad days, he is easily the scariest homeless person I have ever seen, complete with his facial tics (from too many psychotrophic drugs) and endless tirades against so many unseen demons. He is someone I walk very quietly by. I will often leave a sandwich a few park benches away and then make some noise to get his attention and point out the food and then walk quickly away. I seldom photograph him as I like to get a person's permission first and he is rarely coherent (at least when I am around) I am also scared of his potential reaction. I don't usually fear people, but Boris was frightening and erratic. The picture on the left is Boris on an "okay" day. The other day, I was walking by him with my knapsack when he abruptly cleared his throat and pointed at me. I turned to him slowly and he beckoned me over with a shaky finger. I can't tell you how I was feeling at that moment. He then spoke to me for the very first time: "You're here a lot. Always taking pictures. Do you have your camera? "Yes" "I need a picture. Could you take a picture of me? It's for my grandaughter. I want her to know I'm mostly alright." So we took pictures. Many, many pictures. And talked. About why I take pictures all the time. About him. The shelter where he stays. How people steal his medicine thinking it'll get them stoned. But mostly about his grandaughter, Emily who he hasn't seen in 6 years. I walked away with tears in my eyes. Feeling honored and graced. I went back the next day hoping Boris would be there (and fearful that even if he was, that he would be back in his usual "bad place." But he wasn't.) I brought him a few of my picks printed out but had the entire set on my laptop. I sat with him and my laptop and let him choose the pictures he liked and wanted to send to his granddaughter. He laughed; hoarsely and painfully, as if it had been a very long time between laughs. He said his hands shook too much and could I help him with a letter. I then told him I would print everything out and take him to a post office but he said no. That he didn't know where he'd be. We ended up e-mailing it to his niece who has custody of his granddaughter. Her address was neatly printed on a scrap of paper in an ancient book stuffed with countless scraps of paper, clippings and old letters.
I went to shake his hand when Boris opened his arms wide. What was I too do? Of course I hugged him as the morning crowds walked through the park wondering what was going on. And then I hugged him again (my tears came by surprise...to him and to me) I told him as I tell you all, that this was a magnificent and incredibly special thing he let me do. And that I would remember this experience forever.