Ted had gotten into low-income housing when he bought an old hotel at the edge of downtown. It had one shower for 19 roomers, plus any street people who'd sneak in, and he was delighted when the Day Center opened nearby. For a while, he volunteered there.
We chatted about how we both derive some of our comfort from poor people. Ted collects their rent money. I collect their life stories. And so, perhaps, we owe something back.
Of the four, one is in jail now and one continues to be a Day Center regular. We'd each spotted one of the remaining two on the street but don't know for sure how they're doing.
A few days later, I saw fifth man we know in common, sitting at the bar at Hot Tomato in Fruita.
Since a 2012 arrest in Canada for possessing child pornography, "Mack" had been going through therapy in Grand Junction. As a registered sex offender, he had few choices of where to live. One of the places he stayed was a small house near the library carved up into rooms. It was also owned by Ted.
"Mack" was a regular at the Day Center for several years, often first in line for a shower when we opened. I'd lost track of him sometime after his name showed up in the paper.
Accompanied by his therapist, Mack had taken his computer into the Police Department and told them the hard drive had images of children on it. He asked if they could remove them and return the hard drive. Instead, he was arrested on a warrant for some other charges. It looked serious; Homeland Security gets involved with child porn investigations.
When Mack stopped showing up in the morning, I assumed the worst—that he'd gone to prison.
Now, there he was having a beer and looking pretty together. I asked a few a general questions about his welfare, skirting the past. He talked about coming back to the Day Center to volunteer—"to pay back for all those showers."
Later in the week, I did some research on the questions I didn't want to ask in public.
His case dragged but last year a jury found him not guilty on all counts. The judge sealed the arrest and criminal records in the case. Mack's real name was taken off the sex offender registry.
Then on Wednesday another familiar face appeared outside the Day Center.
Last April I made a list of mundane Day Center encounters that show "most of the day is not full of drama and sadness."
One item on the list was, "Curt inherited a house."
"Curt" rarely spoke around me but always made eye contact. His wry grin seemed permanent, as if his homelessness were a disguise he was letting me in on. He'd recently fathered a child with a woman who was also homeless and using for a long time and now was going through a program with Human Services so she could keep the boy.
That's when he left for California to deal with his father's estate, which was apparently substantial. Another man I figured I'd never see again.
But here he was, straddling a bike, his light stubble, knit billed cap and black apparel making him indistinguishable from your above-average coffee shop hipster.
I went out to say hello. He seemed confident, clear-eyed and talkative. He'd returned to see family, he said. He was buying his mother a house. And he had some other property where he had established a marijuana grow operation. From the way he told me, I assume it's a legal one, but just in case, he will remain "Curt."
"It's so much better than what I was doing before," he said, making a bud-trimming snip with his fingers.
What isn't, I wonder, remembering the two of them coming up from the river bottom, Curt in his coveralls, "Sharon's" belly bulging over stretched-out sweat pants.
The climb from zero to middle class remains quite a haul for a couple only a year ago living rough, and for a former sex offender whose last five years will remain a blank.
The people who knew and cared about them are still rooted along the river, at the Day Center and in the park a block away.
Does it help that we who remember are still here, or is it better we be left behind, our lips like sealed records?
I think of Ted with his remaining properties and me with my dwindling stories, watching them go by. We can only wave at their passage.
But right now, it's enough. It's enough to see Curt standing outside, measuring the distance he's come and to hear Sharon come up behind to ask if she can take a picture book for her son.
Of course, I say.
It's been waiting for you all this time.