I got an email this morning letting me know that a friend of mine died in Key West a few weeks ago. The email told me he was found dead on a park bench in Key West. The cops said he died of an accidental overdose.
I don’t know how much of that is true. I do know rumors on the street can be cruel sometimes. I also know they can be true – once you’ve rubbed away the layers of dirt and gossip covering up the facts. I also know that Charlie dying on a park bench of an accidental overdose fits in with what I do know to be true about my friend.
I met Charlie in May of 2010. He and his road dog Bob, came up from Key West to escape the scorching hot temperatures and enjoy some cool breezes in the mountains of western North Carolina. I had seen Charlie many times as I passed through Pritchard Park. One day he and I got to talking and a friendship developed.
While, like many homeless people, Charlie was reluctant at first to share his story, once he got to know me and knew he could trust me, his story came tumbling out. Our common love? Photography.
Charlie had been a respected executive with Kodak in Rochester, NY. When the love of his life died he sought help for depression and was put on meds. He was always a social drinker but the pain and void that now occupied his heart kicked his drinking into high gear. It apparently was this combination of chemicals that stopped his heart one day on a park bench in Key West.
I don’t know much else about Charlie. Was he in the military? Did he have kids? What was it he wanted out of life? Maybe someone knew but I certainly don’t.
What I do know is that Charlie and Bob loved to set on a bench in Pritchard Park for hours. Just like the two old farts they were, they’d philosophize for hours with each other – and anyone else that would stop and chat for more than a minute. Always quick with a smile and a joke Charlie’s guideline for living was easy – Keep It Simple.
It was this “Keep It Simple” outlook that turned Charlie off of Asheville Homeless Network. Where once this was a great, grassroots organization it had deteriorated into a bureaucratic mess by the time Charlie visited a couple times. Turned completely off by the “Roberts Rules of Orders” and control freaks that have descended on the group, Charlie was more content to mingle quietly with others out in the park.
There wasn’t any televised coverage of Charlie’s funeral. There was no mention in the paper. Out of 300 million people in this country very few even knew that Charlie ever lived. But he touched lives and he touched hearts. And he never stopped touching hearts until his was stilled one day on a park bench in Key West Florida.