In Memory of Billy

Sometimes when I go birding with the Duval Audubon Society, someone in the group will start picking up trash. I always thought that this was a nice gesture so, one day, I decided to quit birding early and pick up trash at Spoonbill Pond.

I tried not to be judgmental as I worked, but it was difficult after the dozenth beer can. It would seem that drinking really does lower one’s inhibitions – including a reluctance to spoil a beautiful place. It didn’t take long to fill a 13-gallon garbage bag. And afterwards, I had a bit of a high. It felt good to help a place I love.

Today I decided to do a one-man community clean-up in my own neighborhood. The entryway to my neighborhood is bounded by swampy woods, and over time trash has collected in the forest.

It was a cool day, so it seemed ideal for tromping through leaf-litter, since the chance of stepping on snakes or yellow-jacket nests was low. Recent winds have also helped to dry out some of the swampier areas, although the ground was still soft and it was necessary to maneuver between rivulets.

Unexpectedly, I got a glimpse into homelessness. It looked as though someone had been living in the woods. There were full trash bags stashed behind bushes. I got the impression that someone had gone through the trashcans in the neighborhood, looking for Styrofoam containers and unfinished take-out.

American Crows do the same thing, by the way. I’ve seen a small group watching and learning from a more experienced bird. The sage crow chose translucent bags containing Styrofoam containers and take-out boxes. It then proceeded to puncture sizeable holes over possible targets.

Innumerable drink containers had been discarded, once holding soda, juice, and water. There was an equal number of beer cans, beer bottles, and liquor flasks. And among these, a single unbroken wine glass.

Smaller Walmart-sized bags filled with unknown items had been covered with leaves. The disguise looked purposeful. I suppose when you’re homeless, it’s important to hide your presence.

I found a stash of unusable clothes, also hidden, soaked through with mud. There were also several discarded back-packs, one with a broken strap. I suspect the items once belonged to Billy.

I didn’t know Billy personally, but I know that he was found face-down and dead alongside the road. Through my husband, I learned that the police were called, and the body was collected. However, Billy won’t be counted on any death roll because homeless deaths aren’t recorded.

One neighbor saw him bathing in one of the detention ponds, and thought he might have died from chemicals applied for mosquito control. But after getting a glimpse into his life, I suspect it was exposure combined with alcoholism and a forced diet of half-spoiled junk food.

I collected a dozen lawn bags of debris today, and discovered the memorial erected to honor Billy’s passing. A few items left at his marker had deteriorated, and these I removed. One Christmas ornament had been blown to the ground, and this I restored.

Close to the marker was an old backpack. This I left behind. It may have been the last possession that Billy owned; the last thing he’d touched. It didn’t seem right to take it from him now.

Published by cafsamsel

Carol Fullerton-Samsel is a nearly-native Floridian who lives with her husband of 25 years and three rescue animals. She is a [mostly] vegan, alcohol-free, [relatively] caffeine-free, Buddhist writer and day-hiker. Her novel, The Clones of Langston, was a Reader’s Favorite medalist and a New Century Writer Awards finalist. It tells the story of cloned workers who are abandoned to form their own society. As the facility housing them erodes, they discover a challenging new world—our own.

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