My grandson picked out our spot on the beach. As I was spreading out our beach towels I caught a glimpse of the legs of the man sitting nearest to us. They were so swollen they looked as if they would pop. They were red and purple and covered in sores. I tried not to look but I couldn't help it. It looked to me like he was healing from a burn and I didn't think he should be out in the sun. Every couple minutes I would glance over at him and I wondered about his story.
While I buried Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures in the sand, the man received a phone call. He answered in English and then started speaking fluent French to the caller. He took turns between the two languages but I definitely overheard him say "Who needs Gay Parie when you have Clearwater!" He also told his friend that the sun was helping to heal his legs.
When his phone call ended, the man turned his attention to us. My grandson was being so doggone cute pretending to be surprised by treasures of Ninja Turtles in the sand. He struck up a conversation and soon my questions were answered. (I hope he didn't catch me looking.)
Charlie was born in Brooklyn, NY and placed in an orphanage where he remained for four years until an aunt came to get him. He lived with this aunt until he turned 18 then moved to Paris, France where he spent his next 45 years. In France he met and married a woman and raised a beautiful family. He said she is a great woman and the best mother he could have asked for to his now grown children. He opened a restaurant in Paris which provided a lucrative career but very little family time for 30 years. His restaurant offered banquets and catering and he spent long hours on the job week after week, year after year. But life as he knew it was about to come to a screeching halt.
One night after a particularly long work week, Charlie closed up the restaurant and walked outside only to be struck down by a hit and run driver. He suffered major injuries in the accident and spent the majority of the next 3 years in the hospital undergoing many surgeries including bone replacements and skin grafts. He had to give up his business and adapt to this new life of pain and bed rest and physical therapy. Charlie grew stronger and was able to start walking with crutches so when his aunt called him in November of 2016 he left France to come back to the U.S.
Charlie's aunt had long since moved to Florida to live out the rest of her days in the sunshine. She is now 95 years old and in very bad health. Charlie wanted to spend the Holidays with her in case they were her last. It was a struggle but he flew to Florida and went to her home in the St. Petersburg area. Charlie spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with her and is still staying with her as we progress into the new year.
He loves the warmth and the friendliness that he has found in this state. He says he won't go back. Charlie told me that he will never be confined by the "walls" of a city again. He feels so free when he stands, supported by crutches, in the ocean. He is actively searching for affordable housing and spends his days visiting the local beaches and making new friends. I love to hear stories of victory after defeat. I am so happy that amidst all the anguish this man has faced, he has found his paradise and freedom and happiness. I pray for continued healing and many years of peace to come for him.
Written in 2017