"And everybody knows almost doesn't count."
I was walking into Grady this morning and ran into this man who appeared to be unstably housed. His clothes were somewhat soiled and his coarse hair was kind of matted. The dank odor from his body greeted me long before he did.
"Hey there, sir," I said as I passed him. Not particularly small talky. Just polite, you know?
"Good morning, miss lady." He pointed at the sticker on my chest and nodded hard. "I see you voted. Good job."
And you know? You'd think that this very light teaser statement wouldn't have been the least bit perplexing. I mean, this whole week has been filled with people and their ultra proud lapel/chest swag followed by their obligatory post vote sticker selfies on social media. I can't even count how many thumbs ups and fist bumps I gave to the residents, students and nurses I saw who'd voted--and could prove it via that coveted sticker.
But this? This was different. It was nine something in the morning and we were outside in front of the hospital. It didn't take a Phi Beta Kappa to realize that this guy hadn't just slipped from out of his house or just pulled up in a late model car and had just fed the meter.
So I wondered. Like, is it even appropriate to say back to him what I say to everyone? I decided to stop overthinking it.
"Did you already vote?"
He pointed at his chest. "Who me?"
I stopped walking and faced him. "Yeah. You."
He curled his mouth and sucked in a deep breath. "Naw, man. I wasn't able to vote."
And yeah. I could tell that his life was mad complicated and that nothing at all was simple for him right about now. I mean, it was clear that things like where exactly will I sleep or what exactly will I eat were being given priority over getting to the polls on this day. But here's the thing--he seemed genuinely bothered when he said that. He did.
"You said you couldn't vote? Why not?" I queried. I asked because I was curious, actually. Like, was it that he was registered but needed a way to the poll? Or was it that he had no idea what site his assigned one? Or something altogether different? I mean, maybe it was something I could help find a solution to fix.
"Oh, so I'm homeless and I don't have no identification. To be honest, I did for real try to get registered one day when they was out here registering folks in front of Grady over the summer. I ain't have no license or no ID card and I don't have no address. So yeah. It was messed up."
"Awww man. Seems like there should have been something they could have done."
"Well they tried, you know what I'm saying? Like, the lady who was there she was going hard with me and trying to help. Pulled out her phone and called a whole slew of folks. She was determined! But we hit the wall when I start trying to figure out how to get some ID. You got to have a birth certificate and I don't have no way to get one."
"Are you a Grady baby?"
"Naww. I wish. This would be easy if I was born at Grady. But I'm not from Atlanta. I'm from the country. And, my peoples, they not alive no more or they in a place where I can't get they help. So I couldn't get no ID and I couldn't get registered. They was gonna let me use a shelter address so it wasn't that. But you got to have some way for them to know you who you say you is."
"Damn." That's what I said. And I was just kind of looking at him with one eye squinted like maybe some super, duper ah hah moment would fly down from the heavens and suddenly create a solution to let this man vote on this day in this election. "I'm real sorry to hear all that."
"Yeah. Me, too. I wanted to be able to have some say in all this stuff. 'Specially the judges and stuff. 'Cause like, the president help determine who gonna be the top judges. And from what I see, the president either somebody who give a damn about people that's losing or they don't give no piece of a damn. I want to pick the person who seem like they'd stop and talk to somebody like me."
"I feel you."
"You voted for her or ol' boy?"
I smiled at his reference to the two candidates this way. "Let's see. I voted for the one that would stop and talk to somebody like you."
He laughed when I said that and gave me a thumbs up. "That's what's up."
"I'm gonna try to find out what a person in your situation could do in the future. You should've been able to vote, man. I hate hearing that."
"Yeah. 'Cause it seem like a lot of people that hate us coming right on out with it and they giving the ones who don't care one way or the other about people like me a wave to ride on with 'em. I be having nightmares of it going the wrong way by just one vote and me feeling like it was mine."
I paused and thought about what he said. "Wow. That's kind of deep."
"But true, though."
I bit my cheek and nodded slowly. My team was waiting and I knew I had to get going. I smiled once more and reached out to shake his hand. "Alright then, sir."
"Alright then, miss lady. And thanks for voting."
I picked up my pace and headed to the door. But before I did, I spun around and called out while walking backwards, "Next time, okay?"
Yeah, next time. That is, if there is one.
Happy Election Day.