We only knew him as Lou.


About 10 years ago, we became aware of this guy walking his dog around our neighborhood and in the nearby park in Providence. We noticed he walked a lot. As folks do, sooner or later we said hello and swapped names.

He was Lou. He wore cut off jeans (circa 1969), big work boots, and no shirt, no matter what the weather. He said he was a member of the Blackfoot tribe and it seemed plausible when we heard him talk to his dog in a strange, guttural language. His voice was gruff. Many times, he’d been drinking.

I’m about 10 years older than Lou. In spite of that, he occasionally said in a timid sort of way, “Ma’am, you are a handsome woman” grinning in a missing a few teeth sort of way. No come-on, just sweet.

As time wore on, we learned he’d been a ‘sharpshooter’ in the service. He told us that he’d been shot in the head, fallen out of a plane, and done things he couldn’t forget; we wondered if his all night walks were the result of such an occupation. His family had disowned him, calling him a monster. He was living in the woods, unhoused. In spite of his troubles, he was a friendly, albeit quirky kind of guy.

Years went by and we noted that we hadn’t seen him in a long time. He had finally gotten veteran housing a few streets away. Then, about 5 months ago, a neighbor told us that Lou needed help getting his dog outside for the last pee/poop of the day. His body had taken a beating his whole life and he was in constant pain. He was doing double duty with alcohol and pain meds. He couldn’t trust his legs to take the dog outside that last time of the day. So we said Ok, we could do that.

Of course, this wasn’t the only thing that Lou needed. Soon it was Yes, Ok, I’ll take you to the doctor appointment. And, Sure, I’ll pick up your groceries. And, We’d be happy to take you to Walmart, etc. He was so isolated that he was always pleased when we showed up, even if it was just for a few minutes. He was touchingly grateful for the help and human contact.

Now that we were seeing him every evening, we could see in the last month that he was going downhill fast, becoming more and more incapacitated. We talked to him about slowing down the drinking and smoking. To no avail. We suggested he’d be safer in a retirement home with other people around to help him when he fell. No luck. Nor did we expect any. Lou was determined to live (and die) his way. And he did.

On May 8th, his old friends found him unconscious on the floor. He was rushed to the hospital and put on life support. Turns out, he had instructed his 2 faithful friends of 15 years, his estranged sister, and us, that that was exactly what he wanted: to fall so hard that he would hit his head and never wake up.

A day later, his heart stopped and he was gone.

I miss you, Lou, and your scrappy little dog. You were a kind, gentle, and complicated man to whom the Fates were not very kind.