(Interview 11/2010. Oil on linen, 40 ins. x 30 ins.)
I have no way of getting in touch with this subject. I can't ask how he's doing. I can't ask him if it's all right if I use his first name. So I won't use it.
I'm concerned. I have no reason to be any more concerned than when I first saw this stranger always on foot in our little town almost 12 years ago.
He was a conspicuous figure. His head hung like an overripe melon on a stick. He seemed to roam the streets...but that would be wrong. He moved with intention knowing exactly where he was going.
I saw him while on every errand -- the grocery store, the library, a gift shop. He was a familiar sight, a mundane fixture like the stop signs, the bend in the road.
I saw in his hunched shoulders and eyes transfixed on the concrete sidewalk that life was hard hard hard. Not just for him. The palpable wounds in his countenance were all our wounds. He was the archetype of the human condition. Humans suffer. I want it to stop.
Why this man ever agreed talk to me, I'll never know. I never asked him why. I was just thrilled he agreed to talk at all to a total stranger who approached him on the street. He is part of our human family. As fellow humans we should know.
Rereading this story, I see that I did not know enough to ask the right questions. The subject worked part-time at a grocery story and got some kind of insurance he said. What exactly? Did he really know? Was it even true? He did not have much of an income. Would he not have been a dual eligible with Medicaid supplementing his Medicare? Was his grocery store coverage a supplemental to his Medicare coverage? Or was he a partial dual-eligible because he was working. I'm not sure he would have known how the different agencies coordinated their efforts.
I have found that too many people in difficult circumstances don't really know how their benefits work but they learn very quickly what not to do to lose those life-saving benefits.
Artist Note (from 2010)
I had no idea what life story this subject would share. I had seen him around town and I just asked if he would tell me his story. What struck me most about his story was that a life could remain intact despite major problems. I believe local, state and federal agencies successfully worked together to help this man.
(from a 2010 interview)
Part-time Grocery Store Employee, Age 58, Insured
The subject graduated from college with a degree in sociology.
He worked as a probation officer for 6 years during which time he had insurance.
In 1984 the subject was diagnosed with manic depression (called bipolar disorder today). He experienced over 20 major and minor psychological episodes over the last 25 years, the most severe being a suicide attempt and an 8 year stretch of unemployment.
The subject believes his 10 year old son’s (now 30) departure to Virginia with his ex-wife triggered his problems. "When I lost my son, I felt I lost my life."
The subject checked himself into a state-run, long-term psychiatric facility after his son moved away. His bipolar disorder diagnosis qualified him for Medicare, a federal insurance program for people over 65 and the disabled.
Today, the subject takes 15 pills a day. He works part-time at a grocery store that provides private insurance. He continues to receive Medicare coverage for which he pays $80/month.
The subject also pays a $10 co-pay per prescription if the drugs are generic. He pays $330/month to live in a community residential and rehabilitation house subsidized by state and local taxes. He spends his free time in a local bookstore reading philosophy and psychology.