The Ugly Duckling
By Edward Cullen
Since the beginning of August, I have had the honor of being a part of an amazing community. By choice, I set out to incorporate myself into a place that so few of us could ever begin to comprehend. What is it to be homeless? To live on the streets with no one to depend on. To have people pass by you every single day, look down upon you, and be disturbed or disgusted by your misfortunes.
I saw a traffic camera video of a homeless man getting hit by a car while capable human beings did nothing to help and that made me reflect on my life. What is the reality of living every day on the streets and not even being helped out by your fellow man? So with the permission of my editor, who probably thought I was a tad crazy after I explained to him what I wanted to do, I had the opportunity to go and live among the homeless community. To forge for food and face the struggles of finding shelter day in and day out. I had only the clothes I was wearing and not a cent in my pockets as I set out for Skid Row.
Those first few days had me wondering if maybe my editor was right, maybe I was crazy. I wanted to give in and return to the comforts of my own bed and a full stomach, but then I was quickly reminded why I must make this sacrifice. Unlike me, the people who I had met didn't have the easy out of giving up and returning to a warm bed.
I would see children living in broken down cars, having to do homework by a street lamp. I would become friends with veterans who risked their lives in combat so that I could remain free and safe. I would meet women who were abused in unconscionable ways and now had nowhere else to turn.
The truth is that due to recent events, such as the recession and housing crisis, more and more people are finding themselves out of a home. The truth is that more than fifty million people living in the United States are now living below the poverty line.
It's my theory that one of the reasons that so many people are ignorant to the struggles of the homeless community is due to the fact that in reality most people are truly ignorant. You believe that since there are government programs in place to help shelter, clothe, and feed homeless people that it is sufficient enough, but you are all wrong.
I could go on and on about all of the amazing human beings I had the honor of meeting these past few months but I have decided to write this article from the perspective of one of your own. A person who has been fortunate enough to never have gone a day without food. A person who was ignorant to the struggles of the everyday man until I met her.
Isabella Swan, daughter of Charles Swan of Swan Enterprises, came crashing into my life when I was two months into my social experiment. I was begging on a street corner next to a fancy little restaurant when I was relocated by Miss Swan and her friends because I was "ruining their ambiance." It was later, when Miss Swan walked to her car, that we officially met.
I asked her if she would mind helping me out as I raised my dirty soda cup up in her direction. First, she was confused, wondering why I would need help from her. Then she started quoting words from her father stating, "…one should always help themselves before…" Fortunately for Mr. Swan, I never did hear the rest of that credo as I couldn't help but engage into a conversation with this poor ignorant girl, hoping for some enlightenment with my experiment.
It was then that I knew that this was the perfect example of why I had spent two hard months on the street. If I could reach even one person like Isabella Swan, then maybe I could make a difference. Isabella even went so far as to tell me that the reason I was suffering on the streets was because of karma, and that if I was a better person in my next life then maybe I could come back with a better life.
Eventually, we parted ways, after a short debate, and I didn't think I would see her again. She was a classic all American privileged girl who never had to work a single day in her life. At the age of twenty-three, the only important business on her radar was what club she was attending later that evening or what expensive outfit she should wear.
My first impression of Isabella was that she was shallow and uneducated in the reality of the world. She called me "homeless dude", unwilling to learn my name. She always kept a distance from me and held her expensive designer purse tightly to her body, probably not afraid I would steal it, but knowing Isabella, more afraid that my stench or dirt would defile it. However, she was full of surprises that taught me that it was wrong for me to judge a book by its overly priced cover.
When I next met Isabella, she sought me out to tell me how she had given a homeless friend of mine a thousand dollars. She was overcome one evening, after our first encounter, and compelled to gift a man a thousand dollars. I think to prove more to her own self that she was indeed a good person. I explained that I knew the man she gave that money to and then proceeded to tell her that the homeless man she had met had gone straight to the Horizons Food Kitchen to gift the money to the owners. Of course, Isabella was shocked and dismayed.
Why would someone who was struggling, like my friend, give a thousand dollars away when he could use that money to rent a motel room for a short while? He could feed himself for a very long time with that kind of money. But this is just one of the short stories I will share with you, because that man gave up the money to a good cause; a cause that he credits for his survival. This man, who I have been honored to befriend, had explained to me the ups and downs in his life. Horizons, was just one of the places that has been there for him. He doesn't complain about how the food can sometimes be bland. Or the fact that it's limited and the portions are small, in order to accommodate the more than five hundred people who show up daily.
I explained to Isabella Swan the reasons why someone in his place would feel compelled to give back, even when they have so little to give.
Which brings my story to Jacob Black.
Jacob Black, an actor and Hollywood bad boy who has recently been at the center of controversy with his numerous DUI arrests; the most recent resulting in an underage female passenger who was hurt in a car accident last week. How could he possibly fit into a story like this?
It was in my second encounter with Isabella that she disclosed to me of a bet she made with her friends. She had less than three months to meet and engage in a conversation with Jacob Black. Since I was aware of Jacob Black's past publicity tours included a stop at Horizons Food Kitchen for Thanksgiving, I made the suggestion that Isabella should volunteer her time at Horizons as a sure-fire way to win her bet. I never thought she would do it but, sure enough, she came and I found an opportunity to help teach her about real world problems.
It was shallow reasoning that may have led Isabella Swan to the soup kitchen, she went there to win a bet and meet a celebrity but at least she came and worked. More hours and more days than I would venture to say that the average person volunteers for in their lifetime. Serving two meals a day and sometimes up to three days a week, she was dedicated. I'm not going to say it was easy for her; she had to first learn how to do typical chores that she hadn't ever been exposed to.
More than once, I had to talk her into going back in when a situation would overwhelm her, but I saw the change start to happen. First, it was the comprehension that the resources at Horizons were limited. As much as Horizons would love to fill every stomach till it was full, that just isn't the reality. Isabella had to learn that even a hungry child doesn't get a full serving of fruit, because there isn't enough money to do so. I believe it was this moment that forced Isabella to look at money differently.
Up until this point, Isabella was happy living in a world of ignorance, but when that perfect bubble began to tear and she was finally exposed to harsh conditions that her fellow-man and woman were subjected to, she could no longer ignore the truth.
But this knowledge came with harsh consequences. Her friends couldn't understand this new change in Isabella. Isabella tried to explain to them what she had learned and instead, her best friend Lauren Malloy, daughter of George Malloy, co-founder of Streamline Technologies, told her that the only reason that her or her father gave money to charities was because they were great tax write-offs. Lauren found poor people to be pathetic.
Isabella was quickly losing everything she had become accustomed to. Friends, her ability to shop with abandon, and her social life. Which I imagine is one of the reasons why she came looking for me in skid row one rainy afternoon.
We had begun to get to know one another when she invited me to stay the night at her Beverly Hills mansion. At first, I thought I should reject her offer since the whole point of my experiment was to live amongst the homeless community, but Isabella was such a mess I felt that my efforts would be better spent helping her through this discovery.
I spent time off and on at her house. We would get into these fiery debates that I look back on and realize that it wasn't me she was fighting. I believe that Isabella was fighting everything that had upset or hurt her. She felt her father had abandoned her. She was angry at her lack of friends and upset with her past history with men.
It was my hope that, even though she had come to Horizons under debatable reasoning, she would have a chance to explore this self-refection and find that there was more to life then what she had been living, but I was wrong. So very wrong.
After the incident with Jacob Black's latest run-in with the law, he sought out Horizons to help do some damage control on his current negative publicity. He was to show up and plaster a smile on while helping to serve food. This was Isabella's chance to win her bet, what she had been waiting for this whole time. She could finally be done with the soup kitchen and all the people she had met along the way.
It took only a couple of moments spent with Jacob Black to make Isabella forget every stride she had made. A few sparkly smiles in her direction and the promise of a date turned Isabella Swan back into the Isabella Swan I had first met on that street corner on Wilshire. I tried to stop her from taking off with Jacob since I had known full well of his record and was worried she would only get hurt, but it turned into an ugly battle in the back of the Horizon's kitchen.
She made it quite clear to me that she was better than me and better than the homeless people she had served. That she deserved what she had been given and knew that she didn't belong in a place like Horizons.
After all the weeks I had spent with Isabella, I still have trouble comprehending what thoughts she could possibly be thinking. I had hoped that I could help change just one person's thinking, but what I learned from this experiment was that deep down people don't change.
Isabella will never truly become a Swan. She is nothing more than an ugly duckling whose heart and mind will remain shallow and incapable of empathy.
I walked back into Horizons after our fight and looked around at all the people I have been honored to meet. I was upset at Isabella's last words to me, but it is then that I realize that she is definitely not better than the people before me; they are better than her.
AN: First of all I wanted to give a great big THANK YOU to my new beta Robstenvampgirl. She has been great to work with; quick and efficient.
A great big THANK YOU to all of you who reviewed last chapter. I am overwhelmed by your words. I have never had so many reviews for a chapter since I have been on this site. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Next post will be Monday. I am so sad to see this story wrapping up. I have loved these characters and found writing for them easy and fun. I am so glad you have enjoyed them too.
Thank you again for reading and reviewing!