Ace of Hearts

by Belinda Munoz on December 12, 2011

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Ace was a mainstay in my neighborhood. He often sat just outside my front door on a small patch of cemented pavement covering the spot where a cherry tree once stood.

He was a little bit goth, a little bit rock and roll and a lot unkempt in appearance. He had reddish hair and fair skin, gaunt, about 30s or early 40s, dressed mostly in black. Keeping up a presentable look was of little concern to him; often making the uninitiated folks uneasy, preferring to wear the hood of his coat no matter what the weather was. His suspicious look belied a soft-sounding voice and a friendly manner.

Some of the neighbors weren’t too keen on Ace because of his situation. He often slept on the streets and didn’t have a home.

Day after day, I would leave the house and he’d greet me good morning, or I’d come home and he’d give me a friendly nod. It was comforting to see him all those times. In an ironic way, Ace’s presence came to signal home for me.

He rarely asked me for anything. If I had an opportunity to offer him some small thing, he graciously accepted.

But Ace wasn’t satisfied with simply being on the receiving end of the gift-giving ritual. Once, he gave gifts to my husband and son, purchased at the local five and dime. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that husband would receive a gift from anyone; he is an exceptionally great guy. But the very act of a homeless man spending what little money he had to offer a token that affirms friendship was unexpected and in and of itself a wonderful gift. This gesture helps me believe that humanity has the capacity to transcend its/our fragility and flaws.

One morning, a police officer was interrogating Ace outside our door. Alarmed by the exchange, I confronted the cop. “Is there a problem here, officer?” It took me a second to realize that, to the neighbors who phoned the police, Ace will always be the bad guy in this scenario. They did not want him spending all that time in their line of vision even though his “crime” was simply to linger on a small patch of friendly territory — a temporary respite to glimpse peace in an embittered existence.

Months passed after that incident and our sightings of Ace became less frequent. We would run into him as we walked about our busy neighborhood abuzz with locals and tourists, and we’d exchange quick hellos. He never sat outside our door again.

Ace died during Thanksgiving weekend. He eventually got off the streets but suffered health complications. The news came from a neighbor who asked if we wouldn’t mind being named in his obituary. We were all honored to be mentioned.

As a friend, I could have done more for Ace but I hesitated because I was afraid (of what, I’ll never be certain). I thought many times about making him a bowl of soup on those cold nights, or letting him sleep in a spare bed, neither of which I ever did. But somehow, I know his laidback California upbringing wouldn’t have wanted me to dwell on what I failed to do for him.

Instead, he’d probably rather hear me say that when my family takes a walk in our neighborhood, we sense his absence and wish he were still here with us.

His friendship was a gift worth more than he could ever know. He is deeply missed. RIP, Ace.

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Why do some gifts seem to be worth a hell of a lot more when they’re gone?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anisi from Santa Fe December 12, 2011 at 8:30 am

Beautiful. I think that’s all I can say. And thank you, again.

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2 Talon December 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm

I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend, Belinda.

“As a friend, I could have done more for Ace but I hesitated because I was afraid (of what, I’ll never be certain).” — your candid honesty is so touching. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend, Belinda.

Yes, so often in life and loss there is that feeling of “we don’t know what we’ve got until its gone”. Isn’t it amazing that the ripple effect of a person’s life continues even after they have left this earth?

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3 ayala December 12, 2011 at 3:22 pm

This is beautiful, Belinda. I am so sorry for the loss of Ace. Sometimes we have an unexplained connection with someone, that can be very special. It speaks volumes to me that he thought to give your husband and son gifts. He was special and I believe that he saw what a special family you are. It is amazing the ripple effect of a person’s life after they have left this earth. Sorry again. xo.

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4 brian miller December 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm

this is beautiful…and felt…i have a great affinity for the downtrodden and the homeless…i could have been there…and often spend free time with them at the soup kitchen or shelter…they all have a story…i miss Ace and i did not even know him…he wasa special person…i hope he knew that in passing…

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5 Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri December 13, 2011 at 5:00 am

I am sorry for your loss. I recall you talking about him when we had coffee.
I believe you would appreciate the book, Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. This is a non-fiction account of the intersected between a art dealer and a homeless man.
Rest in Peace Ace.

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6 TheKitchenWitch December 14, 2011 at 9:37 am

WOW. This blew me away.

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7 Charlotte Rains Dixon December 15, 2011 at 11:04 am

Oh wow, this is a beautiful tribute to Ace. Made my day, thank you. And in reading it, I think I’d have reacted as exactly as you did. Through this post Ace is having a big impact on the world, and I’m sure he’d have been very pleased about that.

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8 Sara December 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Whoa…this one really touched me. We all people who cross through our lives, who touch us in ways we don’t quite understand, but leave us wiser for having come into our lives. Ace sounds like one of those people in your life. I appreciate you sharing this story with your readers.

Your words say it all to me. They sum up what these upcoming holidays are really about — people and caring for people: “But the very act of a homeless man spending what little money he had to offer a token that affirms friendship was unexpected and in and of itself a wonderful gift. This gesture helps me believe that humanity has the capacity to transcend its/our fragility and flaws.” Through your words, Ace is giving us all a gift.

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9 Elle December 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I’m certain that Ace would be so proud of the beautiful words you have for him. xx

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