Street Bytes

Collection of Journal Entries From the Streets of Berkeley

For My Friend Reneé

Reneé was a very petite woman. To look at her you would think a strong wind would literally blow her into next week and yet her attitude seemed to belie her homeless situation, she was incredibly sweet and exuded this super positive attitude with a heart bigger than her whole body. She almost glowed with that positive energy that she wantonly gave to all those she befriended. Her magic potion were the hugs she gave to everyone she knew as she greeted them each day. The hugs were truly imbued with a warmth and affection that seemed to give the recipient a sense of forgiving relief from their lives if only just for that moment. I first noticed her at the MASC1 office as she worked her special magic meticulously across the room leaving a wave of smiles that followed her from one end of the room to the other.

She had a passion for football, that’s kinda how we first met, she was going on endlessly about her favorite team the Raiders. Knowing it would cause some response I blurted out “The Raiders suck,” which caused her to make an immediate beeline to my location and playfully chastise me up and down about the error in my comment in a playful, “Glad to meet you,” way. Afterward when I was feeling heartily admonished we hugged and a friendship was born.

Our special thing became betting on the entire football schedule each week, the bet was a quarter but neither of us ever collected. We would usually meet at the Main Library on the third floor and one of us would grab a sports page. Looking at that week’s schedule each of us would take turns picking the team that we thought would win each game. I must admit it was a lot of fun, even when each week I would bet against the Raiders, which would invoke a light-hearted punch to my arm with a feigned sneer from Reneé. I would often win the week’s bet by one game and as we added up our victories her one big loss would be the Raiders.

Reneé disappeared from the scene for a while, and I was wondering where she was, until a mutual acquaintance told me that she was in the hospital. Her frail emaciated body was suddenly betraying her and she was fighting for her life. Reneé’s friends and I passed on our prayers and best wishes to her and her husband, who kept us updated on her condition from time to time. Then suddenly she reappeared not looking the part of someone who was truly sick but not her old self either. Her hugs were less heartwarming and now she seemed to be wanting strength from the recipient instead of giving.

One Sunday a couple of weeks ago I was sitting in the MASC office watching the worst movie ever. I suddenly noticed someone standing extremely close to me and this is something that isn’t done there. I stood up ready to confront this person to discover that it was Reneé’s husband. Fighting back tears he informed me, and another friend of hers sitting next to me, that Reneé had died the night before. A loud “WHAT!” echoed from our mouths as we both took turns giving him a hug as a last fitting remembrance of his wife and our friend. A chorus of “What!” rang across the office as her husband selectively informed people who were close to her. I went outside and for the first time in a long while I cried.

As the days passed I kept crossing paths with the mutual acquaintance Reneé had introduced me to. We didn’t speak of the tragedy as each of us went on our way, until one day this week we were both drying clothes in the MASC laundry, he was almost finished and was in the act of folding. He broke the awkward silence by saying in a very nice and poetic way, “I guess you’re gonna have to find another person to bet football with next year?”. I looked at him and sighed saying, “Yeah but in tribute to her I’ll never bet against the Raiders again”. He smiled, finished gathering his clothes, and left and it was at that moment that I finally realized my very beautiful friend was gone.

1 Multi-Agency Service Center, 1931 Center Street, Berkeley, CA   -   Phone: (510) 843-3700,   Website:

~   Written by “A Voice From the Streets”

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