He had spent most of his life not knowing who he was or where he came from. He existed like a ghost, wandering around like someone who didn’t truly exist.
When the officer first approached him, familiar fear crept through him. Life was already a constant struggle. He had no idea what to expect now. Instead, the encounter would forever alter his life.
All the man ever knew was that he lived on the street. His memories had faded over time. The immense day-to-day struggles that came with being homeless were hard enough.
Not being able to remember who he was or how he ended up that way made a difficult situation infinitely worse. All he knew was what he could deduce. He must have been someone because the signs were there.
The man had an old, crummy guitar with him. He hoped that once he picked it, it would trigger some memories for him to cling to. Sadly it didn’t.
With the guitar in his hand, no great revelations about his past suddenly sprang to mind with the guitar in his hand. It felt familiar, but that was it. No back story, no memory of where he got it. He was disappointed, but then something amazing happened.
The moment he touched the strings and plucked at them, a memory did return. It wasn’t a memory of who he was or why he had a guitar.
It was a visceral memory, something automatic that had been held within the deepest recesses of his troubled brain. It was muscle memory. As he touched the guitar, almost on their own accord, his fingers began to play a tune.
The man now knew that he could play the guitar. For a while, he contented himself with fantasies of once being a musician. He desperately wished for any part of a past life to hold onto, even if it was just his name.
There were times when flashes of a former life seemed to emerge. He knew he once worked but couldn’t remember where. Soon, these concerns weren’t as important as a more pressing problem.
Whether he was homeless or not didn’t change the fact that he was homeless. This meant he had to find a way to survive. He scrounged and panhandled for food, but this didn’t help the pangs in his stomach much.
He had to try something else. He knew survival depended on him being able to provide something for himself, so he devised a plan.
The man decided to put his mysterious talent to use. He found public places like parks and sidewalks, picked a spot, and began playing for people who passed.
The looks he got were mixed. It seemed like people were intrigued by him. However, there was something he couldn’t quite work out about their reactions.
Some people completely ignored him. He was an aberration to their world. Others stopped to listen. Others seemed to be simultaneously intrigued and disturbed by his presence. At first, he thought it was pity in their eyes.
It took a while for him to realize that it was something more. It was confusion and fascination. Something about him didn’t fit. It felt like the appalling conditions of his life were incongruent with the beautiful music he was able to play.
Unfortunately, panhandling wasn’t allowed whether you played music or just begged for change, and the man’s presence soon attracted law enforcement.
He was given a warning not to hang out in public places if he was trying to elicit money from people. Music had given him a way to survive, but now he was out of hope again.
Without his music, the man could not even drum up the pittance he received that way. He was back to foraging and scrounging just to survive.
His life was constant pain and confusion. Living the life he was without being able to remember who he was caused him a lot of sadness. After days passed like this, he could no longer manage and decided to panhandle again.
Alameda County’s Deputy Sheriff Jacob Swalwell had become familiar with the old homeless man that played his guitar near freeways and on the roadsides. When he found him doing this again, he stopped and approached.
The old man was afraid at first. He thought that Swalwell was going to cite him again. Instead, Swalwell offered him a chance for a new beginning.
Officer Swalwell knew that the old man was vulnerable on the streets. He had heard his story of suffering amnesia and not knowing where he came from. Swalwell took pity on him and decided to try and help him.
It wasn’t going to be easy. After gathering as much information as possible, he called in some help from a local church and his colleagues and set out to try and help the man discover who he was.
Finding information on the man without an ID or real name was difficult. However, using some guile and a network of helpful contacts, amazingly, Swalwell discovered the man’s true identity.
In his past life, he was known as Mick Myers. He had once held down jobs at places like the DMV, and did have family. However, the officer also found out that the plot thickened from there.
It was soon discovered that Mick Myers was actually born Gordon Micheal Oakley. Gordon had lost his father as a young child. His mother, Pauline, could not care for him and gave him up for adoption. After his adoptive parents passed away, Gordon’s siblings forced him out of their home.
Struggling on his own, he met a severe accident and landed on the streets. His amnesia came in stages until he slowly lost all memories of his previous life. Now that his true identity was known, there was just one thing left.
Remarkably, with the help of a local private investigator and a charitable organization, Pauline Oakley was traced. It was nearly 67 years later, and Gordon had never known she was his biological mother. It was a tearful reunion.
However, now that Pauline could be with her son again, she provided a home that meant Gordon could finally be off the streets. Officer Swalwell and many others were hailed as heroes for being able to turn the unfortunate man’s life around when it seemed impossible that he’d ever have a home again.