Homelessness: The person behind the label

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(Photo by Kristin Gallagher, digitalBURG) Preferring to use his nickname, Teddy Bear is homeless by choice in Warrensburg.

Written by Muleskinner Staff

(Photo by Kristin Gallagher, digitalBURG) Preferring to use his nickname, Teddy Bear is homeless by choice in Warrensburg.
(Photo by Kristin Gallagher, digitalBURG) Preferring to use his nickname, Teddy Bear is homeless by choice in Warrensburg.

By KRISTIN GALLAGHER
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG)

Part Four: The man in the jacket

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth story in a six-part series that offers a glimpse into the lives of the homeless in our community.
 
His long duster jacket drags the ground as he moves from one ashtray to the next, looking for salvageable cigarettes.
He moves slowly with most of his weight on his cane and his untied shoes scuffle in loose gravel.
The rain has washed away the remains of most cigarette butts, so he moves on to the gas station across the street.
He goes by the name Teddy Bear, requesting that his real name not be revealed, and he has made a choice society would find unusual.
“I choose to be homeless,” he says. “ Honestly, I don’t think I want to try working anymore.”
Although only 34 years old, Teddy’s body features the bones and joints of a man much older.
“I did football and wrestling in high school,” he says. “I did not take care of my body.”
Which is why Teddy does not feel he could hold a steady job anymore.
“I could get a desk job now,” he says. “But I should not really be standing or using my back very much. My body just does not function right anymore.”
But despite his current living status, Teddy is still a person who enjoys a lot of the same things other people enjoy. Like many men, his favorite foods are anything with meat and also pizza. His favorite color is blue because he says it represents masculinity.
“I am a man. I represent what the color represents,” he says.
Teddy’s favorite pastime is playing online video games, which is how he met his current girlfriend who lives in Algeria.
“In video games, not only do I get to compete,” he says, “ but I also get the girl…the affection, trust and friendship.”
Teddy says his need for competitiveness through online gaming stems from his current physical condition.
“I get to compete and can’t in real life because I am crippled,” he says.
It was not only high school sports that left Teddy’s body in the condition it is now. It was also his years in the Army.
“When I was 19, I signed up for eight years and complete my tour in Afghanistan,” he said. “There was nothing remarkable about my military service. It was work and I was satisfied.”
Teddy was not in the infantry, but rather sat behind a desk and handled all the paperwork that came through. He said he liked what he was doing.
“I went to Germany, New York, Turkey and Afghanistan,” he said. “My mother flew to Germany when I turned 21 to get me drunk. That was the only time I drank in the Army.”
For his first six months in Afghanistan, Teddy said he worked purely in intelligence. After that, he spent time out on the field marching from one place to another and set up operating sites.
“I remember I never had a girlfriend in the military,” he said. “The girls were intimidating. They were bigger and stronger than me. I was physically tinier. There is nothing more humiliating than that.”
After one year in Afghanistan, Teddy decided it was time to retire from the military.
“I did not want to go to Afghanistan when I was ordered to,” he said. “I was set to discharge in three months. I didn’t even agree with why we were there. I did not want to kill anybody.”
So, with his heart not in it anymore, Teddy left his Army days behind him and retired.
After leaving the Army, Teddy traveled back to Missouri to visit his family.
But his life before joining the Army left Teddy with no real home to go to.