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HomeMentally ForgottenMentally Forgotten: Dan's Story

Mentally Forgotten: Dan’s Story

Snow covered the ground on the Front Range when I stopped at the Linden Street Café (now closed) in Old Town Fort Collins, CO. The snow was coming down and piling on the road and sidewalk. Looking through the café windows as I pulled up to the parking space, I saw warm people, eyes glued to phones and laptop computers, enjoying coffee and scones.

Excited about a warm cup of coffee and breakfast, I grabbed my camera bag out of the car and was about to reach for the doorknob and go inside when I heard a noise that sounded like the scuffling of boots. I looked up from the doorway and around the corner to see a dressed man in a wheelchair pulling his way through the deep snow on the sidewalk with one foot. One glance, and it was easy to deduce that he was freezing, his hands numb with pain.

I wanted to help this man, but I hesitated, not knowing if he would find my offer to be offensive or degrading or if it would embarrass him. Our eyes locked for a few seconds. His desperation revealed itself in those seconds, which seemed like an eternity.

Finding the courage to speak, I said, “Good morning. I was just about to have coffee and breakfast in the café. Would you like to join me? My treat!”

Looking up from his hands, he agreed. Taking the reins of his wheelchair, I escorted him inside the café’ to a table near the front windows to find a reprieve from the cold and some comfort in a hot meal.

Through slurred speech, as I pushed chairs out of the way to make room for his wheelchair, he introduced himself as Dan. I sat down across from him just as the waitress came over. I ordered both of us large coffees, water, and some menus while she watched Dan out of the corner of her eye with a condescending look.

Ignoring the pretentiousness of our host, I turned my attention back to Dan. With jerky, uncontrollable gestures, he tried to rub his hands together to generate heat in his fingertips. After watching this for a few seconds, I realized what I assumed was dirt on his hands and fingers was frostbite from being out in the freezing temperatures. But, the motions of his hands couldn’t be from frostbite alone. Something else was affecting his hands and movements.

Our judgmental host arrived with the coffee and menus, placing them in front of us. Dan reached for his coffee, picked up the cup, and set it in front of him.

Hands shaking, he reached for the sugar packets. As he tried to open the package, he dropped it. He mumbled something I didn’t understand and attempted to pick up the package again. This time, he opened the pack and put the contents into the cup. As he reached for a spoon to stir the liquid, he looked up at me and said he had Multiple Sclerosis through throaty speech. I nodded, reached for the spoon, and stirred his coffee for him.

Breakfast arrived, and Dan and I connected over eggs, toast, and bacon. He told me it was the first hot meal he had enjoyed in over a week. He’d been sustaining himself on a diet of protein bars, water, and sodas because they were inexpensive and gave him a good excuse to enter a 24/7 convenience store to get warm at night. His routine of panhandling in Old Town would pay out around 20.00 dollars per day, more during tourist seasons, from generous passersby on his corner at Mountain Ave and College – a popular area for the homeless street performers to perform, try and sell art, or trade goods.

Looking at this man sitting across from me in tattered, inadequate winter clothing, unshaven, un-groomed, dirty, and emotionally damaged, I understood the plight of people experiencing homelessness in a way I had never considered.

As Dan sat enjoying his meal, he told me how he started his journey on the streets of Fort Collins, CO. With gleaming eyes, he recited that as a young man, he had earned a Master’s degree in Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After graduating, he went to work for an extensive engineering and architectural firm in New York City, NY.

He married the love of his life – a waitress from a local coffee shop in Queens he visited to see her in the afternoons even when he didn’t want, or need, a coffee. One day, he mustered the courage to ask her on a date. They fell in love and married two years later. Five years later, out of the blue, his wife left him for another woman, taking everything and discarding what she didn’t want, leaving him heartbroken and suffering from PTSD.

He struggled and continued working, rebuilding his life, and seeking mental health counseling. Then, in an unprecedented downward turn, he had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Upon learning of his condition, the company he worked for terminated his position, citing internal policy and structural changes that cost him his insurance. He was paid severance and lived on his savings for over a year, but the healthcare bills arrived.

The cost of his medication to control his condition was enormous. With no support, nowhere to turn, and no family, Dan chooses to self-medicate with Cannabis to control the tremors in his body, which science has proven successful in repeated controlled studies.

Dan arrived in Colorado in 2015 to escape the persecution of the laws in other nonmedical and recreational Cannabis states. He worked at a restaurant for a time, but when his condition worsened, he was let go – forcing him onto the streets and into homelessness.

Dan and I sat in the café for over two hours, enjoying each other’s company, much to the chagrin of our pretentious, judgmental waitress, who glanced at us occasionally from across the room, suggesting it was past time for us to leave.


During that time, any preconceived notions I had about the plight of people experiencing homelessness flew out the windows of my mind. I gave Dan money to help him sustain himself for a solid month, even though I didn’t have it to spare. I did so because I realized that one day I could be in Dan’s position, and if it were to happen, the things I would need from humanity would be understanding, someone to listen, someone to care, and money to help me prevail against all the odds raging against me.

Ironically, five months later, I found myself in a similar condition, leading to me taking on a project documenting the plight of the homeless, the emotionally scarred, and the mentally forgotten.

The project is ongoing. I feel confident I’ll never stop trying to inform and educate the plight of people experiencing homelessness to those who, like me at one time, harbored preconceived notions about other human beings in dire circumstances.

A home or not, we’re human. We all deserve respect and compassion. Giving of ourselves is the greatest gift we can share.

- Nikon Professional -Hawk Buckman


Mentally Forgotten Photo Series

The goal of the Mentally Forgotten photo series is to raise awareness of the plight of those suffering because of society's judgmental attitude. The series captures the challenges faced by individuals experiencing homelessness in the rural regions of the United States.

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Helmut Newton, my photographic inspiration, holds the esteemed titles of the 'Maestro of Fetishism' and the 'King of Kink,' especially within the illustrious legacy of Vogue Italia. Undoubtedly, Helmut occupies a paramount position as my favored artist, spanning the 20th and 21st centuries.

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Your camera holds little sway over the final outcome. What truly holds significance is the lens through which you perceive the world and the creative mind guiding it. Don't allow the intricacies of your equipment to overpower your thoughts. Instead, center your attention on the image you're striving to capture.


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