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Me and Becca Still Baling Hay

keith harmon snow | Massachusetts, United States

3 November 2020: Aric David Harkins contemplates his situation while eating at a pizza joint in Northampton Massachusetts.

ME AND BECCA STILL BALING HAY is a testimonial to the enduring spirit of U.S. military veteran Aric David Harkins in his struggle to find happiness, home, inner peace—and basic survival—over the past five years (2018-2022). This is about Schitzophrenia. It is a photo documentary exhibit that reveals some aspects of the life of just one of the billions of human beings on planet earth— one whose consciousness falls somewhere on the spectrum of wellness and recovery that we all belong to. There is a lot of memory extant in the interactions with Aric, but little for him to reconstitute or re-member (as in coherently weave together), and fragments and facts spin and whistle and glide between the long, pregnant silences and the extended monologues. And then there are the sorrowful lonely eyes. This is an exhibit about one man's life in search for meaning and belonging. It is also about the failure of our government to maintain a safety net, to care for those who have served in the military, and to provide meaningful services, and affordable health care.

I first spoke with Aric David Harkins (now 56) some five years ago. I had been used to seeing him for years, throughout some years of the 1990's and I was afraid of him: he was a big rough looking man. The first times I saw him were years before that: a regular fixture on the street. He had a motorcyle, a crotch rocket design, and he would hang out on the sidewalk with his helmet off near the cafes, and I would stear clear. 

After repeated interactions on the street Aric opened up a little and let me into his life. As I have gotten to know something about Aric I have come to see that behind the judgements that I made lies a soft and kind heart of a man really shunned and abandoned by anything we might call "society". 

I have known Aric David Harkins through at least six different lodging situations, none of which he could hold down very long. In winter he always seems to find some hole to slip into; in summer he might camp out along the river, and someties he has lived in one or the other of his dilapidated vehicles.  

In late October 2022, the last time I saw Aric Davd Harkins, he was 'living' in his dilapidated car, broken windows, sub zero temperatures, in a parking lot behind a former school. His situation was very rough.

I pondered, many times, when is the right time to publish some of the thousands of images I have taken with Aric, and I realized now is the time. Life for Aric David Harkins has gotten harder and harder. With the arrival of the pandemic, the isolation shifted to a whole new realm. Not only was he shunned as a homeless vagrant, but he was shunned as a supposed carrier of disease. 

It is rare to get a coherent sentence out of Aric David Harkins. There is so much swirling around in his world. Certain themes seem to reappear in his monologues, over and over, and pieces of his life spill out into the ether, a puzzle to be reassembed by anyone who might care to try. He can be impatient, and he is mercurial. 

Due to his complicated life, Aric David Harkins suffers from several chronic issues or conditions: hunger & malnutrition, substance use, PTSD, PSS, and the trauma of perpetual exclusion.  

His father was an iron worker and his mother a housewife. He was born 25 May 1966 in Pittsfield Maine. He aparently lived for a time in the 1980's in Portland Oregon, with Rebecca, on a farm. Becca is often on his mind. His memorty of baling hay with his beloved Becca appears to be a source of joy (for what was) and sadness (for what is no longer). Hence the title I have chosen for this exhibit. 

I have seen Aric working for pay, but it is never much work, never very long, and after a while he always assumes "The Aric Stance"—striking the fixed posture that you will see in several photos—having a conversation with someone, somewhere, out of thin air.

Aric is fully present. If he trusts you, he will interact with you. If you try to pursue a certain line of enquiry, however, he may cut you off quick, clarifying his need to tell you the story he wants to tell you, demanding that you listen, pay attention. At times, I have felt vulnerable and threatened but, as I say, he now knows me, and I can assert my self if necessary to bring him out of his volatile immediate reactionary story.

He is a U.S. Military veteran, though he claims he never personally saw active duty in a war. The military bases on Diego Garcia, in Germany, or Fort Brown, Texas—these are a few of the places he apparently did serve his time. 

Aric David Harkins has big plans. He is going to reassemble his motorcycle and get it back on the road; weld the broke frame on his old Ford truck and get that going; repair the broken windsheilds of his not-so-late-model sedan. He is "applying for jobs."

In the United States, some 6200 military veterans committed suicide annually (about 125 vets per day) versus some 46,000 adult suicides (based on 2019 data).  

There is no social safety net that will carry Aric David Harkins. His fate revovles around a few people who simply refuse to fully abandon him to the wolves of loneliness and isolation and that place way beyond what we call the "margins" of society.

It is a lonely place, for sure, and even in the profound aloneness of it, it seems that Aric is never alone there. There is Cedric; and Aric's dad; Curt Cobain; and he's often telling stories about Leonard Skynard and the military base on the island of Diego Garcia. He sometimes recalls some memory of his darling Diana; and — of course — he remembers his beloved Rebecca.

Aric and Becca will always be baling hay.

So if you see Aric David Harkins around, just walk up to him and say "Hi. Hello in there, hello." And as long as you don't expect anything in return, no expectations, no demands, you may get a sign that makes it clear that Aric David Harkins sees the real you.

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