The man at the library with the brightly colored cast…
Anyone who patronizes the Dorchester County Library has seen the gentleman who sits on one of the benches, his leg encased in a rainbow cast.
He smiles and nods as people pass by. A pair of metal crutches lean against the rail next to his bench and a scruffy black backpack sits on the ground at his feet.
His leg has been in a cast since March 21 when the brakes went on his bike and he put his foot down to try and slow down. Broken in two places, it has been a long, slow heal, he says.
Mark Mapes, almost 49, suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta he says. This is an inherited disorder characterized by extreme fragility of the bones. Consequently, what might be a simple injury for most is months and months of healing for Mapes.
“But!” he says, “In 12 days I get the cast off…I hope.”
The removal of the cast will depend on how well his bones have healed from the surgery necessary to put them back together, he says.
Born and raised in Virginia, Mapes was adopted and his dad was in the military so he moved a lot he says.
Now, with his parents gone and his sister in a nursing home, Mapes finds the climate here much more conducive to his lifestyle.
Until May of 2011, Mapes says he worked at Johnson’s Auto Parts. However, in May he broke his elbow and it took that two years to heal with his arm in a cast making it impossible for him to work.
Consequently he was forced, he says, to move to his current home. A tent. In the woods.
He has a GED and some college, but, he says, he never finished.
“I’ve been a mechanic all my life…I was building race car motors when I was 14,” he says.
Mapes says when he was in his 20s, his biological father found him. His father sends him money every so often to help him out.
Right now, says Mapes, he is having a bit of trouble.
“They just took away my food stamps,” he says shaking his head.
“They took them away once before, because they wanted proof that my father was sending me money. So my father wrote a letter. I got them back. Now, they told me I have to prove I am a felon.”
Mapes felonies date back to his time in Virginia, he says. One was when he was in his 20s and stole an outboard motor. Another was for drug possession and the third, was for absconding when he was on parole.
“I went back to Virginia, turned myself in, did my time,” he says.
He has not been in trouble with the police in South Carolina he says.
“I got clean [from drugs],” he says. “I am seven years clean.”
He does, however, drink, he says, but he is not an alcoholic.
He is clear-eyed, with clear speech and a steady albeit one-legged gait. There is no smell of alcohol around him.
“I get around okay,” he says, “on crutches…just takes longer.”
Every day he walks a mile from his tent to the library. It takes him an hour.
He has a library card and will often spend time on the computer.
He is very excited about getting his cast off although, he says, it will take about a month on the crutches to get his leg back to normal. “I haven’t walked on it in six months.”
He says he won’t do physical therapy but “don’t you worry, I’ll get it back…there’s a bike calling my name.”
Mapes says he eats whatever and whenever he can. Sometimes he goes to the food pantry/kitchen but, he says, “there is only so much Ramen, Chef Boyardee and soup outa a can you can eat, you know….”
“I eat with whatever money I can scrape together. My father just sent me money for my birthday but I lent $17 to a girl. She hasn’t paid me back and I can’t get ahold of her.”
Mapes’ birthday is Monday when he turns 49.
His tent, he says, is off by itself, hidden in the woods. He doesn’t want it printed where.
“I like it by myself…when you stay alone it is better…a group always brings the cops.”
He did say that Cpt. Pierce of Summerville Police came to see him the other day to ask when he was getting his cast off. Apparently his tent location is on Highway Department land and “they don’t want you there.”
“You know,” he said, “I stayed at Crisis Ministries for a whole year in Charleston but unless you are a veteran they treat you like crap. The vets, they get to hang around all day, watch TV. The rest of us are thrown out at 7:30 a.m. and the door is locked until 7:30 p.m.
“There are no shelters for men here. Some homeless folks sleep under the bridge, some in the woods…you just gotta find a spot and hope they don’t bother you.”
The “they” includes police, or anyone intent on doing harm such as drug addicts.
“I could apply for disability but I don’t want to get on it…I can still work!” Mapes is emphatic. He wants to work. He loves to work.
He hopes to get a job at Don’s car crusher place, he says. “I specialize in junk yards.”
His brightly colored cast is signed by “the girls in the library and people from my church – Seacoast Church.”
When he is not at the library, Mapes is volunteering at the food pantry, helping others.
“I have friends who let me shower and people who offer to do my laundry,” he says. But no one ever offers a place to sleep. “I have been in the woods since July 2011.
Mapes says he shares his home with deer, raccoons, opossum, rabbits and squirrels.
Once he is back on his feet – both physically and financially – he says he will rent a place and his door will be open to someone else in need of a place to stay or a helping hand.
“Well,” he amends, “depending on their character…I don’t want any drug addicts.”
“Only 12 more days,” he says again. “I hope to get back to work and back to living.”
Mapes doesn’t want to have his picture taken outside of the library.
I don’t want any repercussions because of me being here, he says. They are really nice people and I was brought up to have respect for people and I respect them.
The women in the library simply say the library is there for everyone, including Mapes.
“I’m going to Burger King now and spend my last $3 to get something to eat,” he says.
He slings his backpack over his thin shoulders, grabs his crutches, stabilizes everything and takes off at a pretty good clip toward Burger King.
Only 12 more days….