My Broken Heart: The True Story of The Bare-Handed Man


The story in the below post happened to me on February 22, 2011. This event has forever changed my life. Please help me share it. This is why we desperately need Autism Awareness. Thank you for reading and helping me share my story… This was also published on CNN Mon April 16, 2012.

My Broken Heart: The Story of The Bare-Handed Man

It’s been a few days since I have spoken with all of you. Something happened to me a few days ago that I have been struggling to deal with it. I hope you all truly hear what I’m about to share with you. I want everyone to read this and know what happened. Not because of what I did but because of what I learned… Please share this story and help spread awareness.

A few days ago I went to Giant Eagle to pick up some groceries. We had a winter storm on the way and I needed to pick up a few things in case we got snowed in again. I pulled into the parking lot and found a spot right in front of the entrance. My back is out again so I can’t walk very far. As I was pulling into the spot I had to wait for some people to move out the way. They were just standing in the parking spot. Their car was in the next spot over but they just stood there and shot me a few dirty looks,  like “who was I to expect them to move”. I just waited, it wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t even upset. They eventually started to get into their car and moved out of the way so I could pull in.

The snow had already started to fall and we were getting about 1″ per hour. I sat there a second collecting what I needed to take into the store. I just happened to look over at the people that were still getting into their car and I saw a large black man standing there. I didn’t see where he came from but in one minute he wasn’t there and the next minute he was.  Then I realized what he was doing. He was wiping the snow and ice off their windshield with his bare hands. The woman looked at him, like, “how dare you touch my car”.

She was clearly disgusted by just breathing the same air. Instead of asking him to stop or giving him a few dollars she tried to run him down. She gunned the car forward so fast that her friend who was trying to get into the back seat had the back passenger door slammed on him and he was left standing in the snow. The man who had been trying to clean the windshield was knocked back. This woman just kept shouting things to the man with the bare hands.


I was in shock. I had never seen anything like that before and I never want to again. A few seconds later the man gets up and walks over to me and knocks on my window. I hadn’t even begun to process what I had just seen. Now he was coming over to me and I had no idea what I was going to say.

Shamefully, I was thinking “please not now, I just want to get what I need and get home”. Where I live it’s not uncommon for people to approach you for money. So I knew what was probably about to happen. I took a deep breath and started to open the door. The bare-handed man opened it the rest of the way, being careful not to hit the car next to me.

The bare-handed man was underdressed for the weather and obviously cold. He asked me for change. I gave him everything I had, $2.37. He started talking to me but couldn’t look me in the eye. As he was telling me how cold and hungry he was, I watched as he was unable to control his hands. It was like he was playing an invisible piano. He had a very hard time talking to me and I could see he was much more uncomfortable then I was. He clearly had boundary issues but I never felt threatened in any way. He kept staring off and would occasionally look in my direction but never at me and I never saw his eyes.

He stood about 1 or 2 feet in front of me and asked me to drive him to a shelter because it’s “warm there and they have food”.  He informed me that he was “homeless and very hungry”. He then told me that he “was not lying to me”. He said, “if I lie to you then you might not help me”. He asked me to buy him some food and gloves. I thought about what to say. I knew he would have a hard time understanding. I don’t have any money. My family is struggling to survive each day. I would literally be taking away from what little my family has and I just couldn’t. I was trying to figure out how to explain to him that I couldn’t help him. I was lost for words.

Then something happened that shook me to the core and completely broke my heart. As I was trying to form the words I needed to tell him “no”, he looked me in the eyes. All of the sudden I was looking at Gavin. Gavin is the oldest of our three special needs boys (all Autistic). Gavin is 11 years old and is also diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder as well. Looking at the bare-handed man was looking through some special window at my son Gavin, 20 or 30 years from now. It was a kick in the gut. I was overcome with emotion. It was like I was run over by a freight train. I can’t put words together to really describe what that moment was like.

He again asked me to buy him food because he was hungry and gloves because his hands were cold. Something about him was so familiar and yet I’d never met him before. I looked at him and told him I would buy him some food. He smiled in my direction and took my hand (without looking at me) and led me into the store. He didn’t fit in with the rest of the people in there. His clothes were old, beat up and didn’t smell very good. He had clearly been through a great deal in his life and it showed in his face. I noticed the looks people gave me as I walked with the bare handed man into the grocery store.

Rob Gorski

Full time, work from home single Dad to my 3 amazing boys. Oh...and creator fo this blog. :-)
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@CNN I couldn’t retweet this from my tl. I had to go to your site. What’s going on?

Lorraine Carey

I understand how this dad feels I have a special needs son + the worry doesn’t stop


@CNN Absolutly as a parent of a special kid i live through your nightmare what he do after me, still no answer


@CNN I don’t know how you were able to keep it together and write. I was watching you interact with…

Full Spectrum Mama

This touched me to my CORE. It makes me want to form some kind of posse so we can take care of our children for each other when we are gone. Your story, his story, is OUR story. Thanks, Rob. 
Sobbing on the floor myself…

Cari King

Wow, that is an incredible story and really hits home. I live with this fear every day too, thank you for sharing this and thank you for helping the barehanded man. xc

Lorena Polinesi

finished the job ! tired but happy !thanks for putting into words what I feel , words are foreign languaje for me and make me have difficulties to express my emotions . hugs

Jenny A Marshman-Holloway

I just want this to get out there my 18 year old son is also schizoaffective and autistic and now I am very ill and they’ve called the state for me I’m do scared this will be my son non one cares about our kids and if they have mental illness too I’m crying

Christal Orvis Pewterbaugh

I can’t keep the tears from rolling. My Zach is like your Gavin, and like this man in years to come. We have been excluded and shunned from churches and sadly even family because of my kids. These kids don’t need to be excluded, they need included and the only way for that to happen is AWARENESS!!!!!!!!!!!! People need to educate themselves about autism and be aware!

Kim Kennedy

Wow Rob. I have no words for that. It left me with a bubble in my throat and a tear in my eye.

Lorena Polinesi

Of course ! Thanks

Lost and Tired

Lorena Polinesi go for it. I only ask that you provide proper credit and a link back to the original. 🙂 Thanks for being willing to translate….

Lorena Polinesi

Hi , I like to share this post , but I need to translate to Spanish , I need your permission to do that , I think ….

Carol Staley Rice

This hits home for sure… though my son is only mildly affected (aspergers), I still can’t help but worry. I try each day to seek out “good” people to surround him with so that as he grows, should anything happen to my husband & I… hopefully he will have people in his life to look out for him. Thank you for sharing your story.

Lost and Tired

Girl in Sacremento  thanks so much for being such a nice person. The world needs more people that are willing to help.  Thanks for reading 🙂

Girl in Sacremento

Hi Rob. I am so sad and literally trying to keep tears from trickling down by face right now. I would just love to meet that man with the bare hands. You know what? I would just LOVE to be in that situation. I am not being sarcastic. When I get my first job, I want to work at a shelter and you should be my boss. I love giving to the homeless. Tomorrow I will tell my friends about this blog. They are some of the best friends a girl can have. I just know they’ll care and spread the word about Autism. Just like me. 
                                                                                                                                              -Girl in Sacremento


may Allah bless you and your family..Remember He is the one who is the source of all provision and He will take care of your children..But the question is.. are people like myself who are not very much aware about autism ready to be the means to help people with disabilities.. Thankyou for writing this.. If I can be of any help, please let me know.. You are in my prayers


I have 3 boys too.All are so young .Oldest one is going to be diagnosed soon.Your story brought tears into my eyes.I hope my ittle one who is 1 year old will not have autism so the older boys will have one hope.Still dont know time will tell.But God is great.Thanks for sharing your story.


upliftingfam Thank you very much for reading it.  🙂


This is an awesome story,  I appreciate you sharing it again.  😉

Sarah Bolier

You can tell a lot by looking in someone’s eyes

Sarah Bolier

I remember reading that story and I bawled. I just read it again and bawled. That is very touching and I have had similar experiences with this and it gives me goosebumps, what if that’s my son when he’s an adult?? Would someone help or turn away…


That was the most heartbreaking, emotional piece I have ever read from you, and I have read quite a few. I don’t know anyone with autism, and so, much like you felt with this man, I was touched in a way I cannot explain. Like, somehow, I related to what happened to you. That is a feeling that will, I hope, stay with me for some time.


my name is Lea Silva and My oldest boy is autistic and my middle may have ADD disorder, my youngest Godwilling wont have any disorders but only time will tell. I know exactly how you feel. I luv my babies so much and to think of someone hitting them with their car and being disgusted with them for asking for money is sickening. I hope that God is blessing you and your family and comforting you and yours. Thank you for sharing your story and I will share it. Have a blessed weekend.

Mollie Ferretti

My name is Mollie Ferretti and I have 4 special needs children. Your story was so heart felt. I too cried like a baby. This is so true for all of us. God willing we are able to find safe havens for all our children and when the good lord says it our time we are at peace knowing our children will be safe. Thanks for sharing your story. You are a blessing to all

Momma Bear

Your story brought tears to my eyes. Indeed, I have the same concerns for my 17 year old son who has Downs Syndrome and Autism. I am 54 and my husband is 59 years old. Our son, though quite lovable, requires constant supervision and I know of no one within our family and friends that is willing to take on such a sacrifice. I pray that the Lord will provide a loving home for him when we are too old to continue his care! God bless you for giving to this lost soul. I pray that all his needs will be met.


@Momma Bear thank you for the kind words. I know your fear all too well.


I understand your pain.  I’m a 59 yr old, single parent to a 26 yr old child with severe autism and PDD. This adult child of mine will always be 3 yrs old mentally,  she is such a joy, but she has challenges everyday.  This time is fast approaching for us, in 20 years I’ll be 79 and my child 46, I believe I have a plan God willing.  My child’s older siblings have sworn to care for the youngest of them, but I worry.  As we grow older we see the uncertainties our children will always face, we see the dangers and try to protect them.  This man that you helped was your angel, he broke your heart and changed you and your family in a way you never thought.  He is someones child, you will never know his full journey, but his journey has made a change.  Mental health in our country needs to be addressed, if we do not reform and take care of the least of these, our humanity is doomed.


@Beetender thank you. 🙂


thank u for posting this, that worry keeps me up night after night, what happens to my kids when I’m gone (they are both Aspies) , neither of their Dads help at all, I carry this alone and it terrifies me


@robonaught000 you’re very welcome. I’m working very hard to


Make sure that our kids have the brightest future possible.

elizabeth landry

You are forgetting about the advances in medicine that will come. There may be a cure in your lifetime. 
What you did for that poor man will bring you great rewards. Children also often mature and improve in their ability to cope with things. You and your wife be strong and know that people like you are inspirational to us.


(Sorry my other comment was at the false place I dont now why it should have been here.)


Why didn’t you take you son home?


thank you 🙂

Jen Wilson

Thank you so much for sharing this experience.  I have had similar experiences, one homeless man in particular looked so much like my son- I gave him $20 and a list of homeless shelters.  I drove away crying my eyes out praying desperately that my son won't suffer that fate.  I couldn't control my tears as I read this, it felt like reading my own thoughts.  God bless you and your family.

Roni Holzer

I want to thank you for this read.
I think I am as in shock as you were at that time. I can't stop thinking about it and crying.

My son (7) has autism, and I am simply terrified because this could very much have been him instead of Tim.
If only I could I would get to Ohio and bring Tim home,so at least this (innocent) soul would be saved.
I think and think of how I could abandon my job and do something more meaningful to help, to save people like Tim and to raise awareness, yet I find myself utterly powerless to do anything!

Thank you for your blog. Thank you for spreading the word! And I pray for your kids and mine, and for a better world!


When you looked into that man's eyes you saw the face of Christ, which is what you see in an autistic kid's eyes. Don't fear for your children. They'll be fine.


You are an amazing individual. Most people would just turn their back and walk away. We all need to be aware that there are those that struggle and find a way to help one another in this world.


I'm glad when people realize that children who have autism will grow up to be adults who have autism. It doesn't go away just because they are grown. Society seems to only have compassion for the children. Adults need help too. Many had no help as autistic children and now, no help as adults. My husband and I are barely getting by. Who knows what the future will be. I know no one cares.


I care. If I can help please let me know.


God bless you and your family! As a Christians we are called to do beyond we can possible think we can do. What you did, be sure that God is smiling to you. He hasn't forgotten you, just pray and He'll answer your needs… May te power of God takes you were the grace of God will protect you always.


Reading your story, brought tears to my eyes. As a parent I can understand your concern. I was always under the impression that God only gave special children to special people, and your story proves that statement, God does watch over his Angels (special children) and that is why that man found you to help him. Your children will be cared for since your training and actions are inbred into them, and others with a heart will see this and help. May God bless your household and others. Cathy L.


You did a good deed that day and that man will be forever grateful to you that you helped him that day. God Bless You.


Rob, you are a kind person, and remember what you did for that man will come back to you and your family. The kindness that you showed him will be shown to your family. It is so nice to talk to someone who understands my struggles. Rob you and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers. Much love goes out from our family to your family<3 Thank you for being the person you are!!!!!


thank you Rob for sharing this with us. My husband and I have a 16 year old beautiful young man, who has the diag. of Aspergers. I sit here sobbing reading your story. He is very bright, I explain situations to him every day of his life. As soon as I found out his diag. I stopped working and started to learn from ot, pt , and speech therapists. I read everything I could get my hands on. We have worked together every day for the last 16 yrs. to prepare him for his adult years. He attends a public high school, and he attends the mens chours at school. And he enjoys this so much, he states mom my teacher is teaching me so much. He also plays the piano, and a little guitar. During the last years talent show he played his own piano piece which he wrote. He struggles with his main courses, but he knows all of his struggles will pay off some day. I stay in touch with him every day. It has been a financial burden for our family, but all worth it. Our sons pediatrician told us he would never be able to talk or walk or be able to accomplish much in life. Well Iam here to say how wrong he was. We are so proud of our son and all of his accomplishments.


I know what you mean. I have an aunt that has been homeless off and on for the past 15yrs now. We try to help her but she is deaf & schizophrenic. She has made such a profound impact on my kids & I. I can't even begin to explain. I can't help myself but to help the homeless when I come across. There is one man that sits near our grocery store, the kids and I buy him meals when we can. His eyes, are so much like the boys. He has such a sweet innocence about him, and barely talks or even looks at us. But when he does, it's very intense. I can't help but think, he once was someone's son, probably much like my boys. Unfortunately, so many of the homeless have mental illness and we as society are so very hard on the people who need us the most. In many ways, it's one of the reason I fight so hard to get the boys care. My boys don't have to go through what my aunt & her children have gone through.
My recent post First Day of Robot Club


Thanks for sharing, such a terrifying thought, our children alone in the future. Good for you for being a good person. Best wishes for you & your family, always.


That bare handed man came from the First Generation to be let out into the Public who had a Disability. This is why he fell through the crack. We need to teach the Next Genration how to act better than this.

S Karim

There are so many people misdiagnosed who are clearly autistic and are the forgotten part of society. It is unfortunate .I see many of them homeless. They're processed in the Mental side of the court system. Sometimes they may have committed a crime of some sort because they don't understand social boundaries or rules. Maybe their families have given up hope for them. Autism is more prevalent than we thought. It has been overlooked and sometimes not a major symptom of a mental diagnosis. My boys and brother who are all autistic have given me a new set of eyes.I watch my brother struggle with social issues and housing. Some of homes or board and care for people with mental disabilities are in a sad state. It makes me know I need to take care of myself in order to be there for my boys as long as I can. I need to set a trust fund for them. Relying on the Social Security -disability-medicare system will not be enough. You are a good person. May you also continue your journey with care and compassion. The world is a better place because of you.


I work with special needs students (I'm a teacher)- a few of them have Autism. These kids have such love for those in their life and such a positive outlook about life….a truly unique take on the world. My youngest child is the same age as the kids I work with and let me tell you how hard it is for me to go on every day knowing that one day (sooner than I care to admit) I will watch my child and my students graduate. I will watch these little people march in cap and gown and then (presumably) send my baby off to college and have her experience a fairly "normal" life….just as her brothers can. These kids I work with will never have the same chance. Even with all the awareness, services, interventions, and love the kids I work with have there will never be anyone out there who can advocate for them like their parents. What happens when parents are gone? This. So. so. so. sad. I hope that so much more changes over the next 11 years so these kids don't graduate into the same world this man has come to live in.


I don't even know what to say…having known an older couple with two special needs children, it occurred to me then…what happens…after…when there is nobody to look out for them? There are so many people who think that all homeless people are just lazy drug addicts…their eyes are so closed to reality they can't see it is their brother, their sister, them…we never know what the future will bring and attention should be paid to this shameful problem we have in the U.S., 'the richest country in the world'.


You had me in tears, my husband and I have recently been talking about our son's future and this just hits home. It's what I fear will happen everyday. I keep telling myself I need to stay healthy and live as long as possible because I can't trust or know that he will be okay. And I know this sounds awful but sometimes I hope that he passes before me that way he never has to go through life without out support and love. I've spoken with many other parents with special needs kids that feel the same way so there is no guilt just worry. I just can't see anyone else caring for him, loving him, and understanding him the way we do. Thank you for sharing this heart wrenching but all to real story with us.


Thank you. We need to be reminded that we are all people and no one is disposable.