Gary came down the stairs at the drop in, saw me and said, “I haven’t got your money yet. I know it’s been three years. I’m working on it.” Gary has been involved in a court case where his landlord stole things from his apartment before kicking him out. Gary really likes what we do at OIM, so much so that he has committed some of the money from the settlement to helping the poor. My protests that this is not necessary do not make any difference.
We sat down and talked for quite some time. He told me that the first time his father gave him a black eye he was six years old. He never could measure up to his father’s expectations, and would expect a beating when he brought home a less than perfect report card. He wet the bed every night, and every morning he would pay for it.
He ran away from home twelve times before he actually succeeded in making a breakaway when he was fifteen years old. He never went back.
Odd jobs in many different places over his sixty-two years, but he never settled down for a long time in any one place. He stopped drinking a year ago. No programs, he just quit.
He said his father was a very successful man from all appearances. No-one knew how he treated his family, and in those days, it was a well guarded secret. A leader in his labour union and in the community, he was well respected and seen as a pillar in the community.
Gary told me he spoke with his father before his dad died. He did what he could to make things right. In one conversation, his father wondered why his children didn’t call him. “Well dad, you need to remember that you beat them almost every day,” Gary replied, “You can’t really expect much after doing that for so many years. Plus, we all remember how mom was beat.”
It’s remarkable how my friend has survived these many years. He holds no ill will towards his dad, he has forgiven him. Now, instead he helps other street friends when he can and is well respected. In fact, one of our street friends came over while we were talking and asked for some advice. In his own gentle way, Gary turned his attention to his friend’s inquiry and did his best to help.
It was time for him to go to an appointment, and we bid each other farewell.
This story is unique to Gary, but not uncommon in the street community. Young children suffer all manner of abuse at home, are forced to leave – fearing for their lives, descend into the pit of addictions and find themselves on the street.
Thankfully Gary found a way out before it consumed him, and now has chosen to give back. And, in his current maltreatment by his landlord, is standing up for his rights and justice.
I marvel at Gary’s and others’ fortitude, resiliency and determination. I’m not sure I would fare so well.
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