what a long strange trip it's been

A came to us eight or nine years ago as a hardened and complex guy with a host of mental health and addiction issues. He was battered and lonely and abused as a child, he was taught to hate and learned by example. He fought hard in Vietnam when he was 18 and came home and lived a bastard sort of life, cheating on women and fathering children he couldn't care for. He admitted once to killing someone and spent some time in jail. He smoked crack on and off and drank too much till his liver started protesting. He stole things occasionally or regularly, these things tend to blur. He was a con man but a good man. Nothing's ever simple on the streets.

By the time I met him he'd stopped most of the nonsense. He was still struggling with addiction and stole things out of my office once or twice. But he also took the new folks under his wing and took care of everyone. He'd root around in dumpsters and find all kinds of treasures and clean them up and share them with others. He watched my back even as he'd lie to my face. He'd give me a hard time and allow the same in return.

Several years ago we were able to help him get permanent housing and I remember him telling me that a suicidal homicidal guy like me trusts no one. black is black and white is white and you're white and you'll never understand. but you still helped me, an crazy old black man like me and that says a lot and I think I can make it this time. And then he turned around and hit the crack pipe and smoked all his good fortune away in less than a year.

He'd come around from time to time, hopping from shelter to program and back again. He'd always greet me warmly and give me a little shit. I'd ask about him over time and sometimes folks had news and other times nothing. I hadn't seen him for a couple of years when my phone rang yesterday.

Are you still sitting up in your ivory tower? Come outside and see who's come to visit.

It was A. I ran outside and there he was dressed in a suit, something I had never seen. And he looked healthy and a bit overweight which is something he'd never managed while doing drugs. I gave him a giant hug and prattled on about how great he looked and he stood there in the sun grinning ear to ear.

Turns out he got himself into another program away from us and this time something clicked. He's been dealing with his illness and getting help and staying clean and telling the truth. He's saving money and working and volunteering as a way of giving back and taking care of business. He's made amends with his children while knowing he has to earn it and doesn't really deserve it he's trying just the same.

And then just as abruptly as he appeared he turned and said he had to go. He gave me another hug and walked off down the street and never looked back. I watched him walk for the longest time, a million lifetimes inside that walk. Because sometimes people find what they need after they leave and while you can't understand you realize it was finally his time and you rejoice all the same. He'll never really know how much he helped me grow up along the way because at least as much as I gave to him he'd given back to me. I cut my teeth on this man and I tried and failed and he tried and failed and one day he stopped failing and I had no part in that success and yet it was mine all the same.

And he must know it too because he came to show me and didn't ask for a thing. With guys like A nothing is certain and who knows if it will stick but a girl's gotta believe in something.

And besides, he looked mighty fine in that suit.

Before you go stop by my other gig where I review something that has absolutely nothing to do with homelessness, crack or the streets.