Thursday, August 23, 2007

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.

49 comments:

carrie said...

Now, how about that!!!!!!

You go, A, you go!

Blog Antagonist said...

I imagine stories like his make it all worth while, yes? He sounds like a complicated guy, but as you said, a really good one at heart. I'm glad he made it.

alejna said...

How great that he managed to turn himself around, and how wonderful of him to pay you a visit to let you know.

I love that this story speaks to the complexity of things. How helping someone may not lead to success right away, but that it still may make a difference.

kiki said...

dude, i love stories like this. keep on telling us because as you do, you continue to help and influence all the brilliant people you come across in your day. by hearing your stories, you make me more aware. changing people one person at a time, honey. xoxo

Jenn said...

"I had no part in that success and yet it was mine all the same."

Wrong. I'm guessing you had so very much to do with it, even if he didn't do it in your presence.

Beck said...

The fact that he came back to show you the new, cleaned-up him says to me that you had a lot to do with him getting clean.

The Chick said...

Your stories remind me so much of my time as a public health social worker and my time as a volunteer in an AIDS hospice. I KNOW these folks you know. It's not just the work you do that's important....it's the sharing. Keep it up.

Oh, The Joys said...

These are the moments that keep you in the fight. I wish they happened every day.

Christine said...

oh jen--you had a lot to do with i am sure. i hope he has the best of luck and finds the peace he has been seeking for so long.

QT said...

That is great. Even in my personal life I have encountered people that I think "I have done everything I can for you, dude - godspeed". Over time, any sense of bitterness I may have had transformed itself into hope that the person actually would somehow just make it.

I guess that is my long way of saying I think I know how you felt when you walked out that door. And A, well, he beat the odds, didn't he?

biodtl said...

What a great story! It's nice to hear a happy ending.

Gwen said...

that gave me shivers, jen. the good kind.

Julie Pippert said...

Aw, warm and fuzzy. I am so glad for him. So glad for you.

Julie
Ravin' Picture Maven

kgirl said...

When you started this story with A was, I was expecting a very different ending. So glad I was mistaken.
Everybody deserves a happy ending.

Tabba said...

I love these stories, Jen. They always give me chills. In a good, good way.

NotSoSage said...

Thank you for seeing through it all to his goodness and for sharing it with us. I wish him the best of luck.

Bon said...

what a long, strange trip indeed...for both of you, to make it to that meeting place, paths apparently fully diverged and yet clearly, briefly connected.

i am glad he has made his way.

i am sure that you helped him build some basis for the something that finally clicked, just as he helped you build yourself along the way.

you've done good then, both of you.

jennifer said...

Beautiful story- letting yourself near people is a real talent, I think.

FENICLE said...

My cousin once told me - "It's the ups that keep us going and the downs that make us stronger."

To me, your story screams that.
Thanks for sharing!

Her Grace said...

It's stories like these that give us all hope.

And I agree with Jenn, the success is his, and yours.

You're special people, Jen.

flutter said...

This is fantastic. Sometimes people just take a few times to get it, no?

I am glad you got to see the good part.

Amy York said...

What a lovely story! It gave me goosebumps!
I firmly believe that we only change when we are ready... whether it's to be healthy, lose weight, be a better person, etc. He wasn't ready until he was ready and nothing wonderful you did to help him would have changed that. I'm so glad for you that you got the chance to bask in his (and yours too, finally) success. I hope it sticks this time!

mitzh said...

Such an inspiring story. It feels so good, eh?
Change do comes naturally when you want it.

You always have my respect for being who you are.

Jennifer said...

I'd bet A would beg to differ when you say you didn't have anything to do with his success.

Here's to the suit finally fitting!

Janet said...

Like kgirl, I thought this story wasn't going to end well. I was honestly thinking, "How does Jen keep doing her job when she has to watch people fall down, over and over again?"

Then? The Hollywood ending!

I love that he came back to see you. I think it means that he believes you played an important role. Or, at the very least, he cared about you.

blooming desertpea said...

A little spark on a dark night - but gives you light for a decade - it's called Gratitude.

Lawyer Mama said...

That's wonderful!

And don't moments like that make all the heartbreak worth while.

crazymumma said...

The strength it must have taken him.

And even if it is not forever he can always say he tried his damndest.

Lets all just collectively in our minds eye, watch him walk away and with that watching send our strength so it all sticks.

Pgoodness said...

I'm so glad he came back to show you his success - it was yours, too. Some days, everything feels worthwhile, eh? :-)

Wayfarer Scientista said...

oh, I am sooo glad for him and so glad he came to share it with you and that you chose to share it with us. Thank you.

thailandchani said...

Wow.. it would be interesting to know what clicked for him.

Sobriety can be a real struggle.. but it takes only one thing to finally turn it around.


Peace,

~Chani

KC said...

What a wonderful story, Jen, it's amazing when people are able to turn around and get their life in order after so much chaos.

I loved this post.

cinnamon gurl said...

Thank you for sharing this. Somehow it made me feel less overwhelmed about the inconvenient minutiae I'm struggling to deal with tonight.

Ally said...

This post was like a healing balm for the parts of my soul that tend to feel hopeless sometimes. Thank you for this.

The Expatriate Chef said...

You did help, he just wasn't ready. But when he was, he still had you with him, you know?

The title of this one nailed me! I've always joked that this was going to be my epitaph on my grave, followed by a line in little type that says, "Okay, so what's next?"

Slackermommy said...

I'm so glad he was able to turn his life around and I'm sure you had a hand in it. I wish more of the homeless, addicted, and mentally ill had good outcomes. You do good, Jen, you do good.

painted maypole said...

you know, of course, that you did help, and that it was your success, too, because you were a link in the chain that allowed him to get where he is today, in that fine suit

bgirl said...

i love your writing, the way i was left after reading this, like a ghost standing next to you on the street, watching him fade into the distance with each step.

brilliant. full circle. nice.

Jocelyn said...

That he made a point to come to you and show off his success and make the effort to say thank you is amazing--since, deep down, he probably knew what a risk it was for him to get anywhere near his old stomping grounds...such lure they can have--how easy to see just one person from the old days or get a feeling about the old place and start the slide back again.

Terrific story. Of course. As always.

lildb said...

I wish that you had any involvement in my brother's life. I have a feeling you'd make a difference for him, too.

you're so beautiful, Jen. you make me feel good to be alive.

krista said...

Hey, you must have gotten the feeling I needed to read this post today. I relate to this post, as you relate to mine- and thanks for writing this because it puts me more in the realm of that corner in which the ultimate mystery of things works energetically and expansively.

In the trenches with you, and in light and love,
Krista

Gill said...

Thanks for sharing that Jen. It must make everything you do so worthwhile when there is a success story like that.

Momish said...

Awesome!!! I love hearing these stories. I can only imagine how it must feel for you live them!!

I am still laughing over "that has absolutely nothing to do with homelessness, crack or the streets"

You are too funny, chica!

Magpie said...

That's a great story, and now I'm all choked up at my desk.

nomotherearth said...

I've always had a very strong belief in the ability for people to rehabilitate themselves (with help, of course). It's something that Mr Earth and I don't always agree on. This story just proves my point, and lifts my heart. Thanks for sharing!

(And whether you think it or not, you had everything to do with it..)

Hel said...

This story made me turn my back on doubt.

I wish, wish you were here to talk with.

Kelly said...

Now that story took me out of my melancholy and made me smile. Hooray for people making it, and hooray for people like you who help them get there.

Ruth Dynamite said...

Most of the time, you never know how your words and deeds have affected others. Every now and then you're lucky enough to see it firsthand.

I'm sure there are countless other "As" out there, Jen, thinking of you.

Susanne said...

Wow! What a story. I sure hope he will keep on like this. And great for you.