Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.
Awhile back I was downtown shopping. The buildings were beautiful, all done up in brick and mortar with large glitzy signs above. The shops displayed big-eyed windows, giving you a glimpse of the dazzling wares, within. The streets were paved in cobblestone. Lampposts were placed at just the right angles, reflecting an opulent ambiance. The scene was right out of a travel magazine, if, you looked beyond the homeless people.
Sadly, that’s what most folks did.
I must say I’m guilty of doing this too.
Truth is I was darn close to living on the streets. I spent one night alone, under a cement warehouse ramp, back in ‘97 and I never want to do it again! It was winter. I was cold, alone, evicted, scared and hurting in a way, only a cornered rat might be. I’d bit off my own tail, to stay ‘free’ and then trapped myself, in the most hellish way possible.
I was addicted.
That night I finally believed. Oh my God. I was a drug addict.
As I walked by the invisible people, a woman shouted to a passerby. “Hey Mister Can You Spare A Dime?”
He walked on as if he hadn’t heard. Relieved it wasn’t me she was shouting at; I began walking faster. I’d gone about a dozen steps, when I stopped.
Is this what I’d sobered up for? To pass my own kind on the streets, as if I didn’t even see them?
They were just me, a little further down the road. I’m sure I’d be joining them, if I were to ever pick up again, assuming I didn’t OD, of course.
As I took in the scene, the invisible woman raised her head and looked at me. Our eyes locked. I saw her pain. It was a vast sucking hole of shame, hurt, resentments and self-pity. Her eyes lowered. Her shoulders drooped and she turned away, defeated.
My heart was racing. I was scared. I didn’t know this woman. But I felt compelled, to help.
Holding my purse tightly to my side, I walked after her. She had gone back to her spot on the sidewalk. Her ‘home’ consisted of a lumpy stained, blue blanket, with a tarp underneath. I suspect the tarp doubled as a rain coat and tent.
Sitting cross-legged on the blanket she plucked a lighter from her pocket. Her squared off finger tips flicked a desperate beat. She stared at the flame, mesmerized.
I wasn’t sure what to say. I wasn’t going to give her money, because I didn’t believe it would help. What this woman needed was a meal and someone to listen to her. Of course, that was my thinking. I knew hers would be, ‘give me the cash.’
Still clutching my purse – yes I was afraid she’d jerk it away, or one of the other invisible people would – I bent down and said. “What brought you to the streets?”
Her thumb pressed down on the lighter. A little flame wavered between us for an instant, before she lowered it. A smile flitted across her face and then disappeared. I couldn’t really tell how old she was. She might have been a hard twenty, or in her late thirties. By the looks of her, she’d been on the streets for awhile.
I squatted on my haunches next to her. Not to close, just close enough so she could see I didn’t mean her any harm. She looked at me, the same way I’d looked at many others, when I was ‘out there.’ People were either a means to an end – they had money, and I wanted it to buy dope – or they were a waste of time, meaning they wouldn’t give me any.
She was trying to figure out which category I fit into. I beat her to the punch. “I’m not going to give you money, but I’ll buy you a meal. I’d like to hear your story.”
She protested briefly, asking for money and stating she would eat later. I shook my head. There wasn’t a lot happening on the streets. The prospects looked grim. Maybe she thought she could change my mind, I’m not sure, but she agreed to the meal.
We walked over to a McDonalds a few doors down. For a girl who wasn’t very hungry, she sure could eat. She scarfed down a Big Mac Meal and a cheeseburger. As she ate, I talked. I told her a little of my story, hoping she would feel comfortable enough, to share hers.
I learned that she had a Mom and Dad, and siblings. Her eyes welled up as she spoke about her family. She’d been going to university when she first began dabbling with pills. She’d leaned heavy on the energy drinks and coffee. She found speed and crystal meth, a ‘friend’ had given them to her. Her grades dropped, another ‘friend’ gave her a pill. An Oxycontin, she loved it, but Oxy cost too much and finally, she found heroin.
Her story is mine.
Her story is ours.
Her story will be yours, if you use long enough.
If you haven’t lost it all to addiction, just add yet.
I’ve often wondered what came of her. As we sat at the table and she shared her story, her eyes softened and the hard edges on her face, smoothed out. We talked for a long time, until she began to get fidgety. Dope sickness was kicking in and she needed more.
I didn’t have any magic words to prevent the inevitable. As she left, I prayed for an intervention. The kind that came with professionals who would help her to unravel the mess she was in. Whether she wanted it or not, this woman desperately needed treatment. I hoped she had someone in her world who cared enough, to look beyond the shopping cart and disheveled appearance, and see her for what she was – One of God’s children.
The next time a homeless person hollers at you for money, stop, look and listen. See them. It’s the very least you can do.
That invisible, homeless person is someone’s daughter, wife, mother and friend. She could be me, you, or your child.
A kind word can go a long way out on the streets.
You might be the only bright spot in a long line of heart break and trauma.
No drug addict ever believes they’ll live on the streets. And none do, starting off. But there are only three places an addict ends up – Jails, institutions or death.
As Ram Dass so eloquently quotes. We’re all just walking each other home.
There for the Grace of God go I – Or you.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance. 1.888 614.2379.
Best wishes, Lorelie Rozzano.