The sun’s rays beat down on me mercilessly. No wonder the cool, quiet darkness of night was so tempting. My mind struggled to conceive the impossible: survival on the streets. Regretting not going camping when I’d had the chance, hurts, fears and resentments stung. The thought of dressing down hurt, yet others seemed so happy in spite of their rags. I didn’t understand. How did they eat when I had no food at all? Did they secretly disappear into wood to eat berries, roots and grubs? Yuk! I didn’t want to do that, but…. Did they eat them raw? Double yuk! Where did they sleep, wash, shave and dress? What did they talk about when I wasn’t there? So many questions. So many things I took for granted because I never took the time to ask. What did my identity have to with things anyway? I was a human being, a child of God, a … nothing. With nothing, I felt like nothing. With a frown, I still had the shirt on my back, but how long would that last? I didn’t care anymore. I just didn’t want to end up dead in dirty underwear. Pushing the elephant of sarcasm off me, I knew I’d have to find a change of clothes – maybe even camouflage – food and tools along the way.
Peering down the alleyways, a new world opened up before me. Fight or flight, do or die, what was I going to do? Though it hurt me to say, but maybe someone would help me. I had to at least try.
A couple of alleyways down, my mind turned to Tom and wondered what he might be doing. What would he do if I told him? Lost in a world of assumptions, a tall figure appeared down the next alley. Why was he here? Why did it matter?
Head in a world of music, he looked so innocent and attractive untouched by the bullshit of the regular world. Sniffing the air like a wild animal, I watched and felt him out from a distance. Not worrying about sliding down the evolutionary scale, I reminisced about the ‘good’ old times and took stock of his redeeming qualities. He was a great talker and could charm the skin off a snake if he had to. So what if he enjoyed getting high and binning. At least it got him what he wanted. At least he was alive, happy (happier than me) and making it against insurmountable odds. He was everything I wasn’t, but wanted to be!
Scared of ruining his good mood, I edged ever closer until he saw me. Now there was no turning back. In a smile so genuine it melted my heart, I felt accepted on a level like never before. Part of me tried twisting it into something sinister, but I stood my ground. After exchanging polite greetings we eyed each other somewhat suspiciously. I didn’t know if he knew or not, but I couldn’t risk losing a golden opportunity. So I listened patiently to his ever ample talk, waiting for the right moment to speak. It was a welcome respite from people’s reactions of ‘oh you poor thing’, ‘get away from me’, ‘how did you get it?’ or the cold shoulder, as if being homeless, doing drugs, ashamed and scared to death wasn’t punishment enough?
When I thought he’d finished, I lowered my head and something remarkable happened: his eyes filled with love. I asked if he’d heard any news about me. He had, point blank. Resisting the urge to run, I welcomed his bluntness with open arms. Yet there was more! He considered me a misfit and there was nothing wrong with that. He didn’t care if I was spreading diseases or not – others did it all the time. I tried telling him I wasn’t, but chose to let him finish instead. It was nice to see some things hadn’t changed! He said he was a misfit too, a loner who wasn’t like the other street kids – and he didn’t care! He was proud of it.
I understood where he was coming from, but told him to be careful nonetheless. He knew the implications, but unlike ‘them‘ he prided himself on having an opinion. Appealing to his opinionated nature, I told him most people knew nothing about HIV, drug use or anything else outside their comfort zones for that matter. They acted like they got it by talking and breathing the same air, listening to the same music or anything that justified their stupid irrational fears. Eyes and voice aflame, I told him how good friends reacted and while I understood their feelings, they paled in comparison to my own. In the silence, I asked to hang out with him until he got tired of me, then I’d go away. He smiled and agreed.
We walked through the alleys together, a couple of lonely misfits trying to get by in a world gone mad, his endless chattering music to my ears. Turning inward, I secretly made a commitment to the Universe to repay his gift of kindness by taking care of him and being the best friend I could possibly be.
© Michael J. Varma, The Gong Show, 2011 –
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