It was exactly a year ago. I knocked on my girl friend’s door; there to pick up my children who she had graciously collected from school for me. “So, how did it go?” she asked with cautious excitement in her eyes. It was then that the tears that had been threatening to fall for the past 30 minutes, finally gave way and spilled down my cheeks. “I’m not sure if he can do this” I said in-between sobs. Her shoulder, the soft place for me to land.
That December was brutally cold. The kind of cold that makes you cancel plans, keep the kids home from school and spend the day indoors in woolly socks and sweaters. Hunkered down in the warmth of my home, my heart lay outside in the bitter cold.
Bert had been discharged right before Christmas. The surgery, while deemed a success, had left him in agonizing pain. Where numbness once lived, searing pains now resided – a good sign in some ways, as nerved damage can be irreversible and at least the pain meant the nerves were alive. But even that was of little comfort. I could only imagine the ways in which he would seek to return to his own kind of numbness. The deep, soul sucking numbness; his only true companion, more powerful than a lover. While it broke my heart to think of his return to the addiction that had gripped his life for so long, after weeks of sobriety, I felt myself hoping & wishing that at least it was bringing comfort to his tortured body and mind. A sure sign of my deep and profound love for him.
I couldn’t fathom trying to live on the streets – let alone in those temperatures, especially right after major surgery. I have long believed that so much of Bert’s survival on the streets was tied up in how affable he is. You couldn’t help but like the talkative, storytelling chap, but if by chance you didn’t, I can only surmise that his large stature and rugged work hands might still make you think twice before crossing him. And now all he had was his genial nature to rely on. Survival.
Christmas was particularly painful for me. I did get to see him because he brought by a gift he had attempted to make for our family. Seeing him was equal parts delight and agony. All my fears confirmed. But if there is one thing Bert is, it is a survivor.
Spring’s arrival brought new life and injected new hope into my very soul. It was as if the melting of the snow had somehow melted the ice cap of my heart. The grass returning to life and the trees in full bud, reminded me that the season of winter’s struggles were no more. There were still hurdles to overcome, but at least -40 and no bed were not listed among them. It is amazing how very good spring is for a weary soul. And I was weary.
But I refused to give up. I had a dream, and it was fuelled by the love I felt for the man who joyfully spent what little money he had on birthday gifts for my children. They were bought weeks ahead of time, and wrapped in tissue paper and stored behind the counter of a neighborhood drug store staffed by earthly angels. He was like a little child-more excited for their birthday’s than even they were! My dream was not lofty, at least not by basic North American standards, but somehow I felt like I was scaling the Berlin wall.
A home. A safe place . A place to belong.
The list of places I went, and people I talked to, and letters I wrote is exhaustive.
Going down the garden path of government programs and protocols and red tape is not for the faint of heart. But I had access to a phone, to the internet, to a vehicle and I could do all these things from the comfort of my own home. He had none of these. I have no mental impairment or addiction issues and I had a hard time navigating the system. I simply cannot fathom how anyone who lives on the streets could have any hope of wading these ever changing, murky waters.
One day –
The phone rang.
This time is was not one government agency telling me they couldn’t help me and I had to call another government agency, after waiting two or three weeks for that call to be returned. It was not a call telling me that for one reason or another he didn’t qualify. It was not another call about how they had to have his permission to even speak to me. It was the words I had been dreaming of hearing…
“We have a room for Bert.”
And the tears fell.
Tears of joy. Tears of hope. Tears of elation.
Now I just had to wait to deliver the great news! And just like that I was waiting for the phone to ring again.
To be continued…
*written with permission*