“You look hideous!” one of them shouted. Hideous. When they walk by, I can feel their judging eyes, but they usually don’t say too much. Sure, sometimes they’ll mutter, “Get a job!” But it’s usually the judgmental looks that hurt more than anything. When they drive by, now that’s a different story. When they drive by, they feel bold, safe in their car, knowing they’ll be out of sight in moments. So when they drive by they shout every judgmental thought that crosses their mind. ‘Loser!’ ‘Idiot!’ ‘Lazy bum!’ and today, ‘Hideous.’
I can’t disagree with them. Today I do look hideous. But I didn’t ask to look hideous.
I asked a man if he had any spare change. He didn’t have any spare change he wanted to share, but he had some built-up aggression he wanted to release, there’s no doubt about that. I suppose I could embellish the story and tell a tale of three burly guys, two of ‘em holding me down, the third one beating me. But there was only one man. One was all it took. I’m tired. I’m hungry. I’m cold. It was all I could do to try to protect myself, there was no energy within this mind or body to fight.
This guy thought he was tough, pummeling a tired old homeless man. Tough? Please. I took hits twice that hard when I was seven years old. And eight years old. And nine years old. And so on, until I finally decided to run away and escape the beatings when I was 14. I didn’t have any family to run to, no safe place, only the streets. And on the streets, they don’t feed you a warm meal. The streets feed you heroin warmed up on a spoon under the flame of a Bic lighter.
‘Loser!’ ‘Idiot!’ People always judging my mind. People always judging my looks. The more things change, the more they stay the same. When you’re eight years old, you don’t want to go to school with shoes or clothes that don’t fit. But kids are cruel, always quick to judge. They had no idea I took a beating before school for reasons I don’t even know, from a father who has problems I don’t understand. I never got any sleep in that house, I was always tired during school. And hungry. I was always hungry. I had to get out of there, I had had enough of the bruises and occasional broken bone. No high school diploma for me.
Drugs were too easy to come by, and they provided an escape from the hellish realities of life, if only temporarily. The first taste was free, and after that I was out on streets selling. I was selling drugs so I could buy drugs and have just a few hours of carefree happiness. No dad beating me. No kids mocking me at school. A few hours of happiness.
Before I knew it, I needed more, and more and more drugs to feel good, because I started to feel bad, really bad, in between the times I had a fix. Everything spiraled down from there. To be honest I don’t remember too much of my 20’s or my 30’s. I remember what it felt like to get high, and I remember how desperate I felt to find a way to get high again. And I remember the nightmares of the beatings from years ago.
I panic when I see a flame now. My long-time best friend on the streets was set on fire by some really drunk, really angry guys coming out of a bar at 2a.m. I think it traumatized me. Then again, I think the beatings as a child traumatized me. The relentless teasing and bullying at school traumatized me. The bottles they throw at me, the words they shout, I can’t think of any life experience I’ve had that didn’t traumatize me.
With my face all swelled-up like this, people who are typically kind to me are scared of me. I won’t be able to be out asking for spare change for a few days, which means I won’t be eating anything for a few days. But I’ll be all right. In a couple of days, I’ll be back out there on the corner all day, then counting my change during the evening to see if I have enough to buy a sandwich, or just a small bag of chips.
I’ll be all right.
Photo credit: Flickr/SLR Jester