(quotes by memory only, and definitely not accurate)
There is a story I'd like to tell that happened to me not too long ago, while I was living in Toronto. I was on my way home from work. It had been raining in the morning, so I had taken the subway instead of riding my bike, and so I found myself walking home, way beyond midnight. Walking up Yonge Street at this hour might be a bit scary for quite a few people, but I've gotten quite used to it. Of course, walking is somewhat scarier than riding.
I have almost reached College, when a guy stops me and asks for the time. It is quite obvious that this person has not had a bed for quite a while. I tell him that it's 4am. He thanks, and we both continue in each our direction. Then he turns around and shouts after me. "Hey, could you spare me a Looney (A Canadian dollar) for a cup of coffee?” I shake my head.
"Sorry," I tell him. "I can't"
He then walks back up to me and say that he can understand that I might be worried about him using it for drugs or things like that. And as (way too) deep my hear is, I tell him I would buy him a cup of coffee, but I will not give him no Looney. He agrees. So we walk up to the Italian bakery on the corner of Yonge/Carlton/College, I buy us both each our cup of coffee. Again he asks for money, because he will get hungry later on. I ask him if he wants something to eat, and I’d buy him something to eat.
"No, I'm not hungry right now. I will get hungry later on. Could you just spare a Looney?" I tell him no, I would buy him something to eat, but I wouldn't give him a Looney.
We sit down by a table, and he starts telling about himself. He was from Winnipeg, and had been on the street for twenty years. He had in fact walked from Winnipeg to Toronto. He said he had been all over Canada, he had seen it all.
He said that his sister wanted him to get back to Winnipeg, but he just couldn't face her. He showed me the letter. It looked as if it had been written by a six year old who had just learned how to write. “By the time you read this," it said, "I'm probably dead. I don't know how long how much longer I can go on like this." It was a letter of despair. It told how he was back on drugs. How he couldn't hold a job. How he couldn't find his place in the world. But more importantly, how he found it so difficult to live with the memories.
"I want to ask her," he said. "How do you get by? How can you live with yourself? She keeps telling me to put the past behind me. But I can’t." I didn't know what his past was all about, but I assured him that most likely, whatever it was, it probably wasn't about him. And so he started telling me his story.
He was eight years old. His sister was six. They had both been tied down. Spread eagled. "TOO MUCH INFORMATION" I was crying inside myself. Luckily his details stopped there. They had both been sexually abused by some guy that their mom had trusted. It had been going on for quite a while before she knew. He could remember how his sister had been crying. How he wanted to help her, but couldn't. How the guy tried to convince them that it was natural.
"How can I live with that?" he asked. He showed me a number of scars on both his wrists. "I'm ashamed of these. I want to hide them away when I walk down the street." Several of the scars were across, but one scar was indeed along the artery. "I've tried to kill myself so many times, but there has always been somebody that saved me. Why?"
"You are still worth something," I told him. "I have never experienced what you have experienced, but this did not happen because you deserved it, but because this guy was really bad. That it happened to you was circumstantial. It was not because of you, but because of him." I didn't expect him to get it immediately, it might well take a few days before it would sink in.
"You must think I'm really low," he said.
"No, you're worth as much as anybody else." I tried to reassure him.
"You have only lived a different life, experienced different things. I can’t possibly see the world exactly the same way you do, and without that, I can't possibly judge you or anybody else."