Well, yesterday was my brother’s birthday. Exactly one year ago that I went looking for him and found him. On the street. I have been in contact with him fairly regularly this whole year. A burden and a blessing. In that year I have felt such a roller-coaster of emotions – from fear to grief to sadness to amazement. In that year’s time he has held neither a job nor a place to live, bouncing from shelter to shelter and, as he so eloquently puts it, being his own man and sleeping under the stars. He has been elated to be free, miserable to be misunderstood, and content to be complacent. He swears on all that he holds holy that he is not taking drugs of any kind (not even a Tylenol he says), he is as clean as the proverbial whistle. In this year’s time he has lost and gained a dozen cell phones – some with outgoing messages left by former owners of the phone (that Peter can neither access nor change) that are nothing short of creepy. He gets aggravated with me for not knowing when it is him calling me (because it is yet another phone number I don’t know), but can’t seem to remember that during the hours between 8 and 4 daily I am at a place I like to call work. He is exasperating, infuriating and the funniest homeless person I know. Not so unlike him as a child (sans the homeless part). He has been furnished with (or has stolen) umpteen items of clothing, jackets, shoes, boots and an equal number of backpacks and carryalls. None of which remain in his possession for (as far as I can tell) 24 hours. Where do these things go and where do they come from? I ask the same questions about the soul. Your guess is as good as mine.
Sometimes he asks me for things. Not often, but sometimes. Though he rarely, if ever, asks me for money, I feel compelled in some strange way to give him a few bucks when I do see him. I then, nearly immediately after leaving him, feel resentful and irritated. On top of that, in order to see him I need to drive through a part of the city where there are many homeless people asking for a little cash or spare change. I never quite know what to do with them either. Seemingly, and according to Peter, they take no real offense if you refuse them. They’ll just ask the next person. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So sometimes I do toss a few bucks through my barely open window and sometimes I pretend I do not see them, purposefully inspecting my nails or steering wheel or the license plate of the car in front of me. The age-old dilemma: What good will a few bucks actually do? And the underside of that question; will it pay for the shot, puff, snort, swallow of whatever drug he is not taking, that will kill him?
I’m tired of pondering this quandary that has no right or logical answer. I have learned from my brother and from the websites of those organizations in the city that help homeless people, that more than a couple of dollars and at least as much as the ragged and sundry items of clothing homeless shelters have and provide, homeless people need socks. And underwear (I cringe and literally throw up in my mouth a little whenever Peter tells me how many months he has been wearing the same pair of underpants). And while I cannot possibly have a wide enough variety of underwear in my car for every occasion (my car is already plenty littered with my hockey equipment, a dozen or so water-bottles (both mine, the kids’ and the dog’s), after-school-treat-wrappers, dog treats, slips of paper… but I digress), I can have a multi-pack of adult-size socks in my car for those chance encounters as might call for such things. That and the fact that I have signed up to help with a knitting group at a local shelter seems about as much as I can do right now.