I believed I could become more than what their statistics believed I could. I also knew, outside of my mom and sister, no one else believed I could beat the statistics. But there comes a time where you have to follow your heart, where you have to make your own decisions to better yourself, even if everyone else calls you crazy. I knew to Mr. Robertson and English, I sounded crazy, naïve . . . a little homeless boy trying to dream big. I was being overlooked. I knew there were other non-homeless students in better schools who were given an opportunity. Wanting the same opportunity shouldn’t be a crime. How could they expect me to look around at my life and just accept it, and just roll over and die? Why couldn’t I have more? I didn’t choose the life I lived. But I could choose to opt out for a better life for myself since I was the only one who had to live it…Most kids I knew were dropping out. I knew I would have to fight the public school system with everything I had if I wanted to come out college ready. If, and only if, living on the streets didn’t kill me first.
This memoir covers the latter part of my homeless journey, ranging from age fourteen to seventeen, predominately my high school years. The horror of my homelessness is what I call it. Allow me to take you down my path and to walk in my footsteps along my own hellacious underground railroad. If you are reading this in the midst of your own overwhelmingly challenging journey, it is you for whom I write….It is you whom I urge not to quit. I know your pain and through my pain, I wish to give you strength. For everyone else reading this, please understand my story is only one of millions of other homeless people.
Out of all the extended family, only Amy’s mother knew the truth about me. To everyone else, I passed fine. It never came up any more. After years of hormones, surgery, I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had questioned who I was. Amy used to hate it, not being able to qualify this is my boyfriend with he’s trans, especially with her queer friends, so she wouldn’t seem like an ordinary straight girl. Amy was a little concerned sometimes that she was too conventional. I didn’t really get it — I liked to blend, plus I thought she was like a fucking star in every room she walked into. But it was my life, and she got that.
I guess I felt a similar way with friends who liked to introduce me with This is Josh. He’s a paramedic. I had to tell people to stop doing it; it was my card to play. Because inevitably, you immediately got, Wow, what’s your craziest story? I could never do that! But I doubt they really wanted to hear about the woman who jumped off her building last night, especially when all of us were sitting at the bar having a good time. But I got it. It was a weird job. I just didn’t like to immediately be questioned about it.
Back at the apartment, Roxy was hanging up our stockings and making invitations to our annual Christmas Eve dinner party for friends who don’t visit family for the holidays. She’d rented a deep fryer and Guitar Hero, and had a Charlie Brown tree in every room. The holiday season fuelled Roxy, filled her with kindness for all the local orphaned twenty-something misfits. I just wished the holiday was over. In January, I can start over, I thought, along with everyone else.
Maria grounded me in my history and my present. Have you ever met someone who was just good? Who, when you came across complicated moral questions, was programmed into your phone as “certain virtue”? This was Maria, exactly.
Let me tell you, most guys who get punched in the face deserve it. I would say maybe eighty percent of them fully deserve what’s coming to them. Maybe the other ten percent could’ve used a good tongue lashing instead. This guy was one of those people I wished I could’ve taken out myself. Every second word out of his mouth was faggot and he’d uttered a variety of rotating racial slurs. He smelled like a decomposing liver.
Today I checked the lock on the pink BMX, and felt a wave of guilt for even contemplating stealing it. It was my day off. I had planned for the sweet, calming tedium of grocery shopping, perhaps a magazine read cover to cover while sipping a fourth cup of coffee, no random crimes. But there was something in the air: expectation.
Despite Roxy’s stripper name — the actual name on her birth certificate was Roxy Barbara Streisand Gillard, and I’m not even kidding — she was as far as possible from the way you’d expect a Roxy to look. Roxy was a connector — or was it a nucleus? At school I had always skipped biology, so I wasn’t good with scientific metaphors. Anyway, she connected people. She was pretty much how I made all my friends in Toronto. She made an effort to make plans with friends, and to introduce them to others, like a community hub. There — Roxy was a community hub. She was rarely alone. She was always up to something interesting.
Roxy liked to talk. I liked to listen. The roommate situation would probably work out well.
The stale coffee is boiling up but he catches it before it goes over the side, pours it into a stained cup and blows on the black liquid, lets a panel of the dream slide forward. If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong.