February 07, 2015 - David (1st person I approached)
I noticed David coming out of a grocery store. I kept walking and when I looked back, he was just a few feet behind me. I stopped and waited until he was right next to me. I said hello and told him about my project and asked if he would chat with me.
“Well, what kind of things do you want to know,” he said, slurring his words a bit. I could smell alcohol coming from him, but he seemed to maintaining himself quite well.
I told him that I hoped we could chat about where he was born and what his childhood was like and all the things that got him to where he was today.
“I was born and I’m here now, talking to you. Done!” he said. He was laughing when he said that though, so I stuck with him. I explained that in talking to a different person everyday, I feel it gives an insight into people we might not otherwise get to chat with.
“If you’re doing something that might help homeless people, then sure. I’ll talk to you as long as you want, no problem,” he said.
“I don’t do drugs, but I am an alcoholic,” said David. I told him I’m a sober alcoholic and he asked how long I’ve been sober for. When I told him sixteen years, he gave me a great big smile and said “Congratulations man, that’s great!”
We walked outside and passed a display belonging to a fruit and produce stand. David took one large white potato, telling me he was hungry. We found a bench to sit on. It wasn’t raining, but the bench was wet. David took the sleeve of his jacket and wiped a section of the bench for me to sit down. He then sat down without wiping the bench for himself.
“I was born in Penticton (British Columbia).” I asked if he had any brothers or sisters.
“Nope, it’s just me. No brothers, no sisters, no aunts or cousins. I don’t even know who my mother or father are,” he said.
“I spent all my childhood in group homes and foster homes. I got moved around a lot. So many times. So many homes. I wasn’t a bad kid, really. I don’t why they always moved me, but they did.” All David knows is that at least one of his parents were First Nations.
“I went to a bunch of different schools too. I went to a couple of schools right here in Vancouver. I made it until about Grade nine,” he said. David was taking bites of the raw potato as we talked. Whenever I asked him a question, if he was chewing, he would point his finger up, in a ‘hold on’ gesture, and finish chewing before answering. He is missing several front teeth, but seemed to manage to bite and chew the potato without any issue.
“I stayed in foster homes right up until I left school. The longest I was ever in one home would probably be weeks. No longer.”
David started drinking when he was twenty-two years old.
“I was dating this girl. We had a lot of fun together. We’d drink together and have lots of sex and sometimes I’d miss work to spend time with her,” he said.
“I was working at a few local malls, as a security guard. I had gotten some warnings about being late, and missing time from work. This one day, she wanted me to stay home with her. You know, when you care about someone, and you’re dating, you have a responsibility to do what you can to look after them. I did what I could to help her. Bought her booze, took her out, we had great sex. We laughed. Usually I only cared about having sex; I didn’t care about the women, but I liked her. But I couldn’t take anymore time off work,” he said.
He left for work and his girlfriend decided to drive to Kamloops, where her family lived. She was killed in a car accident on the way.
“She was pregnant. At first she never told me, and I didn’t know. But she eventually did tell me. She was pretty far along. They tried to save the baby, but couldn’t,” he said, looking straight ahead.
“One of her friends called to say she was gone. Her and the baby. Gone.” I thought David was crying, he was looking down and had stopped eating the potato. I asked quietly if he was alright.
“Yeah,” he whispered.
“I lost my job. I just kept drinking. I lost everything. My girlfriend, the baby, I had no family. I drank. Then I lost my home. I’ve been homeless for years. I have a homeless shelter that I stay at, but it’s not a home,” he said.
He starting coughing, and it I know sounds odd, but it made me smile. I could see the little boy in him, even though we determined he was a few months older than me. It was a gentle ‘stop-the-world-I’m-gonna-cough-again' kind of sound. He leaned forward with each singular cough. He put his hand over his mouth with each sound that he emitted. and then put his hand back down. Then up again, cough, then down. I wondered if he remembered I was sitting right next to him. He was so focussed on his cough, cough.
David spends his days collecting empty bottles and cans, and returning them to use the money to buy alcohol.
“Beer, I like to drink beer,” he said.
“I smoke a little bit of weed too. I used to do hard drugs, but not any more,” he said.
He told me that he once overdosed on heroin and died. “I woke up in the morgue, even had a tag on my toes," he said, lifting his foot and pointing to it.
“It was like a dream. Laying there, I thought I was dreaming. I had died and come back. I gave the hospital staff a fucking heart attack when I started knocking on the window so they’d let me out!” he said, laughing so hard, he sent little bits of chewed-up potato to the sidewalk. “I quit drugs right then. Cold turkey,” David said.
“I was in jail a few times. Usually for fighting. I guess I can be pretty violent, if I’m provoked and need to be. Just last night I was charged with uttering threats to a security guard at the airport,” he said. David told me he had gotten on a train downtown, and intended to get off at the King Edward station, which is four or five stops away from downtown Vancouver. He said he must have fallen asleep, and they woke him up at the airport, the end of the line. He was told to get off the train.
“I didn’t know where I was. I don’t ever go to Richmond. I call it Ditch-mond, on account of all the ditches it used to have.” We talked about that for a bit; I spent some of my childhood living there, and remember the huge ditches that were all over Richmond.
“So I go wondering around and sat on a bench to figure out how to get back on the train. I'm in the airport. I got a ticket for uttering threats. My conditions were I’m to stay away from the airport. I’m to stay out of Richmond, and I’m to stay away from the train. I found my way back and took the train, from the airport, out of Richmond and got off at King Edward Station,” he said, victoriously.
“I’m going to go to court for this one. I don’t have to. I mean I’m one step ahead of them. I didn’t tell them where I live, because it’s a shelter. But I’m going to go because I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t utter threats to anyone. All I did was fall asleep,” he told me. I asked him if he had a lot of his belongings with him or anything on the train.
“Nope. I don’t have anything. I’ve got my eyes on a new shopping buggy, but this here is all I got,” he said, showing me a small, flat backpack.
“And the clothes I’m wearing. That’s it.”
I asked if I could take his picture. I took a couple of photos and showed them to David.
“Hey, you got me!” he laughed.
“Can you send me one of these pictures?” He pulled a flip-phone out of his pocket.
“I can give you my number. Will you send me a picture?” I took down his number, which he fired off at me, and said I would send him one when I got home. I asked who he called with his phone.
"No one. I like to have it though, in case I need to call emergency services. Who do you call with yours?” he asked. I told him I rarely talk on the phone and that the only person who ever calls me is my mother.
“At least you have a mother. You’re lucky. I don’t have anyone. I don’t have a family. I have drinking buddies, but I wouldn’t call them friends. Alcohol is my family. It’s always there.”
I told David that I could imagine that it was hard to be in that situation.
“Well,” he said.
"I don’t have anyone to blame but myself. No one makes me drink. I’m an alcoholic because I choose to drink.” I told David that in my experience of getting sober, I realized that I often wanted to blame everything that was wrong in my world, on everyone but myself.
He looked at me with that shake-your-head kind of smile.
“I’m fifty-two years old. I have to accept responsibility. I’m responsible for my life, nobody else is.” He held out his hand to shake, and asked me my name again.
"I'm sorry, I don’t remember your name. But good for you for being sober, that’s great. Really. And thanks for talking to me.” He gave me a final fist bump, and I walked away. He stayed there, sitting on the bench, finishing his potato. #notastranger