Day 266 - Craig (1st person I approached)
September 23, 2014 - The Universe keeps unfolding and giving, especially if we take lessons from it. This morning, I had two choices; clean the coffee maker and make coffee, or walk across the street and buy a freshly brewed cup of coffee. And put cream in it. The choice was easy. As I crossed the street, I saw Tom from Day 10 sitting on his morning bench, with a friend. I chatted with Tom for a bit and he asked me what number of stranger I was on today. Tom’s friend Craig smiled and asked if I needed a stranger for today. I hadn't really intended to do anything other than get my coffee and head back home. But I remembered the last time I was in this situation - with Tom and his friend Barbara, as I wrote about on Day 206 (*see link below). I declined talking to Barbara that day, and three weeks later, Barbara had passed away. So I took the opportunity to explain to Craig what I was doing and he was all good to chat, and have his photo taken.
Craig was born in Ajax, Ontario.
“I’m the oldest of three, the only son. There were definitely times when I had to be the big brother and look out for my sisters. My father was a raging drunk. He and my mum split and we moved to Enniskillen (northeast of Toronto, Ontario). That was where she met my stepfather. He was the one who raised us, pretty much. My father was never around,” said Craig.
“My stepfather was an ex-cop and was always on a power trip. He would destroy our bedrooms and then demand we clean everything up. He made us write lines when we misbehaved. Military discipline,” he said.
“I was a pretty badass kid. I started using drugs and alcohol at thirteen. One night my sister and I missed curfew. She was eleven, and I was thirteen. We had gone to a party. Our stepfather called my sister and asked if she had a death wish. He wouldn’t let us in the house when we got home. We spent the night at a friend's place. The next day my mother brought us some clothes and said she was sorry. We couldn’t go home. My little sister ended up in foster care, and I went to a group home,” he told me.
“I failed Grade eight, so I had to repeat it. I did okay at most subjects, but I struggled with English. I just couldn’t get that. So I repeated Grade eight, I passed and then went to Grade nine. That was the last grade I completed,” said Craig.
“I ended up living on the streets for a few years. I was fourteen then, until about seventeen I guess,” he said. Craig got into crime, stealing cars, robbing people and selling drugs.
“By fourteen I was smoking weed, doing coke, acid, smoking crack. I OD’d on Ketamine. I was rolling a spliff (joint) and I had the K in a vial and I was tapping some onto the joint. I guess I tipped too much in and my body couldn’t process it. I went limp. I could feel all my body just, like folding up. That was rough,” he said, with an air of incredulity.
“I was in and out of Youth Detention in my teens as well.”
Craig moved to Toronto when he was seventeen, and got a job working as a crane operator at a dry dock.
“I was studying for my GED (General Educational Development) exam. I didn’t go back to school, I just studied on my own. I spent about two years doing that before I felt I was ready to take the test,” he said.
“Oh, and you know what happened, this is a funny story. Damn Social Studies. I got down to the last section of the exam and it was Social Studies. I was filling in my answers on the answer grid and I ran out of space. That meant that somewhere on the answer grid I had skipped a question. So I had to remember all of my answers, erase everything and fill out the answer grid again. I couldn’t afford to miss any questions. I never liked that damn Social Studies,” he said shaking his head. I believe the word he formed with his mouth was ‘fuck.’ He pulled out a short joint from the front pocket in his hoodie, lit it and smoked as we chatted.
Craig passed and got his GED.
“While I was working at the dock, I started to learn to weld as well. From about seventeen to almost twenty-one, I was drinking pretty hard-core. It was beer as soon as I got up, until the end of my day. I woke up one morning and realized I had already become my father. I gave up alcohol cold turkey. And now I maybe have a beer once or twice a year. That’s it,“ he said.
“I got my own apartment when I was twenty-one, and started going to college to get my certificate to become a welder. It’s a good job and pays well. I liked it too. I got everything I need for my ticket except for overhead. I got my flat, horizontal, vertical and I just need my overhead. I just can’t find anyplace to test for just overhead,” said Craig.
"I was running drugs then as well. I didn’t do business from my apartment. And I was seeing this girl who was from Vancouver. She came over one to my place one night and I was really high on rock (crack cocaine). She told me she wanted to move back to Vancouver and asked me if I wanted to go. I was thinking about it, but because I was so high, it was taking me some time to process and think about. She asked me again, and I just said ‘yeah, sure,’ and I moved out here with her,” he said. That was almost seven years ago. He carefully put the remaining small end of the joint in his hoodie pocket and pulled out a cigarette, and lit that.
“I’ve been homeless for most of the last seven years, living in social housing. Right now I sleep in a dorm room with 26 beds in it,” said Craig.
“I try to keep myself busy, working odd jobs. I was working in a warehouse hauling bags of rice around. But I hurt my back. My body is beat.” He has been in jail dozens of times, for petty crimes and misdemeanours.
“The last time I was in jail was for failure to comply, related to a probation I was on. But then they realized they had it wrong, thank goodness, and they let me go. I’ve never been to the Pen though (Federal prison)."
Craig had a child with his girlfriend four years ago.
“She chose drugs,” he said.
“We had this decent place. I'll be a man about it, I put my hand up right here and now and tell you, I was doing drugs on the weekends. I would get some rock on Friday, get wasted, then go through two days of withdrawal and Monday morning I was back at it. No problems. Then the landlord decided to sell our place. My girlfriend had been putting cash away for a while and had over two grand that she kept in a sock in the bedroom. I told her we could use that money to get a new place and make things alright. She went and got the cash and told me that she gave up and just wanted to get high. She decided she’d rather do drugs than get a new place. Our daughter went into foster care, and that was the end of our relationship,” he said. I waited until Craig wanted to continue speaking.
“I don’t do any more of the drugs, except for smoking weed. I figured why was I doing all this shit that was getting me in trouble. My body is falling apart. I’d rather just smoke weed, which isn’t illegal. I’m a drug addict yeah, but I can get high from pot. It’s a different high, but it doesn’t hurt me like the other drugs did,” he told me. His pain was palpable.
"I’d like to get my welding ticket and find regular work."
I watched Craig reach into what seemed to be a magic pocket in the front of his hoodie. A loose joint, perfectly rolled had come out. Then a loose cigarette without a tear in it. Then his left hand looked like it was wet. He licked his finger.
“Milk,” he says. He reached into that pocket and pulled out a small round container of milk. It was leaking a bit. I watched him gently place it on the bench next to him. He carefully reached back into the pocket and pulled out an egg. I was amazed. Then he pulled out another egg, which he placed on the bench next to the milk. I think I might have said ‘What the fuck’ out loud. His face lit up, with one of those smiles that goes from ear to ear and makes ones eyes close tightly. I told him he had a great smile.
“Yeah, I know I do,” he said, with no ego whatsoever. He’s certainly heard it before.
He is no longer in contact with any of his family.
“That’s not my choice.” #notastranger
*A story for Barbara - http://on.fb.me/1oJMYoP