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1 March 2012

 

Lost Brave

a lost brave
leans against a building
(tho he is unwelcome)
beside a busy walk.
everything he owns
fills a pack
upon his back

he is far
from his fishing boat,
an ocean teeming with fish,
from the majestic forest,
from his children,
his clan

his eyes reveal
a story of hurt and pain –
the uncertainty of the city.
a sidewalk for a bed,
charity of strangers
his only grace

a challenge
every day –
a new beginning.
beyond the fire
that tames his demons
the only plan that matters
is to survive

far from home
he can scarce remember.
a lost brave, fighting back tears,
pride in the knowledge
of his ancestry,
his place –
his blood

.

The wind was whipping the freezing ice crystals, like coarse sand, against my face as I walked to ‘the heater’, a warm air exhaust vent on a public building. Ian was standing alone. “I’ve made my price already; the price I need to buy a bottle. I’ve got another in my backpack that Marlena gave me. I haven’t even started that one. She said, ‘Since you’re giving me money, I’ll buy you a bottle.’ She even offered to carry my backpack, since my back is still sore from being thrown down the stairs. I said, ‘Sure, you can carry my backpack, I’ll carry your purse.’ ‘You can’t carry my purse!’ she said. ‘Sure I can! It takes a real man to carry a purse.’

“It was the same when I was in the hospital for detox. A nurse told me that if I’d wear a pink hat, she’d bring me a bottle. ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘bring it on! It takes a real man to wear a pink hat.’ I wore the hat and she brought me a bottle.

“Before that, I was hallucinating. It seemed that the ground ahead of me was crawling with things. I felt really dizzy. I phoned the pharmacy and told them how I was feeling. They asked if I was taking any drugs. I said, ‘Not bad drugs, a little weed now and then.’ ‘Do you drink?’ they asked. ‘Yes, I drink.’ ‘What you’ve got then is delerium tremens, the DTs.’ They said I should get to a hospital right away because it could be fatal.

“I didn’t know what to do. I was homeless and didn’t have any way to get to the hospital, so I phoned Alcoholics Anonymous. They said they would send someone to pick me up and stay with me in the hospital. I was unconscious for three days.

“The doctor said that my heart rate was one hundred and eighty. He asked if I was an athlete. I said I was. He told me that having a strong heart probably saved my life because that number was in the heart attack range.

“Marlena and I are still seeing each other, but I don’t go to her house. I don’t want to cause any trouble between her and her family. When I was there I’d do lots of things to help out. I’d sweep and mop the floor, carry out the garbage — anything. I was feeling edgy, so I wanted things to do to keep me occupied. Before I have my first drink of the day, I’m hard to get along with. Once I’m fixed, I’m okay.

“Marlena wants to have a baby, but I’m not ready for that yet. I still have to get my life in order. I could get a job. My former boss keeps leaving messages at The Shepherd for me saying, ‘Ian, get your shit together and come back to work.’ I was a ‘swamper’, or what he called ‘a professional furniture handler’. He would go in and do all the paperwork and I would be in the truck stacking furniture. I was good at that, that’s why he wants me back. I was paid eight hundred a week.

“We did some local moves, some to Ottawa and the smaller cities in between. We’d go to Montreal. The farthest we went to was a move to Sudbury.

“We’d have a lot of laughs kidding each other. He’d ask me, ‘Ian, do you want a beer.’ I’d say, ‘Of course!’ I didn’t do any of the driving. I don’t have my license. When I drink, sometimes I get crazy. I might get behind the wheel of a car and kill myself or someone else.

“I was on the alcohol addiction program at The Shepherd, but I messed that up. They would give me a small glass of wine every hour, but I had a bottle stashed outside. They could see that I was getting more and more drunk as the day went on, so they kicked me out.

“While I was there I mopped the floors, cleaned the tables, operated the dishwasher. One of the managers, a little guy, Albert, came in after I had just cleaned the counter. He made himself a sandwich and left a mess where I had just cleaned. I had a wet cloth in my hand from wiping tables. I wrung it out and handed it to him, ‘You know how to use this, so use it! It’s not my job to clean up after you!’ I’ve always been hard-headed that way.

“When I was on the shelter side I’d strip the sheets from the beds. Sometimes, a guy would have pissed the bed. I hated that — the stink! I told them if I was going to do that job, I wanted a free newspaper. They agreed to that. It was something. I’m not going to go back on a program. I’m going to do it by myself. I’ve cut back quite a bit.

“Lately I’ve been sleeping in the entrance of the Toronto Dominion Bank, where they have the banking machines. There’s a bench that I can hide behind. The heater was too hot so I took a pair of tweezers and adjusted the temperature — now it’s just right. Sometimes the cops will find me there and kick me out. In the morning the manager will tell me to wake up and get out. She’s nice though. I tell her, ‘Just give me a few minutes to wake up, then I’ll be out of here.’

“I don’t know why Andre isn’t here. I haven’t seen him for five days. He’s usually the first to come by. Maybe he got a parole violation. That could mean thirty days, of course, he’d only have to serve twenty of that. This is a ‘red zone’ for me. According to my probation, I’m not allowed to get drunk or to associate with alcoholics.”

A security guard, wearing a yellow neon vest approached. “It’s time to move along. We used to let people stand around here, but there was too much mess, cigarette butts, cigarette packages, bottles. So, you’ve got one minute to finish your smoke then I’m coming back. If you’re still here I’m phoning the police.”

To me, Ian said, “I should have told him that this building is on Algonquin land. I’m part Algonquin, but I don’t know what to do. Maybe, I’ll contact the Algonquin Chief. He may be able to tell me what can be done.”

It’s the first time I’ve been rousted, but now I know how it feels.

~~~

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