Brian fell off the wagon. He told me of his depression. His cold. His argument with someone at Hope Mission’s shelter, and now, his reluctance of going back. He stood spilling this all out on the sidewalk, stuttering fast, like he was afraid I would leave before he finished.
He was clutching a garbage bag half full of bottles. The walkway, were we stood, was still dark with just a sprinkle of light from a Starbucks window. When he finished the newsy part of his story and saw I was still standing there, he began a run down of his new plans. It involved the Yellow Pages and looking up a psychologist. He said he was afraid of his depression…said that’s one thing that if he could get rid of he knew he could make it. We stood beside each other, he had slowed down, his words came slow now and there was even a few silent moments. It was cold. I was ready to go in for my coffee. Brian would be unwelcome, he would stay outside. A lady came by and gave Brian an empty. Always gracious, he tripped over himself thanking her.
This cement walkway, the place where we stood, was once wind swept prairie grass with patches of poplar and paintbrush, yarrow and goldenrod, pincherry and saskatoon, grouse, beaver and whitetail deer. It held most everything that Brain’s ancestors needed.
Brian, if I remember right, is from the Ermineskin Cree Nation. His people have a historical relationship to this land that stretches back centuries. The land, close to a wide friendly river, cared for and carried Brian’s antecedents for a hundred generations. Their struggle, only a few generations ago, was a singular one. It was a lover’s quarrel with the land they knew. They understood that the land could be harsh. But it was always there. And it could be wooed back. Like a lover. Given gifts. And it would again respond. And Brian’s great grandfather’s, great-great grandmother would again thrive. Today Brian fights for his life in a world he can’t quite understand. He picks aluminum cans for meals. Like his ancient grandparents, he still sleeps by the river, but without fire.