He greeted me with, "I’m not crazy, drunk or violent." I stopped–and considered each of those possibilities.
It was already dark, cars streamed past, heading home. With the mercury frozen in all the Edmonton gauges, exhalant, steam and exhaust hung grey and brittle in the air.
He was wearing a blue balaclava and a heavy green jacket. We stood on 104 Avenue, and from the light that sprayed out through the windows of a Dennys I could make out bruises over his eyes and right cheekbone, and some swelling around his jaw.
He was already rolling out a story that was complicated, involving an industrial accident, bad timing, no compensation, no one he could turn to, absent family. But in the end the story came to a precise ask. He needed exactly $3.83 to fill a Percocet prescription.
Any questions I offered were sidestepped, answered with, "I’m not lying…you gotta believe me…" He was speaking rope-a-dope, pulling me into an interrogation I had no desire to conduct. And I was caught in approbation, too conscious of our separation, and so failing to offer something beyond $3.83.
In the end, I gave him his $3.83 and change but felt hollow. His story dazed me and I had no way of knowing what bits were true. Estranged wife–did he mention kids? A house someplace in Millwoods he couldn’t get to, or didn’t have access to. Perhaps–his destination being Safeway pharmacy–there was addiction, violence, a restraining order. How to tell? But then why did I think for a second that it mattered if I got at the truth? It was the distance between us that derailed us both. I felt winded from listening–and then I felt sad. Sad about the whole sorry mess.
It’s the season of belonging. The season where the inner flame that wavers within us seeks the shelter of added assurance, seeks the gentle force of belonging to someone who cares whether we live or die, cares if we’re happy. It’s the season when that unsteady flame rises to the surface and shines out, waits, wavers more, and exposes our need for a smiling-yes.
To those who belong, longing finds its home. We may never completely escape our acquisitive desires, our need for an approving glance, but when they haunt, belonging at least tells us we’re in a rag and bone shop.
The sweet force of true belonging will sustain a life through pain, through self-doubt, insecurity, loneliness. It’s the not-by-bread-alone force. And to those who belong and accept their belonging, even death loses its force. Accepting our belonging is a kind of blooming resurrection. And a bloom is content to desire only the sun.
What of those with no sun? The cloud of ache is acute.
Gerry–we had gotten around to names–was too grateful for my pittance. He offered his hand–told me he still had three pins in his wrist from the accident and so asked me to shake it gently–which I did.