Walked last night along Haight. We started our journey a littler nearer to Gough; just before Buena Vista Park. The neighborhood is awesome there… stacks and stacks of picturesque – ticky-tacky houses all in a row.
In and between them were people. Some in groups pouring themselves into and out of restaurants and bars where others were along the fringes hoping the others dropped something along their way.
As we got started we knew we would grow more tired as the night grew old so we decided to drop into a small market to grab a caffeinated beverage. That is where we met R. He popped in grabbing a bottle of wine, plunked down his bills and looked up to find us standing there in our collars. He smiled ear-to-ear and said, “I can’t believe this. I was just talking to my dad about God and now here you are. Unbelievable.”
We smiled back and said, “Hello.”
We paid for our sodas, as he stood waiting and we all folded out onto streets to talk… and talk he did.
He talked of his childhood. He talked of his adulthood. He talked of religion and his faith. He asked us to join him as he made his way home. We did. We listened as he told his story. We didn’t care about the time. We lost track of where we were going as we followed alongside, meandering the streets turning left and right as he spoke.
There is so much I learned of him. Layers upon layers. Ups and downs. He spoke like he had been bottled up inside and our presence popped his cork. His words flowed; from childhood, coming out, to college to now living in the city desiring his career and relationships to deepen and thrive.
We simply listened; attentively tracking the ins and outs of his highs and lows. The more we listened and waited for him to find his words, the deeper and truer his words became.
In seemingly moments we stood outside and below his home. He pointed to where he lived. He said his address. He wanted to talk again. He wanted us to be friends. We told him we already were.
Soon we made our goodbyes and he departed, walking up his stairs as we turned to find our way back. We feel enriched by his sharing. His story was beautiful. His sharing rich. His authenticity real. His faith? Deep despite his lacking the words to fully articulate it. He walks in who he is. He walks in who’s he is. What a gift his presence was to us; just as he declared ours was to him.
Our words were few. Hardly said a thing in fact. All we did was walk with him. All we did was listen.
When he said he hoped we’d see each other again sometime soon we said, “Sure, God brought us together this evening – a gift to us both. God is with us now and as we leave, our paths may surely cross again… Perhaps not with each other, although we hope so, but our meeting tonight was a God-thing. God’s gift to us both.”
Rolling over the hill down toward the heart of Haight he stood off to the side with a friend clearly displaying a sort of disassociation common on the streets. Perhaps drugs. Perhaps mental illness. Perhaps both. I neared the fellow sitting against the chain-linked fence. He was stooped there painting his skateboard. The detail was stunning. The colors he picked were rich. We talked about his art.
“I am sure tired of being out here though,” he blurted mid-sentence to his story of being mugged for his guitar, leaving him only this skateboard and few bottles of paint. “Yeah…. the streets can swallow you alive, can’t they?” I said as I lowered myself to be nearer.
With my simple motion or was it my words? Or both….he rolled forward into his story.
Wisconsin contained a life long ago that was filled with all the things normally attributed to a full young life – family, friends, college, aspirations, hopes…. Only now to be a place he cannot return. He can’t go back. What was there is gone. Family dispersed, chances and opportunities spent; bridges burned. He was searching for forgiveness. I gave him what I had.
As we sat, together we looked upon Wisconsin. It was a time warp, a dream. Was it ever real there? We wondered together.
Now? As for today? All he wants is to feel.
All he wants is to feel he is connected to life, people; some meaning.
While I held some found and tested anecdotes to his desires, I really said nothing. I let him talk. I let him sit in his thoughts, his feelings offering my time, my presence, my-self midst sutble assurances that I was tracking his story, that I cared; that I have not left his side.
We sat as he stoked up his crack pipe…
Out along Haight, just past midnight we sat along a cyclone fence with crazy to our side, midst the dirt and city-grime while my friend smoked his pipe and we hoped together.
Soon a tweaker popped in, spinning themselves down along the street. With a fervor he asked for a light and then commenting on the fact that I, wearing a collar was there; as if the fella I had been sitting with had not realized. The tweaker was intrusive and diversionary. The fella I was sitting with said, “Oh she’s cool.”
Soon though, as the tweaker sat, I rose. I thanked my friend for his time and told him I hope our paths cross again. He nodded and said he hoped so too.
Walking toward us, shoulders forward and hoodie up he muttered….”do you have any food? I haven’t eaten all day.” Opening a side pouch we offered him a Nutri-grain fruit-bar. He lavished it up as he asked if there was anything else.
Looking into eyes, hazel-blue against his brown skin, there stood fear, grief, anger and youthfulness. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind telling me how old he is…. He uttered 17. In some ways he looked younger, in all ways he looked queer. I asked him, how long he had been on the streets. He said 3 weeks. He came from Seattle, hitch-hiking, he ran away.
“Ran-away?” I said with pained curiosity. “Yes. My parents kicked me out when I told them I was gay.”
My heart sank. Not the kind of sinking when you hear that someone died. Not the kind when you hear of someones loneliness or addiction. Certainly none of the stories, no matter how longing they were up to this one… held within me the sudden and empty pain I was now holding…
There is something profoundly sad, to the fiber of my being, in a parent’s decision to reject their child because the child declared who they were. The child that once stood as the apple of their eye is, in one fail swoop, wiped out of the family, caste out of their life. And for what? For not being hetero-sexual, hetero-normative? Seriously? Instantly I longed for the presence of my own children so I could, once again, hug them dearly, reminding them of my unconditional love and acceptance of them.
Into the remainder of this evening we found ourselves patching together a list of services and resources for him to tap into in the light of day. Having just been rolled for the backpack on his back we sought to provide him with blankets and other items that will help him get through the night. As hard as we tried there are no overnight drop-in services for LGBT+ youth runaways available at that hour.
May someone with the foresight, wisdom and means create one. May God usher together the resources making available beds and safety to catch the rejected kicked to the curb.
As the morning glow nears my heart is both warmed and heavy. As I make my way home and into my morning sleep I toss over and again the sadness and abandonment in his eyes.
As I have read studies that 40% of the homeless youth anywhere in USA identify as queer…. my only hope is that I may I see his eyes inside mine for a long time. Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer.