The sign read, ‘Sober and Homeless’, and grabbed my attention quicker then a bikini clad woman would in the month of January. As I approached the young couple I had my doubts. Not because the two of them were homeless; they grew more and more filthy the closer I walked, stained pants and worn shoes, neither looking like they’ve seen a bath in quite some time. It went more like this in my head: if they were really sober like their cardboard sign told me, if, then how come they are homeless. I’m not being nieve. I mean, to automatically put them in a category, or stereotype them as being addicts- which in turn explained their manipulative lying sign- is unfair, not to mention I’d be taking someone else’s inventory although I know better then to do such. But I was homeless for months once; sleeping at Logan airport by night and conning strangers with signs like theirs by day, but I was shooting heroin, boosting clothes, and robbing Flacco.
Sitting on a fire proof blanket, courtesy of one of the few homeless shelters in Boston, beside Macy’s in downtown crossing and holding a sign which read, ‘ Sober and Homeless ‘, I had to approach them in wide wonder.
Jay is 22 years old. Lisa is 19. Jay sacrifices his old grey wool beret as his change cup, placing it on the brick sidewalk just beyond the blanket. Lisa rests her head on Jays shoulder, her eyes open, and greats me by saying ‘Thank You!’ As I place a dollar and my change into the hat.
She just opened the door for me to come in. I asked bluntly, ” How are you sober and homeless? ” Jay smiled and quietly repeated my question under his breath. ” My parents are addicts and we had our house forclosed when I was 15. I bounced around and lived with different family members and when the school found out they had me put in a program for kids. I was 18 when they told me i had to leave and I didn’t have anywhere to go. ” I asked what drugs he did and he told me of an adventure, that he wound up in Atlanta after following a group of transients. He started peddling crack and dope for some guy and due to pure curiosity, Jay began his drug story. Page by page, I could relate and as he talked I knew he knew what he was talking about. He said he’s embarrassed to go to an AA meeting because of how he looks and his smell from not showering. One time, here in Boston, him and Lisa walked into a meeting and they were asked to leave because the people attending believed the two of them only wanted to warm up and get free coffee. This made me aggrivated.
Lisa lived down the street and she grew up with the biggest crush on Jay. She looked up to him in awe and being raised with great morals from two successful interracial foster parents, she always dreamed of leaving home and exploring what else life offered. She bumped into Jay in passing one early morning near the Park St. subway and almost like they had never stopped, began hanging out daily again. She was enrolled as a freshman at Emerson College and no sooner then Xmas break, she was kicked out because she refused to let her drug addict homeless boyfriend freeze to death underneath the howling winds of a late New England fall night.
I offered them both Wendy’s, as it was getting late and the dull ache in my stomach reminded me i haven’t had anything to eat all day except for the coffee I had drank earlier. Lisa shook her head at my offer as Jay said, Yes, aloud. They looked at each other and I told them I’d be right back. I walked a few steps away and realizing my idea, I turned around and tossed them a pack of the rest of my cigarettes. I returned 15 minutes later with 4 Jr cheeseburgers, 2 small Cokes, 2 fries, and 2 frosty’s. I’ve never seen gratitude run rampage across anyone’s face like I had that moment.
We talked recovery and music for the next hour. Jay carried an AA Big Book in one of their bags but admitted he doesn’t read it as often as he should. “I carry it around more as a good luck charm then anything it should be used for.”, he told me between bites of his burger. I told him as long as he’s sober then that’s all that matters. He grinned at me with a mouth full of food as Lisa chimed in. “I tell him everyday how proud I am of him. I mean, everybody who’s homeless down here is doing something and Jay stays away from it all. Even alcohol. Ever since we found out I was pregnant he’s been cleaning up and going to job fairs and on interviews.” I didn’t know Lisa was pregnant. I asked them both what they were gonna do now that Lisa is expecting. “Pray”, she said as she wiped her mouth with the overwhelming amount of napkins I shoved in the bag. “Its in God’s hands now.”