A Walk Down Misery Street

By this time, I knew that drug users don’t display their shame in the same way as “regular” people. It’s hard for many of us to imagine the kind of senseless and desperate acts drug users sometimes commit because they are ashamed.

Peter and I embraced, slapping one another on the shoulders.

“Bro, look how we ran into each other just like that!”

We briefly recalled our days of student life and studies.

“I haven’t lost everything in my life yet! I’ve still got something left,” Peter said as I filled out his intake forms. “I have the two most important things in life,” he announced, holding up his fist. “For one, I’m alive.” He emphatically put up his index finger. “And for another, I have God.” Another finger went up. Then he made a fist again and pumped it over his head, as if he’d just won a significant battle. “Life and God! You see?”

I nodded approvingly, impressed with his resilience. What a guy, I thought. He seemingly lost everything but is keeping the faith. Life hasn’t hardened him, and he hasn’t given up his soul. I neither judged nor blamed him. But I also did not pity him.

Smiling broadly (his smile was even more wolfish since prison), Peter suddenly thrust his hand into his backpack and took out a folder with different documents from prison and photographs. He found the picture he wanted: he and I together at the Institute at the graduation ceremony. We were standing together, arms around each other, diplomas in hand.

“Wow! The Peter Brothers. I don’t have one like it. Let me take a shot.” I said.

“Sure, take it.”

I took my cell and shot a picture.

I didn’t ask Peter about his AIDS or his ex-wife or prison. That would have been too much for our first encounter. And what was the hurry? There was so much time ahead of us, I thought. A few other patients awaited me in the hall. The director stuck his head into my office with an expression as if to say, “why are you taking so long?”

I handed to Peter a list of local food pantries that gave free food to the poor and homeless. I called a sober house and arranged a place for him to stay.