Walk Down Misery Street

“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 photograph in the folder: 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.

“This is just the first step. We’ll file a housing application, based on your medical situation with AIDS. With time you can get a job in a substance abuse clinic somewhere. You’ve still got your diploma and work experience.”

He nodded, making a fist as a sign of his full determination to fight and win. He kept his somewhat strained eyes on me, as if in expectation.

I looked at the closed door. I put my hand in my pocket and took out two crumpled twenties.