I used to give spare change to homeless guys when I saw them. Particularly if they didn't ask for it, because confrontation scared me and I didn't like people I didn't know speaking to me. It was my own little way of trying to apologise through actions to all those people who had asked for change and received nothing but a panicked squeak in reply.
I never gave money to the ones with dogs though. I read somewhere that they drugged the dogs so they would lie down and look sick, and that way they got more money than those without dogs. It seemed like cruelty to me so I pretended not to see them.
I loved my dog, Barkley, a seven year old black lab who likes cuddles, water and playing fetch. He had lay by my side as the crippling depression had swept over my life in waves, and he had patiently waited for me when those tides subsided and I tried to find my own feet in the world.
I knew, with absolute certainty, that if I ever ended up on the streets I would give Barkley to a shelter. It would break my heart but I'd want to know he was safe, healthy. That he wasn't cold or hungry or anxious. Like I said, I loved my dog.
A couple months ago I lost my job. Another wave of depression had rendered me useless and I hadn't been able to get out of bed one too many days in a row for my bosses liking. It wasn't the first time I'd been let go because of this, they try to be tolerant but at the end of the day employers need employees who do their work. Unfortunately being fired just made me more depressed.
I felt pretty shitty, to be honest, I drank a little to numb everything out and slept days away. I often forgot to feed myself but luckily Barkley is impatient and noisy, so he never let me forget to feed him or let him outside.
I always thought that bad things would happen when you least expected it, when life was great and rosey. I forgot about life kicking you when you are down. On August 7th my Dad was struck by a blue hyundai and died later that evening from his injuries. I don't think I'd even processed he was gone, truly gone, forever gone, before they took his house away, leaving me homeless.
My mom had left when I was still a baby and my Dad's parents died a few years back. I relied on friends for a while. Sleeping on their sofas. Some nights I slept on the floor so that Barkley could have the soft furnishings. He was used to being spoiled and didn't understand what was going on. Neither did I really.
My friends didn't mind Barkley but sometimes he would bark or whine and it made me feel really tense, like they were gonna get pissed off and smack him like an ex boyfriend used to (I got rid of him quickly). When the grief overwhelmed me, which it often did, he would lay his little head on my hip and I would stroke his soft ears and look into his sad eyes and wonder if he missed my Dad as much as I did.
Fights happened. They aren't important now but they seemed so big at the time. Anyway that's how I ended up here. Some nights the shelter has a bed but this a busy city and its first come first serve. The first week I would hover around the building 'til it opened in the evening to make sure I didn't miss it. I wondered why no one else was smart enough to have thought of this tactic. After a few days of staring at that door waiting I realised why no one else did it, boredom. When you are bored there is nothing to distract you from the shithole your life has become.
It was just temporary at first, so Barkley stayed with me. Besides we had the shelter. The first night we were turned away it wasn't too cold and I put my arms around him to keep him warm - although every time someone walked past he woke up. The concrete was hard but it wasn't too unlike sleeping on a wooden floor, except the cold which seeped up through your clothes into your bones. I watched Barkley sleep and cried for a while and eventually that put me to sleep - what had life become?
I wandered the city, getting the lay of the land. I had to start begging, stealing, Barkley had to eat and luckily his nose for trouble found some good sources for unwanted meat outside butchers. It was often the tiny ends but it was pure meat and I knew thats what he needed. Sadly it was all raw and I didn't fancy my chances with it. I found other ways.
So that's how I ended up here, I guess. Barkley eats better than I do I think, but sometimes we both have to do without. It's not often and if I have to choose between him and me I usually choose him... I have to admit there have been days when we've both been weak with hunger and I had to choose myself because I knew if I could keep moving I could find him more food... but that all worked out in the end. Kind of.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, it seems like it's all working out right now. It's cold but without him I'd probably be a popsicle by now, he is always warmer than me in his little fur coat. I share the blanket we were given with him and always tuck him in tight against drafts. I do my best, you know?
Sometimes he cries, and then I always cry. It breaks my heart when he cries. I always think he's telling me something. Are you cold boy? Are you hungry? Do you need some more water? I'm sorry Barkley, I'm sorry...
I always thought that if I ended up on the streets I'd be able to let him go. Save him from this misery. But now it seems like he's the one saving me from misery I can't let him go. He's all I have. He's the only one who loves me, who doesn't care where I sleep or what I do as long as I have a kind word for him - that's real love! and without my Dad, without a home or friends really, without any other love in the world and everything going to shit - can you blame me for wanting to keep him close?
He's the only one who still remembers who I used to be. A functional person with dreams and ambitions. He doesn't look at me like I'm contagious like everyone else. He doesn't judge. He still licks my hand to wake me up in the morning, he still barks at cats, he's still my dog. Who loves me, and I love him. Everything else is so bleak...
Can you blame me?