My friend Billy LOVES this song!! whenever I hear it, I think of him singing it in the church choir. Belting it out, hopping around on his tippy toes using everything he can to get it out Loud and Proud. Even as I type it right now I’m chuckling about it, picturing him.
Billy died on his living room floor from a Methadone Overdose. I took the phone call from police as they frantically searched for his wife to inform her. I then took the next phone call. The one from his wife where we talked of … I don’t even remember what. After Billy’s funeral, when they had loaded the casket into the hearse for the ride to the cemetery, the hearse wouldn’t start. In the middle of a busy street, in one of Canada’s biggest cities. The funeral people were mortified. Billy’s wife and I sat there laughing and laughing, thinking Billy may have just pulled off one last joke. Billy taught me to laugh, no matter how bad things got. He was ALWAYS looking for a good laugh or a chance to make someone smile.
I’ve thought a lot about Billy and some of my other friends lately. Not just people I know.. but friends… people who’ve taught me things. I’d like to tell you about a couple more of them.
When I first met Crystal, she was about 17. Dripping with attitude, smelling like she spent the night in a sewage treatment plant, although she swore up and down it was just an alley behind the Eaton’s Center. She was the first “Cutter” I had ever met, with scars criss crossing her arms and a few fresh slash marks from a recent stressful situation. Abused by trusted figure after trusted figure, she became a regular at the shelter, and a regular in my office. When the staff knew she was coming, they’d often make themselves busy, not wanting to hear another of her “stories” when she came in. But she’d sit in my office chattering from one subject to another, becoming background noise while I worked on other things. Crystal taught me how important it was to listen, and about people just needing to feel heard.
Amanda and Naomi were my first “Transgender experience”. Two MtF (Male to Female) women working the streets who taught me SO much. The right vocabulary, the struggles of tring to “pass” (The year spent in the gender you’re transitioning into, where you live as that gender 24/7), and the biases of a system designed for Male, Female and no room for “Grey”. As MtF’s, they couldn’t stay in a mens shelter for fear of being beaten up. When they arrived at many women’s shelters, with obviously male features the staff were quick to say the other residents were uncomfortable, some even branding them as predators, although my experience has taught me the transient population is often more accepting the staff serving them. Even when needing to call the police regarding sexual assaults, they were often met with scepticism if they were lucky, but more often than not it was open hostility. (So much so that a special division of the police was formed for the LGBT2S, homeless and sex workers of the city). Amanda and Naomi taught me to look beyond. To really SEE the person, and not just the outward appearance.
Beverly was a quiet woman, sitting in the corner of a room, knitting, colouring… always creating something. Many of the staff had a “Beverly Drawer”, a place where we’d put the many homemade gifts she’d give us during the run of a shift. In fact, I’m wearing one of her bracelets today. I have little squares of wool she knit tucked away in my “Baby Box” to add to a quilt when the time arrives 🙂 Beverly was a different case. So severely wrapped up in her cocoon of mental health issues that there really was no chance of her living on her own, yet to pass her on the street, she’s seem as normal as any other person, maybe even more so. Beverly was content to go to her day programs. To live in our dorm setting with 45 other women, then bottom on a bunk bed in the corner, with a locker and the space under her bed for her possessions. Always the first to help if needed, and the last to ask for favors unless she was in a jam, Beverly taught me to find Joy in the little things. To stop and pick the flowers before dinner, to paint your feelings onto a piece of paper to share.
There are so many others. The convicted murderer playing basket ball with my son. The drug dealer offering to say a prayer for my family as we struggle through a situation. The addict with keys to my office and my house. The woman bought and sold into MY HOME COUNTRY who struggles to regain herself and who becomes a legal assistant while working her way through law school and the 80-year-old homeless woman who smells like garbage so that she wont be assaulted on the streets and who sleeps sitting up with her shoes behind her back so that no one will steal them.
I have acquaintances, people – coworkers even – who I see who say “How are you?” as they walk past, never really waiting for an answer. Those people will drift in and out of my life as necessity dictates, but for friends? I count the addict, the murderer, the homeless woman, the prostitute or the mentally ill woman among the ones that changed my life.
Maybe thats why this song speaks to me so much…