The time is summer 2020, we’re in the midst of our first lockdown.
A ‘unique’ period for us all.
My business couldn’t operate, I was on holiday from my part-time teaching job and I’d just broken up with my girlfriend.
Each day felt like a marathon with no finish in sight.
The mornings were filled with excess coffee and cigarettes. I’d potter to the park, tears streaking beneath my sun glasses and try to call some friends.
Desperate is a very fitting word.
This was my rock bottom. No doubt about it. I felt useless and in a state of constant negative rumination that drained me of any life. Despair was a daily occurence. But as well as the despair I began to notice something.
My heart was broken and in it’s brokenness it felt more open.
Little things would occur. For example, I’d be having an extra lonely evening and I’d get a call from my brother. Something that would have gone unnoticed before but after we finished on the phone I fell asleep with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face.
For in my lowness some gratitude was born.
I was walking through a park one challenging morning and a man came up to me asking:
‘Do you believe in god?’.
My first thought was: ‘get away from me’. But like I said something had shifted and I let go of this very limited knee jerk response and replied:
‘Not in a dogmatic sense but I’m starting to have faith I think’.
The man was recruiting for a bible group, we had a pleasant conversation and he gave me his card. I put my iPod back on and hit play. Walking away I realised that my new found openness was leading to new experiences. Experiences I would never have thought to value. I won’t be joining the group but that was a lovely chat. And I definitely needed it.
Again I started to feel grateful.
I then became aware of the lyrics in the song I was listening to: ‘For those seeking a new beginning’. I glanced at the card and what I read genuinely made me hurl with laughter. I couldn’t believe it.
‘For those seeking a new beginning’ was written clear as rain.
Now in-between these little synchronicities was a whole wave of despair I just want to make that very clear but gradually day by day, moment by moment:
I began to build a relationship with the universe.
And that leads me to this: I’m sat on some steps near South Bank chatting to a friend (about my misery of course). When a man approaches us, very drunk, can barely talk. He asks for a cigarette. I rolled him one and thought to myself ‘can you bugger off please’. Then another man came over, he was lucid, he looked me in the eye and said:
‘I need help’.
It shocked me. I didn’t know what to say. ‘There’s help out there’ I muttered out of the awkwardness.
‘Where?’ he said sincerely.
‘I know someone who might be able to help’ I very brashly responded. (This was a lie I told to relieve the tension now I look back). I asked him what his name was.
‘Gary’ he said.
I took down his mobile number. ‘Take care of yourself and look after your friend’.
And that was that, Gary buggered off and I went back to talking about my depression. Didn’t think of Gary again until a few days later. I’m on a train back from Manchester and I’d just found out a family friend had died due to alcoholism. I was crumbling on this train thinking of how much this man must have suffered. And out of this sadness I started to feel fed up. Fed up of people suffering! And that’s when it hit me: I have the number of a homeless man in my phone that I said I’d find help for.
‘Fuck it. I’ll be the help.’
I didn’t know what I was going to do but I knew it started with me phoning the number I had.
All I remember from that first phone call was I expected it to be a lot longer as I was prepared to just listen. I thought Gary would have a lot to get off his chest. But it lasted about 5 minutes. Gary told me about his time in Iraq and Afghanistan, the PTSD, the homelessness and how he drinks to stop the pain from being overwhelming (his daughter had died in a tragic car accident 6 months prior). I asked him whether he needed a new sleeping bag. He said he did so I said I’d meet him at the Tesco he was sleeping outside of in a couple of days.
I told him I loved him and he said he loved me. And then we ended the call. I’ll never forget that. I’m not sure how Gaz felt but he helped me so much in that first call.
The next month and a half was a whirlwind experience. When I dropped off Gary’s sleeping bag it was pouring with rain. Gary was with a few others outside the Tesco and one of them was a pensioner called Frank who had just been housed in a hostel (it’s illegal for pensioners to be out on the streets). Frank offered to take me to the hostel where I met Tim who very kindly let Gary stay. It was £20 a night so I got Gary 3 nights and then left him. Now as soon as I’d done that I realised there was no way I could let Gary go back out on the streets. It would be torture for him to have a few nights in the warmth and then sleep rough. So I started a GoFundMe and through people’s generosity managed to raise enough to keep Gary at the hostel for another month! That bought us enough time to try and find Gary a long term solution to his housing problem (one thing at a time).
What transpired during the next month was me researching and learning about the system. In theory Gary should not be in the position he is in. No one should. And slowly but surely it dawned on me just how fucking confusing it is to try and get someone help. Yikes!
So. Many. Forms.
But with the help of my dad we managed to link Gary up with Veterans Aid, a charity that said to us: ‘he’s not going back out on the streets we’ve got him now’.
I’ll never forget the look on Gaz’s face when he heard that. He couldn’t believe it.
Neither could I.
It was around this point in time that I realised the universe had presented Gary and I with an opportunity to help each other. I was desperate to feel valuable and Gary was desperate to get off the streets. And through this the most unlikely of friendships was born. I genuinely love this man. His sense of humour, his cheekiness and a human spirit like no other.
I feel very lucky to have met him.
One day we’re walking and Gary says to me: ‘I’m going to write a book ya know’. I asked him what he’d call it. He paused and then pointed forward and said:
‘Through the Darkness‘.
It hit me straight away. And with Gaz’s permission I couldn’t think of anything more fitting to call this blog. I hope it will stand alongside his book one day.
When I look back at this time it’s overwhelming. Within the monotony of my life I discovered that the universe is so wondrous and unpredictable that I truly do not know what will happen. And if I surrender to what is presented to me I can have experiences like no other.
I will be forever grateful for my broken heart.
Thank you Gaz.
Through the darkness we go…