Christmas was a happy time when I was a kid. I grew up like many others – small town, two parents, a brother and sister, and a Labrador named Bugsy. I had happy memories. I experienced happy times. And I thought I had a happy family. That was until I told them, one evening three months before Christmas, that I was gay.
Families can crumble for many reasons and this was to be mine. By the time Christmas was approaching, things had changed dramatically. Gone were the evenings were I was welcome to eat with everyone else, gone was the laughing by the fire on Sundays after we watched the afternoon movie, and gone was the love that I felt from the people that meant the most to me in the world.
It wasn’t a surprise really that two weeks before Christmas, my father told me that he didn’t want me living under his roof anymore. The tears I shed made no difference to him, he just looked at me with disgust in his eyes. My mother had her back turned to me and my brother ignored me, as I ran to my room and put everything that I valued into a backpack. I never saw my sister that day or since.
That night, after travelling by bus to a much larger city forty minutes away from where I grew up, I ended up on the boardwalk beside the ocean. That was the first thing I learned in my life on the street: open spaces and especially open water, meant too much wind, and consequently I was in for a very cold night. It’s much warmer further inland.
I learned many things in the first few months I lived on the streets. I learned that smoking helped me control my appetite and I didn’t have to eat as much. I learned that the free newspapers made great insulation under my clothes at night. I learned that restaurants and grocery stores throw away good food just before closing for the evening. I learned that selling myself was a great way to make money, and an even greater way to feel crappy about myself. I learned that there are people on the street with way bigger problems than I had. And finally, I learned that Christmas night was always the coldest night of the year for all of us.
It wasn’t about the temperature; it was about the loss we suffer on the day of the year that everyone is supposed to be caring about each other. We all know it’s Christmas. We know because of the store windows, and we know because people give us more money the closer Christmas comes, and then the day after it all stops.
But I learned one other thing that year also. I learned what Christmas truly meant, and it took a boy name Randy to teach me this lesson.
Randy had been on the street for a couple of years before I arrived. He was smart, and like me, he was there because he was thrown out of his house because he was gay. Every year for a week before Christmas, Randy began to save food that wouldn’t spoil. Where he stashed it not one of us knew, but on Christmas day, Randy would get his stash and make his way around each street where we lived. Whenever he saw someone that lived out there in the cold, whether he knew that person or not, he gave them as much food as he could from his stash, he sat with them, offered them a cigarette if he had one, talked quietly with each of them, and went on to the next person. The first year I followed him, because I knew he had food. The next year I gave him what I had saved, and this year, we saved and delivered together.
In a place where hopelessness and despair meet hunger and mental illness I found Randy, whose real name is Randolph, and who let’s me call him Rudolf, but only on the coldest night of every year.
A note from Pink: There are three main groups of people who make up our street populations: those suffering from addiction and/or mental health issues, those who are impoverished and can’t make ends meet for themselves or their families, and those that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Apparently Christ was about love, and it follows then that Christmas (the celebration of his birth) should also be about love. If you ever get to the point where you reach the coldest night of your year, there will be people on the street who accept you for who you are, would we do the same for them?