The lure of the street is sometimes too great, ensnaring so many in their old ways. Photo from Pixabay

Robert Kinghorn: Old ways die hard on these streets

  • September 23, 2021

It has been a month that has reminded me of how relentlessly unforgiving the street is to its people. Like a scorned lover, it will try to grasp them from the arms of freedom to ensnare them in their old ways.

I was walking on my familiar route approaching an intersection when in the distance I could see the usual dealers and users congregated in small huddles around a bus shelter. But one face stood out in the darkness. I was sure it was a lady that I had a long history with on the street, but who had been off the street for about 10 years. I still visited her and her son often, and all was going well in their life.

My heart sank at the sight, but I took a detour to get closer so I could see if it really was her. In a few seconds I had crossed the street and hidden in the shadows so I could look again. There was only one woman there, and it was not her. I breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.

About three hours later, as I was starting to wind my way towards the car to drive home, I heard a familiar voice behind me, “Hey Robert, wait up.” Yes, it was her, and she looked the worse for wear. Whether it was alcohol or drugs I don’t know, but she had again sampled the forbidden fruit of the street.

“So, it was you,” I said. “I thought I saw you a while ago over at the bus stop.”

I reminded her of the early days when we first met. She was into the heaviest of drugs at that time and somehow almost every Thursday we would bump into one another on the street just like tonight. It became our standing joke that she had nowhere to hide.

Quickly changing the topic, she said, “I’m getting a pizza to take home to my boy, he says he is starving.” It was not the first time she had relapsed and perhaps not the last, but the street still has an attraction for her that refuses to release its grasp.

Earlier in the evening, I had met Jenny. She is always good for a laugh and I first met her through my friend Tracey who has been off the streets for 15 years. Jenny stands 5-foot-nothing and her sister is 5-foot-nothing minus a few inches. They were once a tag team on the streets, but now Jenny is clean and her sister has to wrestle the streets on her own.

“She is too mouthy,” said Jenny, “and she is cruisin’ for a bruisin’ just like I got when I was beaten up.”

When Tracy first introduced her to me, my head was spinning from the stories they told of the old days. A litany of dealers and addicts was intoned, each with the same response, “They are dead now.”

Tonight, Jenny was doing well and said that life was good for her and many of the bad agents had left her building. However, when I passed her sister a little while later, true to form she was going into a familiar drug location and ignored my greeting.

I left the area and moved further south to where street prostitution has been transferred now that bicycle lanes have interrupted the ebb and flow of traffic along the main roads and prevented cars from pulling over. I saw a new girl, about 18 years old, whom I had not seen before, looking street smart but very “lost” in the city.

I could not help but wonder where her parents were and if they missed her. I crossed the street to walk past her to see if she wanted to talk, but before I got there a car stopped, she chatted with the driver and then hopped in.

I wanted to pray, but as I stood there watching the car disappear all my words seemed inadequate. I wanted her to know that the lure of the street was illusory, and that she was being wooed by a jealous lover.

I keep a reminder of this in a folder of spiritual poetry written many years ago by one of the women from the street. It ends with the verse:

“I do not agree that such a sinless and pure man

Should have died in such a cruel and callous way,

He felt humiliated, violated, and even insecure,

I feel exactly the same way every day.”

(Kinghorn is a deacon with the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

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