New Brunswick: Province number seven... three more to go. Sixth-tenths of Canada (or, three-fifths, those smarties out there could say) under-the-belt, finished...
We arrived at Fredericton with a few hours to spare. The snow was falling heavily, blanketing the city and winter-wonderlanding this park in which we took a morning stroll, threw snowballs at our whitewashed motor home, built huge snowmen from the perfect-packing snow; and, snatching glances at watches, drove away. Time to go to work...
The marathon: coffees, muffins, hot chocolate. Donuts, too. Food-and-drink to start the day. Walking the white-covered streets of downtown Fredericton; visiting City Hall to shake a merry mayor's hand; the police station, slammer, to see who they had in the tank (and for Chris to ask some questions). "...So, if I'm standing on top of a motor home, but it's my motor home; are you guys allowed to tell me to get down?" My betting: they probably can.
...Late one evening, our motor home, blue-sided, snow-helmeted, pulled into a downtown parking lot. We set-up shop, with barbecue and hot dogs to feed those people who would otherwise have an empty stomach to see them through the night. There was Mark, the voluble, the verbose; his mouth ran a three-minute-mile even while stuffed with a double-dose of hot dog. Sometime ago, he'd been picked up by a tornado and carried a kilometer-or-so before dropping to the ground, shaking his head, catching his breath. Then. The time he was zapped by 50,000 volts. "I just wish I had some eggs-and-bacon that morning," he declared. "Could've cooked my breakfast right there on my hands!" He'd been trapped under waterfalls, in crashing cars, fallen into freezing water, chased by packs of wild dogs... Or so he said.
Then there was Donald...
He been standing at the edges, watching with a wary eye. "Didn't know whether to walk away, throw a punch, or listen," he later said. And when he did talk, it was quiet, guarded. Careful. He considered for a moment, and made a decision. "Okay," he said. "I've seen your world; how 'bout now you take a looksee at mine."
It wasn't far. Under a building; crouch as far as possible, squeeze into the dark... "Donny? Where'd you get to?" A candle lights from the far corner, revealing in its tiny circle of light: a battered couch, more springs than stuffing; a ragged blanket, a pile of cardboard. "That's my walls," Donald says. "When it get real cold, I wedge them upright." He shrugs. "It helps a little, I guess."
He sat, took a deep breath, and opened his closet. His story came in parts: Timmy the cat, who comes to visit at night. His son, a few provinces away, university-bound, phone calls once-a-month, completely in-the-dark as to... "well, all of this, I guess," Donny says, sweeping an arm to indicate. Next, after a few deep breaths, the darker stuff. His childhood... Foster homes, a long, unhappy line. Sexual abuse, and the physical stuff, too - I'll give you a taste: ten-year olds being forced to stand outside in the snow in bare feet, while someone laughs. It gets worse, too: a wife discovered in bed with a... step-father!? Does this really happen? Unfortunately, yes...
But. "Y'know, I'm not really sure if I'm ready to get out of here. Don't like being around people, 'specially men. Don't like talking much, either. Me and Timmy are doing all right... Maybe, I'm thinking, this is where I belong, this is what the Lord has in mind for me." ...Well. Perhaps when you're ready.
We stuffed a pair of gloves beneath his couch, and said goodbye.