By Laurent Soumis, L’Itinéraire
Antoine comes from L’Épiphanie, a small town in Lanaudière, which is northwest of Montreal. He is the sixth in a family of eight children. He married at the age of 18 and worked for several years as a furniture fitter when Meubles Concordia first went into business. “There were only a few employees. I could do everyone’s work,” Antoine says, “but no one could do mine.”
In 1984, his divorce was a breaking point in the well-established career of a model employee. “I was severely depressed and descended into the dark hole of drug and alcohol use,” Antoine confides. This dark period in his life lasted two years before he started to come out of it. “I wasn’t a real traveller. I just didn’t have a permanent home. I lived with family or friends without being on the street.”
Antoine felt that he needed to get away from the town and escape to the countryside, “in order to get away from the temptations and the dealers.” He finally met another woman with five children, which he went on to take care of. “I replaced their father who was not worth much. Maybe I wasn’t worth much either,” Antoine says, “but I loved them and took care of them.” A little while later, Antoine experienced some health problems and had to be hospitalised. Being absent from everyday life so often as a result of this meant that, as he phrases it, “life went off track”.
Today, Antoine talks candidly about how far he has come and he speaks about this with a certain level of pride. He stopped drinking alcohol ten years ago and it is two years since he bade farewell to hard drugs. He first heard about L’Itinéraire (a community group which helps marginalised people) through a friend and saw it as an opportunity to earn some extra money. “In the beginning, I was not serious about it. I arrived at my designated selling point and after only three quarters of an hour I felt like I had been there a long time,” he says. “Now, I have been taking it seriously for five months.”
Antoine’s new attitude is helping him. “It stops me feeling isolated. I like the general public a lot. And I find it easy to say ‘hello’ and ‘have a nice day’.” Antoine’s customers appreciate him, to the extent that some of his customers have even offered him part time jobs. “I would like to be able to buy myself a computer so that I can go on the internet and research things that interest me,” he says, when considering the benefits of entering employment.
“I would personally like to thank all those who have put the smile back on my face and brought me back to life,” Antoine says. “I would like to say thank you for encouraging me.”
Translated by Clare Morgan