Real life story: Hope Dead Winter

By Dustin LaPres

Vendor Dustin LaPres’s impassioned story, written for Speak Up Zine, conveys the loneliness and distance he feels as a homeless man battling addictions and a criminal history.

Hope Dead Winter as it featured in Speak Up

Violent awakening…someone’s shaking me. I hear the low guttural growl of the policeman’s voice

“Sir, sir, you okay? You can’t sleep here. You gotta move on or I’ll arrest you for…” That’s how I awakened so many times under the bridge, under overpasses, in alleyways—freezing under a makeshift cocoon during the bleak winter months of a barren existence. Arrest me—hell, you would be doing me a favor. If I wasn’t so proud, I’d let you; I’d give in to the inviting image of a warm place with a hot meal… but I can’t. I can’t let them dismiss me so easily, and so I get it together and move on. Time to move on. The sun is rising on the hope dead horizon, and I have certain tenets of my invisible existence I must adhere to. The intruding fight-or-flight spawned by the detachment of the policeman’s voice reverberates inside—the cold threats of the enforcers of this self-subservient society echoing inside my post-traumatic mind.

I am the filthy carbon visage of a legion of invisible persons. I am one of the mutant manifestations of a money- and materialcentric society. I am ugly to some; an eyesore to most, and invisible to all but a few. I walk and I walk, searching trash receptacles for bottles to return, and asking the occasional passerby for spare change. Even a hobo needs the cursed money to survive. I walk past open restaurants, mouth watering and stomach screaming; daydreaming of the veritable feast of delicious treats inside. I stumble down early morning avenues where families are exiting the comfort of their homes together, and I reminisce about the long lost days when I had a family, when I had a job and the comfort of a home. I keenly observe everything that I will never have, and I hurt.

I am cold and I am hungry and I hurt.

In hindsight, I’m not sure what was truly more painful: lack of everything that everyone else had and how that makes me feel, the loneliness, fear and hopelessness; or the sting of the resounding insults and threats—routine rejection because I have offended the sensibilities of their beautiful society? God helps those who help themselves, right? And those that he helps he must certainly love and so I believe that if he exists, he must hate me… if he exists.

These early morning walks and experiences take a drastic toll on my psyche and I feel the endless thirst rising from within. I desperately need the warm embrace of alcohol to fill the hole my plight has left behind.

Yes, I am an alcoholic. Many of us invisible citizens are. Does that offend your sensibilities, too? I hope that it does. I hope that everything about me and my kind sends chills through your entire being because here’s some brutal truth for you: It could’ve been you. You with your upper-middle class affectations and your comfortable self-righteous lifestyle…your automobile, home, white-picket-fence,

It could’ve been you.

I am not here trudging through the loveless streets conducting a tragic existence, ashamed and alone because of some moral failure. I am a human being. I was born a very gifted child with a beautiful mind… somewhere between, I was lost in translation in experience. I have no choice whether I drink or not because I am untreated. I am untreated because I’m unimportant. I am unimportant because I am unloved, and I am unloved because I have been pre-judged under stigma. I am the collateral damage of the disease of addiction, the manifestation of stigma, and the cold judgment of an egocentric socioeconomic culture. I live outdoors in brutal conditions; under bridges, in rail yards, beneath overpasses, and in bathrooms near you.

I am forgotten but not gone.

I am forgotten. But. Not. Gone. With a little love and encouragement I would one day ascend from this desolate vacuum of societal exile and once again walk into the spring sunshine of reconnection in your world. I long to be destigmatized, loved, valued, treated…a productive force within my community.

Perhaps one day I will be the change I would like to see in the world. I hope you are being the change you’d like to see.