He was short and swarthy. It was a hot day but he wore a jacket over his plaid shirt. His jeans were well-worn, his running shoes scuffed. He was an angry man searching for a target. Searching for a way to let his anger out.
We were two women. Some would say past our prime. I would say entering it. Stampede Volunteers. We were parking cars in the Centre's parking lot to raise money for a charity. We didn't want to be targets. But there he was, coming towards us, full steam, words and venom spurting from his mouth with the fiery exhaust of lava bursting from a volcano. Standing in a vacant spot between two cars, a brick wall behind us, there was no where for us to go.
"What kind of f***ing church is this that can't even give a hungry man a piece of bread?" He yelled, his arms gesticulating wildly, his alcohol doused breath enveloping us in its sweet sickly scent.
At first, I didn't understand what he was saying. He had appeared quickly. I had been exiting the building and he had hurried over to my co-volunteer. I quickly lessened the distance between the three of us as he began to rant in her face. My girlfriend tried to explain we weren't a ' church per se' but, caught in the trap of his confused thinking, he couldn't hear what we were saying.
We hadn't seem him at the front door of the Centre, pleading for food over the intercom, speaking to the faceless voice behind the door. He'd given the door one good kick and then darted across the parking lot towards the street, but when he saw us, he veered off course to accost us with his anger.
His expletives burned the already heated air to scorching. He raised his fist. Shook it in front of our faces. He had questions. Angry. Fear-riddled questions. We had no answers for him other than to ask him to move on. To ask for food at one of the many pancake breakfasts taking place that morning. I suggested he visit the Drop-In where I work. "You'll find a good hot meal there," I told him.
He told me to go to the shelter myself. He wasn't stepping foot in a place 'like that'. I didn't tell him I worked there. I didn't want to engage him in conversation. I wanted him to leave. He was scaring us. He needed to go.
Behind my back, my hand searched surreptitiously for my cellphone in my pocket. I wondered if I could press 9-1-1 without him noticing. On the street a short distance away, people walked purposefully towards the Stampede grounds a few blocks away. The sun shone. A large man walked by with his girlfriend. He glanced at us. I didn't want him to come over. I didn't want the situation to escalate. The man kept walking.
The angry man's dark eyes peered helplessly out from behind the veil of alcohol clouding his vision. He stared at me. He stared at the woman beside me. He peeled back his lips, bared his teeth. His body went rigid. His left arm lifted up, he held it high. I stayed silent. He glanced at the silver star on my cowboy hat. "You think you're an f'ing sheriff." he sputtered. "I was a vet. I've killed men. Bet you don't even know where Viet Nam is." I repeated my request for him to move. "Do you even care?" He bounced towards me, shaking his fist. "You need to go now," I repeated looking steadily into his eyes. And then, suddenly, like a balloon deflating, he dropped his arm, his shoulders drooped and he walked away, down the street in search of food, another drink, another avenue of escape.
In the aftermath of his passing, I stood shaking. Tears formed in my eyes. My breath was short. My heart raced. My girlfriend laughed and said, "He didn't bother me. I was ready for him. I had my moves set in my mind if he advanced any closer."
I believe her. Her husband is an ex-police officer. He teaches self-protection courses, had even taught my daughters and I when the man who had once abused me was scheduled to be released on parole. At the Drop-In this kind of behaviour is not out of the norm. I take it in my stride. But, out there, on the street, exposed, I felt vulnerable. Helpless. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to do. I wanted him to leave. I couldn't find the words to reach him. I couldn't find the answers that would appease his irrational anger. I couldn't sober him up.
He left and behind him the frothing wake of his anger coursed through my day.
I knew my discord was not all to do with him. I knew he wasn't the cause of my disquiet. I'd known a man who raised his fist and angrily bared his teeth and screamed into my face. "It's all your fault," he'd yelled. "Because of you my life has been torn apart."
Back then, I knew the truth and fell into the lie. I believed him instead of listening to myself. I accepted it was all my fault.
I knew the man yesterday was not homeless because of me. I knew I was not the cause of his anger. But for one brief moment I felt the fissure of fear, the disquiet of the past disturbing my peace of mind.
I took a breath. That was then. This is now.
I cannot awaken the spirit of someone who has drowned his soul in alcohol. I cannot connect with words, or gestures. All I can do is stand my ground. Stand in my light and push back the shadows creeping in upon memory of a man who raised his fist and yelled.
The man is gone. The memories subside and I am reminded once again of the beauty of my truth today. This is my one and only life. My one and only opportunity to live this day for all its worth. To be all that I'm meant to be. To experience all the day holds. To uncover the hidden treasures waiting to be revealed in every moment. This is my life and I'm worth living it up with gusto!
The past retreats and I step into the brilliant light of this moment.
I am free.