Something to Believe In

an excerpt

A gust of snow pelted my face as I rounded the corner of the former Madison Street Elementary School. Raising the collar of my thin fleece coat, I hurried for the front door. The new sign hanging overhead read Free Christmas Dinner. That had me stopped in my tracks, and the tips of my sneakers dug into the snow that had been piling up on the sidewalk for the past several hours.


I'd seen the holiday decorations lining the streets and storefronts for weeks now, but I hadn't realized it was so close.

Christmas was the one time of year when I couldn't stop the memories.

"Sean Timothy Weber, if you walk out of here now and keep on being a disgusting little faggot, don't you ever bother coming back."

I shook off thoughts of her last words and moved for the shelter's front entrance again.

The man standing at the door smiled at me and held out a clear plastic bag containing a bar of soap, shaving cream, disposable razor, and condoms.

The essentials for most folks. Luxury items for guys like me.

"Merry Christmas," he said.

Reluctantly, because it meant taking my already freezing hand out of my pocket again, I accepted the bag and gave a nod of thanks. Another blast of icy snowfall smacked into me, practically knocking me off balance. Apparently I'd lost enough weight in the past few weeks; I couldn't hold my own against a little wind.

The guy with the plastic baggies of goodwill grabbed my arm and offered some support. When I was standing on steady feet again, he let go. "We're full up tonight, but come on inside and have something to eat. We've got a big spread, a real Christmas dinner."

I shivered as I forced the words out. "Today is C-C-Christmas?"

The out-of-place, ridiculously cheery grin faded from the man's face. He looked at me with the kind of pity I didn't get from too many people these days. You reach a certain point in both appearance and smell, and most folks pretend they don't notice you at all.

"It's Christmas Eve," he said.

That meant...two years.

Two years since I'd left home. The last four months of which I'd spent homeless and wandering the streets after I'd lost the job waiting tables, and my roommates had kicked me out when I couldn't make the rent.

I'd taken on any work I could find until I looked-and smelled-like a guy no one wanted to hire, not even for an under-the-table job hand-packaging DVDs of pirated porn. When the last of my money had run out and my stomach had felt like it was eating itself, I'd made the decision that had me retching my guts out as I'd bent over a stained toilet bowl.

It hadn't been a planned event. I'd been taking a leak in the bathroom near the historical fiction shelves at the main branch of the city public library when some guy in his forties wearing a sports jacket with frayed 

cuffs and carrying a briefcase that looked like he'd had it since day one out of college had stood at the urinal beside me. He'd pulled his dick out and whispered, "Twenty for a blow."

It had taken me a minute to get his meaning.

Twenty bucks.

I could have something real to eat.

After I'd answered with a nod, he'd tugged me to the stall at the end of the row behind us. When it was over and he'd left, I had stayed there bent over that toilet, clutching the twenty-dollar bill in my fist and dry-heaving for ten minutes.

No matter how bad that moment had been, the food and drink filling my belly a half hour later had convinced me I could do it again. And again. And again. Even with the knowledge that no one could survive forever the way I'd been living.

But I wanted to survive. I wanted to feel alive again.

The man with the clear bags of homeless holiday cheer held the door open for me. "Go on in, get warm, and have something to eat."

All I could manage was another nod. I went inside. The warmth of the still, dry air overwhelmed me with as much force as the icy, cold air had done outside.

Then the smells hit me. Turkey and ham and cookies fresh out of the oven. My mouth began watering, and I staggered through the entryway into the gym. If the faded murals on the walls were anything to go by, the building hadn't housed students since the 1990s. Thank God for people who demand their kids get a school without severely leaking roofs and archaic heating systems too costly to repair. Their castoffs gave me a place to sleep.

Well, some nights.

One side of the gym was filled with cots, the other with tables for chow time. At night, the tables came down and more cots went up. The guards also came out. Anyone caught fighting or stealing or shooting up or turning tricks was banned. No questions asked. You got one chance here.

Behind the men seated at the tables was a row of volunteers filling trays for more men shuffling by. I got in the line that wrapped around the perimeter of the gym and slipped the plastic bag with my lone Christmas gifts into my backpack