Tristan | Teen Ink


April 4, 2013
By Cette_Q. SILVER, LaVista, Nebraska
Cette_Q. SILVER, LaVista, Nebraska
7 articles 0 photos 1 comment

Favorite Quote:
"When you're taught to love everyone, to love your enemies, what value does that place on love?" - Marilyn Manson

I was exactly 15 years old when I was thrown out of my house. My alcoholic mom lived in Queens with my abusive step-dad and their two kids, and I didn't know who my dad was. I'd never met the guy before. So I didn't have anywhere to go. At first, I tried to go to some of the homeless shelters, but I never stayed. It was just as dirty and psychotic as it was on the streets and I personally preferred to take my chances on the streets. At least people there didn't pretend to be compassionate.

So, after the third homeless shelter, I gave up on them. I slung my dirty backpack over my shoulder, unable to wear it correctly because the other strap was broken, and started off down the dark street. No one would miss me at the shelter, just as they didn't miss me at the last one, or the one before that. The people who work there don't care about us as individuals, they only care about clearing their consciences and, in the case of the "volunteers", they only cared about getting community service to graduate from high school. How did I know? I was in their spot, too, but unlike them, I was too busy trying to survive every night to worry about something as trivial as community service.

One of the many alleys in the area was a haven for homeless people like me. That whole block was actually like a little community and although I couldn't vouch for their sanity or loyalty, it was better than sleeping alone. I had nothing of worth to steal anyway except for the dirty, half-broken backpack I carried when I arrived. Most of them paid me no mind since they had nicer blankets, clothes, and things than I did.

They greeted me with eye contact and the occasional nodding of their grimy heads, but otherwise, they left me alone. No one asked me why I was sleeping on the streets alone at such a young age, or why I hadn't stayed in the shelter only a few blocks away. Like any society, they had unspoken expectations, and that was one of them. Children were curled against their parents and there was an extreme feeling of fatigue among them. A old woman with a blind eye and ratty blonde hair smiled at me and moved over so that I could lay down close to the fire with the others. I smiled back at the small gesture of selflessness and promised myself that I'd pay her back in some way as soon as I could.

I hadn't slept feeling warm in weeks at that point, and so I fell asleep almost instantly.


Very early the following morning, I watched some of the stronger men sift through the contents of a dumpster behind a nearby Wal-Mart. I elected to go with them in hopes of repaying the strangers for letting me stay with them the night before. The strongest of them, a stout and powerfully-built middle aged man named Jorge climbed into the dumpster and began to toss out usable items. From that dumpster alone, we collected a few blankets, clothes, and several food items. Jorge also put deodorant, soaps, and some broken hairbrushes in a cloth sack to take back to the others.

When we returned to the little encampment, those who had been waiting grew frenzied. Their eyes widened with expectation and their hands began to reach for what they deemed treasure waiting in our arms. Months before, I would never have thought I would be living off of other people's garbage, but now I was grateful for anything I could get. I was grateful to not be alone. I could understand these people's urgent desire to possess anything and everything and yet, more than anything else, I was grateful for the idea of a community.

He distributed our spoils to everyone as equally as possible and reminded them that they had to share until we could find enough for everyone. No one complained, although it was readily apparent that not everyone was pleased with the idea. Even a life on the streets may not mean that they were accustomed to sharing, it was also obvious that none of them had lived this well in a long time.

When I set out looking for the woman who had shown me kindness the day before, I could not find her anywhere. I waited an hour or so, thinking she had perhaps gone in search of food or something similar, but when she never returned, I asked an older man about her.

"She gone," he said, staring into space. "She gone and not come back yet. She gone." He repeated this endlessly. I watched him for a while, morbidly fascinated with his mind's decay, before asking someone else. He told me that she had left some time ago without saying anything to anyone, and hadn't come back. And he told me that she probably wasn't coming back. He wasn't gentle about it, but he wasn't cruel either. It was obvious that he didn't really care. One less person meant less people to split the treasures with.

Later that night, when the food was being distributed, I was delighted to notice that everyone's portions were heaping compared to what they ate only the night before. We were eating canned stew that had been warmed over a fire. The me from months ago would have eaten canned stew, but would never have sought it out. My current self, however, felt like he was in some kind of Heaven. A full bowl of stew was like a feast. As I brought the steaming bowl to my lips, I heard a soft whimper nearby.

"Shoo!" a man hissed, waving his hand at a skinny, mangy-looking dog that had sidled up toward him. "Git!" The brave dog backed up only a little.

In the light of the fire, I could see the dog's ribs and his sides wheezing out weakly. He was going to die soon if he didn't eat something. As if sensing my sudden wave of emotion, he raised his head toward me and his huge brown eyes tugged further on my heart. A long scar traced his shoulder and ended at the first joint in his front leg. I called him over with a soft whistle and he hobbled over to me and lay down, resting his dirty muzzle on my leg. I smiled and scratched his head. He was obviously domesticated, and not yet feral.

After I ate half of my bowl of stew, I set it down and let him have the rest. He ate heartily and stopped only to breathe. As he lapped it up, the metal tag on his muddy collar clinked against the sides of the bowl. Once he finished eating, he curled up at my side and slept. I looked closer at the tag. Murph.


For another several months, I lived on the streets. Not long after befriending Murph, I was told that the dog couldn't stay. I told them that if he couldn't, I wouldn't either. Jorge didn't want me to go, but he couldn't, for the sake of his own conscience, go against the wishes of the every other person in his little society. And so, I took Murph and my few possessions, and left. Except for Jorge, no one was sorry to see me go. It was just like the woman who had shown me kindness- I was one less mouth to feed, one less body to provide for. I had to turn my blanket into a makeshift bag to carry everything in because my backpack had been stolen during my stay with the community.

In time, Murph and I grew so close that we could sense one another's needs acutely. During the day, I shared whatever I could with him, no matter how meager the meal. I bathed him when I could, even if it meant we were chased away before I could bathe myself. I spent the nights with him curled up beside me or sometimes in my arms, feeling the reassuring heartbeat near me and the soft rise and fall of his sides as he breathed. He filled out again, looking less like a skeleton and more like a dog. His coat began to look healthier. He was energetic again.

He chased away others who meant to steal our meager possessions or threaten me in hopes of getting me to do something for them. He also chased away possums, badgers, and other animals. When it began to get cold, he warmed me. He made me happy again.

I loved Murph more than I loved my parents, my friends, or any girlfriend I'd had up to that point. He protected me, saved me, and made me comfortable. He kept me from the psychological trauma that plagued many other homeless people I'd met during my time on the streets. Murph quite literally saved me.


As with everything else in life, my days on the streets didn't last forever. I found my way to a shelter when it got too cold out to sleep on the ground. They tried to take Murph from me, but he refused to go and I refused to let them take him. They let the issue drop as long as I fed him from my own plate and took him outside to do his business. Not long after, I heard talk of the Humane Society, and Murph and I quietly slipped into the night again. We traveled from shelter to shelter until one day, sitting outside in the cold, holding Murph in my jacket to keep him warm, a woman sat down beside me.

I looked over at her. Her maroon hair was tied into a short ponytail and she wore immaculate makeup. She smelled faintly of pineapple. She wasn't homeless.

"You really love that dog, don't you?"

"Yes," I answered after a long pause. "Murph is all I have."

"I saw you at the shelter," she continued.

"Which one?" I asked with a hint of misery in my voice.

She smiled sadly. "All of them." She began to look at me as if for the first time. "Would you like to get off the streets, Derek?"

"I don't want to go to another shelter," I said curtly, looking away from her.

"That's not what I meant." She turned my dirty face with a finger under my chin. "Only a good person would take care of a dog before himself." I was mesmerized with the sound of her voice, and couldn't look away from her ice blue eyes. "If you promise to help me out now and then, I'll take you in."

"Why?" I asked, snapping out of my stupor. "You don't know me."

"I volunteer for the Humane Society," she admitted, pointing at Murph. "You don't want to hand over the dog, and it's clear that he is in good hands." She shook her head, smiling a little. "I know about you because of your reputation around here. My brother is an officer and he told me about the little community that kicked you out."

"How do you know about that?"

"They recently dispersed, and many of them ended up in shelters to escape the elements this winter. One man in particular asked about you, a man named Jorge." She looked at me. "I know about this because my brother and I go to the shelters to pick up the pets of those coming in from the streets. Most of the time, they give them up without incident. They don't want to care for their pets anymore, or they know we can do a better job of it." I held Murph a little tighter. He licked my chin. "But you have a reputation for being so attached to your dog. That you would leave safety, warmth, and the assurance of food just for a dog..."

"The safety of homeless shelters is debatable," I said softly, looking down at the snow collecting in the street. "But you still didn't answer my question."

She laughed. "Call it a gamble."


Winter passed, but I didn't feel it in my bones as I had in the weeks which I was cast out from my family. Murph and I lived comfortably, happily even, with Jessica, the woman whose home I had moved into, and her two dogs. As promised, I did what I could for her. I did housework, volunteered at shelters and soup kitchens, and looked for a job. I got my GED. After I found a job, I began to work and go to community college.

Life was kind to me after meeting her. My mom never contacted me again, and I never wanted to speak to her. I got an associate's degree from the community college, and went on to a university. Eventually by some twist of fate, I dropped out of college and became a model for Armani, of all things.

The last major changes in my life happened shortly after I began my career as a model.


"Derek, some guy has been calling for you," Jess told me over lunch. As always, she was only eating a salad, and as always, it still bothered me. She was thin as it was, she didn't need to watch her weight.

"Some guy?" I repeated, slurping up spaghetti and trying to play it off gracefully as the longest of the noodles slapped against my chin, leaving marinara sauce in its wake.

She laughed a little and began to twirl the ring on her finger. "Yeah, he said his name is Darren, but he never tells me more than that. He just says that he wants to talk to you."

"Darren, huh?" I said, trying to place the name. "I don't know anyone named Darren."

"Well please call him back when we get home. He calls almost every other day and he specifically gives your full name."

"Alright," I said, taking another bite of pasta. "But can we enjoy our lunch together, first?"




I was standing in the familiar Wal-Mart parking lot several paces from an old-looking man. Our cars were facing each other, lights still on and engine still running. It was getting dark outside, but here we were: two men in suits... standing in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. It was like a scene from Goodfellas.

"You've... grown up, my boy," he said, awe in his voice, as if he'd never seen another adult male before. He remained where he was standing, and I didn't move either. I didn't respond. "I am... I was your father."

Shocked, I took a step toward him to see him better. Murph barked once from the back seat of my car. Darren wasn't quite wrinkled yet, but the creases in his brow and around his mouth were deep, as if he'd done nothing but frown and worry since he was able to. He had my same tall, prim nose, and pale hazel eyes. His hair was curly like mine, but gray instead of brown. His face was clean shaven.

"Where have you been all these years?" I asked him, not angrily nor sadly. "Why didn't you find me before?"

"I couldn't... Your mother kept me away from you."

"Why would she do that?"

"She wanted the child support, and knew that if we ever met, you would rather live with me." He sniffed, wiping tears away before I could see them fully.

"I've been of age to make my own decision for a long time. She kicked me out when I was only fifteen." I told him, holding back the wave of confessions that wanted to overtake me.

"Where did you go?" he asked, horrified.

"Nowhere," I answered matter-of-factly, feeling heat rise to my face. Shame. "I lived on the streets."

"I'm so sorry... all these years..."

I shook my head solemnly. "What's done is done."

"I meant for you to inherit my company, Derek... but it seems that she hated me so much that she would see it burn at your expense."

I was silent. I didn't know what to say, but it made sense. My mom was always raving about the child support. That it wasn't enough, though she rarely spent it on me. And it was true that she hated my father. She had talked about what a stingy bastard he was at every opportunity, despite that she chose that stingy bastard. Could I trust my father, though? I didn't know anything about him. He hadn't contacted me until now that I was back on my feet.

"I know I can't make up for the time I wasn't there, Derek..." he said in almost a whisper. I struggled to hear him over the engine. "But can we... can you give me a chance to be your father again?" He lifted his hand, hoping for a handshake.

I looked down at his smooth hand, unaccustomed to scraping by, unaccustomed to having to struggle for anything. I thought of myself years ago, of my filthy hands: fighting for my life and Murph's life, living off the trash of others, not daring to think of the future. Our eyes met, both the same shade of pale hazel.

Ignoring his hand altogether, I hugged him tightly and didn't want to let go.

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