Upward Spiral

My mother had always shown me what the streets looked like from a distance. Taking me to Pine Street Inn, and having me help out was her scared straight program for me. We would hang out in Harvard square to watch the performers, but the other colorful characters were much more intriguing to me. The homeless were like a reference point; my father was well off in NH and my mother, an average worker in our family deli in the north end. The “bums and down and outers” were a warning of a grave future if I messed with drugs.

But these earthly possessions tend to slip away quickly and unexpected. After high school, I got deeper into exploring the drug culture with weed and alcohol; however, I was coming to know more about Church and God. My uncle closed his deli and the ripple effect began to take place in my family more than ever. Rebellion set in my heart the more I had to take responsibility for an unfair thing that happened. I felt like since my family, as well as myself, were far from perfect though good, I was nowhere near being able to pick up the pieces myself. Tried as I may, I had some experiences to come still.

Somerville and Cambridge had always been similar but different as neighbors. Both have ups and downs, positives and negatives as with anywhere. I’m from Winter Hill, but Cambridge seemed much more interesting. I was into politics, science, religion, and Cambridge had it all. At this point in my life things were changing everywhere. I was confused about who I was, where I was going and my goals and dreams.

I had spent a lot of time alone, out of work, trying to occupy my time because I withdrew for a year collecting social security checks and living at home. My visiting therapist gave me a What’s Up magazine as a way of earning income. I also knew of Spare Change because my mother published a story about her opinion on the statistics of the homeless population in Massachusetts; after another story was published in the Herald about a homeless woman on Hanover street in the north end being taken care of by my mother and friends from the neighborhood (one of whom had huge influence on me growing up).

Taking the opportunity, I started to sell Spare Change and tried writing for What’s Up. I was not homeless at this time, but economically pressured on behalf of my family and myself. Because of the riptide in the home I didn’t see it as being home-like, the atmosphere seemed better on the street where I could identify with other like-minded individuals. I left home little by little trying to gain independence; working sparingly at labor ready and other odd jobs, and living in rooming houses and hostels. The only way I really knew was “couch surfing” at friends houses, which took me to Manchester NH, eating at shelters to survive and get by. Knowing Mass. had a great system for this, I kept traveling back and forth taking Spare Change and What’s Up with me to sell.

Certain people I knew in the squares in Somerville and Cambridge would show me the ropes on finding places to stay, so I finally went to shelters in Harvard and Central Square; the same salvation army that I donated time to volunteer at when I graduated high school. It was like I went full circle the wrong way and I knew it. Binge drinking and heavy marijuana use got me nowhere. I could no longer ride the fence, I had to decide to do something but I was so stuck: not only economically but socially and in my personal life.

Going back and forth from the street to home; some days I’d stay home and others I’d go back out. I came and went as I pleased with no regard. I hit rock bottom when I decided on a trip to New York City for a few days with hardly any plan. A drop in center helped, but a friend and I had to sleep on the A train. It was a confusing time for me; I was scared but could not show it. Even though I had some fun partying and escaping reality, it was time to change and pray to be spared.

One night, some people from a church in porter square showed up with drums and other instruments. They came to the pit and preached the Bible. I had realized then; there was more to life than hanging out and trying to use people to get ahead as it never fully worked to satisfy me or anyone else. I had always believed in God but never lived a life that reflected my faith. I was as mixed up as anyone, but in the drop in center I went to at the time – youth on fire, many people there (including the homeless) helped me and pointed me to Alcoholics Anonymous. After being there for a year and a half, I realized there was another side to the street; recovery from what lead me there in the first place. A practical type of “religion,” the spiritual life that means something to me and others; not just arguing politics with random organizations and loose cannons like me. I got some help.

After a year, I went on a foreign mission with my pastor to West Africa. I had always been interested in other cultures, but to experience living over seas in another continent for a month was incredible, considering where I was a year prior. This was a culture shock for me. Especially when I returned to the pit, and my compassion hit me because I see where I was before; knowing there can be a chance for anyone to do what I had done, and all the while watching them lost as ever. Not that I was better, but desired they could see what I had seen and heard a greater thing. Nothing was there for me anymore. I had moved on.

I worked for jobs off and on, but tried college a few times and flunked out. Although I was now living in Providence, my mind was still stuck on those in the pit and didn’t want to forget. I nearly relapsed, then went to a program in Dorchester and Brockton called Teen Challenge, staying there almost 3 years. Since graduating this program it’s been an upward spiral, it’s like a revolving door that lets you out instead of keeping you locked in. I returned to Harvard Square and to this publication to let others know my story. My life is not perfect and many are going through hard times but I have the tools to deal with it properly. This is one of them. I appreciate those who enthusiastically use this paper as a way of getting back on their feet no matter the mistakes made in the past. Thank you.

-Joseph Agliata

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