Wrapping up for the day, I was headed southeast along East Cordova when I spotted Dominic, his orange windbreaker flapping in the wind. Huddled in the corner outside the steps of a graffiti-ed door, Dominic sat with his bike, two large bags of cans hanging off the sides.
“Hey, is this seat taken?” I ask with curiosity.
Naturally, Dominic’s eyes drift toward mine as he examines first, my overzealous personality and then the two warm cups of coffee and the extra blanket I had balancing on my forearm.
“What is that?” he asks, his eyes adjusting to the daytime brightness.
“Coffees for the both of us,” I reply, sensing this as an entrance into conversation.
He smiles then— his features contorting into the happy face of a child when offered the last piece of dessert. He moves over to make room on the broken clay tiled stairs and I sit down beside him, offering the extra coffee into his open palms.
After asking if he had any hobbies, Dominic promptly told me about his love of potlatches and even explained their significance to me.
“I take after my mother,” he proudly exclaimed, “so I belong to the Bear clan. We have potlatches for everything,” he rattled on, “ when my mom passed away a few months ago, we had a ….potlatch in her honour.”
On hearing the news, my heart grew heavy with concern, “do you miss her? Your mom I mean. Were you two close?”
“Well, yes and no…I was thrown around a lot as a child. A few nights here, a few nights there. I’m actually from New Westminster but my family lives in Prince Rupert. I grew up in foster homes and spent tons of nights on my uncle’s couch. But I hope to go back and visit my family some day.”
We continued our talk about family and the importance of treasuring the people we love. Dominic even shared a story about his girlfriend’s decision to get an abortion which contrasted with his eventual wish to become a father. I listened with growing appreciation for his openness and willingness to share his life stories with me.
The story stalled then and we sat there in silence, enjoying the last rays of sunshine with our coffees thankfully warming our fingers. It wasn't awkward, I didn't feel the rush to think of another question or to comment about the weather. As we soaked in the sun and looked up at the
large expanse of the winter skies, I think we both felt at peace, thankful for the day and for each other’s company.
By Happy Fate
Vivian shares her reunion with Dominic, a familiar face with UBC HOPE
“Dominic!” I yelled...pretty much halfway across the block.
The figure in the contrast gray coat and brown leather cross body bag turned around and I saw Dominic’s face light up in recognition of my familiar face.
“Do you remember me? I met you last year- right there,” I pointed to the staunch alcove just a few meters away.
“Yah, Vivian right? And your friend…where’s the tall guy that came with you last year?”
Eyebrows raised, eyes wide open in disbelief, he remembered my name?
A year ago, Dom was an alcoholic who had nowhere to go- spending his nights on the streets and in shelters. I met him on another of HOPE’s Warmth of Winter outreach events.
Though I spent close to an hour talking with Dom, never would I have imagined him to remember my name.
“Yes…, I’m Vivian but how did you remember?”
Dominic merely smiled and shrugged his shoulders as I stood flabbergasted that my conversation with him last year had even left a significant dent.
Memories of our conversation flooded in as I suddenly remembered the hollowness in Dom’s voice as he talked about his mother’s passing. “How has your year been, have you been back to visit your family yet?”
“Actually I got in contact with a cousin, I’ll be back to visit my mother’s grave with him. I’m also back in a heavy metal trades program and I'll be heading to Lake Country to go to school”
I couldn’t help but continue to smile- a real smile that wasn’t forced by politeness or the need to entertain, but something that flowed from the joy of witnessing the transformation that took place in Dom’s life.
It was a beautiful moment to simply reconnect with an old friend- to be steeped in nostalgia and gratitude for this mission.
This is HOPE’s third year in our Warmth of Winter outreach project and I’m glad that I haven’t fallen into routine- that each time I go, I am challenged and inspired and that I leave feeling, on many levels, raw and battered.
So that’s what I did, I smiled and laughed together with Dom as he continued on, excited to share the latest news updates on his life with me, who, in his eyes, was not a stranger any longer.