It was a grey overcast day. I was sitting at work, and through the glass I saw Frank and Rosalyn walking past. I wasn’t sure when I’d see them again, as sometimes there can be a week or more gap between sightings. I ditched my desk and headed outside to meet them. I had not seen them since last Wednesday when we first met.
They have been on my mind. Both look surprised and happy to see me (a relief!). Frank is trailing a small navy wheeled bag of their belongings behind him.
With a grin, he mentions quickly “I was wishing I could pet your dog again.”
I smile. “Ah, she stays in the country, but I’ll make sure she can come down for another visit soon”.
When I tell them 1,000 people (and counting) have read their story; they smile at me, impressed. They look pleased. “That’s really good!”
Yeah, it’s really had an effect on the people who’ve read it.
Are you guys going to your spot today? Yep. Do you need anything for lunch? Sure! / Of course.
The morning passes quickly and suddenly it’s lunch time. I rush over to the local cafe and order sandwiches and some bottled water. I walk to their spot…I can see they are asleep. They are perfectly content. Rosalyn wakes first. There is a small jolt in her reaction, but then she relaxes again realising who I am (I think it might be impossible to quietly wake them with out a scare). If someone was beside my bed when I woke up I’d be stunned as well, I’d probably scream.
She smiles but appears to be needing to rest, so I keep things short and I leave the sandwiches. We arrange to have another chat and some photos after work. Frank is just starting to wake, and smiles up at me as I am standing to leave.
The afternoon drags, finally it’s 4:30. Again I tear out of my work clothes and throw on some jeans.
Just like the past couple of times I am observing two people deep in sleep. It feels like I am trespassing, I softly call their names. No movement. I sit down and wait for a minute and try again, all the while trying to be as delicate as possible. Rosalyn wakes first again. She’s less worried when she opens her eyes this time and smiles at me. Frank is deep in a dream behind her.
The next set of questions were asked separately, and when Frank wakes I share with him Rosalyn’s answers as well.
If you could be any animal which would you choose to be? Why?
Rosalyn answers straight away: “A bird, to fly and be free”.
Frank: (After some consideration) “A horse. I want to gallop off into the sunset!” He chuckles to himself, Rosalyn and I laugh at the imagery.
How old were you when you had your first kiss? Was it good or bad?
Rosalyn: “15, it was bad”.
My first kiss was bad too, our teeth kept hitting…which was really awful. Rosalyn smiles and laughs.
Frank: “16 or 17, I can’t remember it was in the 70’s and I was living the fast lane!”.
What is one thing you really like about Frank?
“He is caring. I’ve never had anyone care about me like he does.”
“Holly?” Yeah? “Can I ask you something?” Ok! I wonder what she’s going to ask me…
“How long were you sitting there for?” I nervously laugh, and tell her just a minute. I know it must have been creepy with me just sitting there. I was just trying not to startle them. She laughs, and said “Oh that’s ok!”.
So Frank, what is one thing you really like about Rosalyn?
“She is straight up, we have a lot in common and we hate the same people. We have the same enemies. Rosalyn has really changed me. Though, when she drinks I don’t really like to kiss her, because of the taste!”
Rosalyn: If you could see your son today what would you want to talk to him about?
“I’m not sure what I would say, I don’t know.” She pauses for a moment to ponder it a bit longer. “I would tell him the reasons why we’re apart. His Aunt is very selfish”.
Frank: If you could see your kids today what would you want to talk to them about?
“Lets have a “smash” (fight) now! He laughs and says nah, nah… “Before I was sober, alcohol came first before the kids. They have a reason to be wild with me. I love them. I can’t change it, but I can make up for lost time”.
He tells me he saw his youngest son on the street only a few weeks ago. (The one that was sent to prison for beating him to a pulp). He did not think his son recognised him (the son was drinking with friends in the city). But when he turns to leave, his son shouted to him “Hey! Where are you going dad?”. Frank stood still and watched in amazement as his son walked toward him and gave him a big hug. “He told me he was proud of me” His son had spent time in prison with Franks old friends who looked out for him and took care of him.
How did it feel when your son gave you that hug?
“I was a violent bloke… and when he told me he was proud of me. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening”.
They hadn’t seen each other in three years.
When it’s cold in the winter how do you keep warm? Where do you find your food? How do you get money to buy the things you need? What about summer, how do you keep cool?
Rosalyn explains… “Because I’ve been on the street so long, I know where all the warm spots are. You just get extra blankets. That helps. We can get breakfast in the morning at the soup kitchen, and that’s where we can shower as well. A lot of the people give the people helping all kinds of abuse. It’s not right. Frank is on disability, and if we need to get some money…we will ask on the street. Sometimes breakfast will be the only meal we get (the soup kitchen closes at noon each day). When it’s hot we stay in the shade and rest, and sometimes head down to the river to cool down”.
I tell her “I can understand why people would be angry, there is dignity and pride here that would be wounded. A lot of resentment would be simmering, because there is no easy way out of the circumstance.”
I find out shortly after, that Frank has been sober for 5 years and that his cousin nearly killed him with a metal pipe 4 years ago. They were arguing about something – a family dispute. It sent Frank to the hospital, where he needed brain surgery. He tells me he has brain damage.
What was it that made you decide to give up drinking for good?
“I was in court in front of a judge. I had 38 charges of drink driving against me. My lawyer told me the judge would not be lenient with me, so we did not even attempt to get a suspended sentence. He looked at me, like a man…none of the other judges really looked at me before this. He said “This is off the record…If you promise me one thing. To give up drinking, I will give you a suspended sentence”. I promised I would try my best. I went straight back to Geraldton and drank for a few days. But one morning I just looked at the bottles on the floor and they made me feel sick, just to look at them. And that was it”.
Rosalyn: “He has very strong will power.”
Rosalyn tells me “I’ll be honest, there is a reason I only drink 2 times a week. Basically my kidneys and liver have just about had it. I’m trying to take care of myself more. When I was younger I was drinking all the time, but now I really don’t like being around other people when they are drunk”.
We discuss what it’s like to live on the street:
Rosalyn: “When I was first on the street I was scared, it’s scary to be on your own. I was only 14. But soon a group of old guys took me in and were my family. They took care of me. There is a lot of territorial stuff happening. People want to fight, they try to pick a fight. Because I’ve been on the streets for so long I’ve got a reputation for being tough, I am well-known. It’s like a fight to keep your spot, people want to knock you down. Before I would fight back, I’ve stabbed quite a few people for trying to hurt me. The police know that it’s what I do, and a lot of the time I’ve been provoked. Now I try to laugh and keep walking. When they throw you in jail they strip you naked, and when I was 14, they did the same thing and then threw me in a padded cell in prison. It’s illegal to do that to kids (put them in a proper prison). I think they strip the clothes because they are perverted, they want to get a look at your body. A lot of the time when I was in prison I could hear the police beating a man even when he was inside the walls. I think they enjoy it”.
That’s really sickening.
I tell her “The fighting on the street… it reminds me of chickens in a pen trying to sort one another out…they always have a hierarchy and make sure it stays in order. When a new chicken comes in, it’s a battle all over again to settle the rankings”. She laughs, and I think of my own family… We fought a lot (not with weapons) but with words. I ask them if they would ever consider a battle of words over weapons? They smile at me, and say it wouldn’t work.
“I just can’t believe how everything is so violent, it’s really intense. Do you want to get away from it all one day?”
Rosalyn tells me… “It’s a hated world. This place is where we come to get away. No one really bothers us here. It’s safe. One day I’ll get a house again. I easily could, but for now I’m happy to be free, without rules. It’s nice to feel so free after being in prison”.
Do they do that to the men too (strip them)? Do you know if that happens to the white people as well?
Frank: “Yes, they have done that to me too. I’m not sure if they do that to the white brothers….”
They also mention what it’s like for them as shoppers. Sometimes they do have money, and can purchase things. They want to be able to enter a store and be treated like every other customer. But that simply is not the case. “People rush over to see if we’re taking anthing…it’s aggravating. I would never take something. I always have money to pay. I’ll tell them I’ve been to jail for stabbing people, and that I don’t bother with the petty stuff like theft.”
Frank tells me about his relationship with his own father, that when they were kids his dad loved them very much. He was very knowledgeable, and helped them learn the ropes, fixing cars and to work on stations. He drank as well and was abusive with his mum, and that changed their relationship as Frank grew older. “She was just a really lovely lady…and she could really cook!”. Naturally Frank began to dislike his father. I tell him, that “It’s come full circle now with your own children”…he nods with understanding and ponders the thought for a moment.
We continue to talk, for over 2 hours.
They make me smile, and laugh….and reflect. I stopped writing after 30 minutes and just listened to absorb their words (there is alot I’ve kept private)…thier story is difficult, hard, frustrating, and yet they are still kind and friendly.
I feel we’re becoming friends, and ask if they would like to meet my partner sometime? They say yes, they would love to meet him…next time I’ll be bringing Mike, a few prints of their portraits, a game of cards and will be leaving the note pad at home.
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