There was a little fountain outside the office window playing a melody of nature that (thankfully) distracted from the silence of the room. The faintest hint of incense kept his nose busy searching for it. Sometimes the fragrance was there and sometimes it wasn’t – as if his mind had made it up. He fiddled with his hands noticing that three of his fingernails were dirty. He hadn’t slept very well stressing about this interview and had rushed to get ready this morning. Fiddling with his hair, he noticed that it felt funny and he wondered if he had remembered to rinse the shampoo out. His clothes were clean, of that he was at least sure of. Jake (his new roommate) had made sure he had washed his small assortment of clothing with detergent and in hot water.
One month ago, he had been homeless (One month ago. One lifetime ago. Already, he was somebody different). He had been earning enough to eat as a street performer juggling. But, not enough for much of anything else. He had been sleeping under a bridge enjoying the summer outside – vaguely worried about winter. That’s how he had met Jake.
Jake was a puppeteer and his puppets had fascinated him. Donny had always loved dolls but (as a child) his opportunity to play with them had been very limited. He was shocked to come face to face with a grown man playing with them in public – dressing them up, making them tell stories, making them sing and dance…
In return Jake had been fascinated by Donny’s juggling abilities.
Donny came by them honestly. His mother had been a fourth-generation circus performer from Czechoslovakia. She had been teaching him since he was a little boy. She had taught him other things as well. Like how to pick pockets. He hadn’t shared that with Jake and hadn’t used that talent in many years – at least not for keeps. He enjoyed practicing and so would sometimes pick peoples pockets and then put the stuff back before they had a chance to miss them.
He remembered all the stories she had shared with him about the old world and how they had come to the good fortune of their tract home on the end of the cul-de-sac. She had been on tour in the United States when she had met his father. In a whirl wind of romance, she had left the circus to become a wife and then a mother. She had been eager to leave the road and settle into a suburban life. As a little girl she had come into a windfall of old Life magazines. The ads had seemed like a story out of fiction. The magazines offered a reality so different, the United States might as well have been on Mars – their reality was so different. By marrying his father, her fantasy of being an “American” had come true.
His father was a miner. They had lived well until the mine closed when Donny was eight. His father had gone to Alaska to look for seasonal work on a fishing ship while his parents figured out what to do next. That had been ten years ago.
His mother had been killed in a car accident while his father was away. Donny had been put in foster care while they looked for his father or other close relatives. The state hadn’t found either and he had been in foster care until he had turned eighteen.
Eighteen had come six months ago. Until that time, he had had three sets of foster parents. He had never felt like a son to any of them. He had felt like a job and duty. He had been invited in to help pay the rent; and, he had never been allowed to forget that. He had never been close to his last set of foster parents. They had been strict and religious. The foster parents before that had moved out of state and had left him to be rehomed so he had only know these latest foster parents for a year – his last year in social services.
All of his foster parents had been a series of middle class, mid-western people who had been disapproving of a circus background and suspicions of his talents. He had once overheard his circus abilities described as “unnatural, like witchcraft”.
It seemed everything important about himself, he had overheard. With his last foster parents, he had overheard them talking about what he was going to do when he turned 18. They had been worried about how he was going to move out. He had a little money saved from mowing lawns and knew it was enough for a bus ticket to a city large enough to have street performers. He would juggle. If necessary, he would steal. He could get by and figure out a life for himself.
Donny told his foster parents he had been in touch with some family and would be going to stay with them. They had been relieved to hear he had someplace to go and had never pressed him on the details of his lie. It had broken his heart a little more to be cared about so little. These little heartbreaks were the worst. It was as if pieces of him were disappearing every time someone disappointed him – making him nobody.
One morning Jake had spied him tumbling out of the bushes on his way to the old part of town where they both did side walk shows. Donny had emerged tousled and bed worn, maybe a little dirty. It had been impossible to disguise what was going on – that he was homeless. After a brief morning greeting, they walked in silence for a while as if they met each other like this every morning to stroll to work.
“Is this where you’re sleeping?” Jake had asked him.
“Just for a little while,” said Donny casually, trying to reassure Jake, “until I get enough money for a place”.
They had a long talk after that while Jake pressed him for details about his age and background. “You can’t stay under the bridge anymore. You are going to have to stay with me until we figure you out,” Jake had told him firmly.
And that was it. Like a miracle Donny had gone from being lost and thrown away to having people again. Where once he felt himself going feral – losing parts of his mind and soul that made him human and connected, the reverse was happening now. Jake felt like family. He was introducing him to community. Donny started remembering things about himself. He was remembering how to smile. He was (slowly) remembering how to groom himself. He was remembering how to hope, as the glimpse of a future presented its self. He was remembering possibility and pride.
Now he was at this interview – a possible job.
The man he had been expecting came into the room. “Hi, I’m Gwydion,” he said with a big smile and a friendly demeanor extending his hand to shake “but everyone calls me Gwen. Sorry to keep you waiting.”
Donny took his hand and smiled. Gwen was a handsome, tall, athletic man that made people feel immediately at home. He possessed a smile that made his eyes twinkle. He had a face that should have been lined but wasn’t. He had hair that should have shown silver but instead was chestnut brown. He seemed older than time; and, (at the same time) newly born. Donny relaxed under the enchanting gaze of this handsome man.
“I’m Dominik. But everyone calls me Donny. Thank you for taking time to meet me.”