It was terribly chill with a thick Pacific fog. Rain pelted like bullets, and the sky was almost pitch. Nighttime approached, the last dark shade of the year. In the Stygian dank a poor young man, in a soaked-through hoodie and wet denims and ragged old running shoes he found on a doorstep, was meandering the streets of The Castro. In the bitter morning air when he had departed from Martin de Porres’ free oatmeal breakfast, he had Zorries on, but what good did they serve? They had a very large footprint, way too awkward for him, for they were procured from an old, drunk Mexican lying in the gutter. The lonely young fellow had lost them running across Mission Street, where a MUNI bus had rumbled by in great haste. One Zorrie he failed to regain, and a mongrel had scooted away with the other, for a chew toy.
And so the handsome waif plodded on with bare feet, which were freezing crimson until he found those sneakers. In his left coat pocket he carried two spare books of matches sealed in a baggie, along with one stashed in his shirt that he used to offer a light to anyone rummaging for his Bic. This was his way of striking up a conversation, and hopefully finding a warm place and body for the night. But no one had accepted a light all day long, and no one had given him solace.
Trembling with cold and loneliness, he wandered throughout The Castro, an image of destitution, a sad young man! The raindrops fell on his scraggly black hair, which cascaded in matted locks over his neck. In all the homes Christmas tree lights glittered through windows, and there was a delightful scent of homemade meals and dessert, for it was New Year’s Eve. Yes, he longed for a full belly and companionship!
On Collingwood Street across from the park, he sat down on a doorstep and drew up his rain-drenched legs. He grew colder and colder, but did not dare move on, for he had found not a single kind soul to take him in that day, and despair sank into his bones like an old, dying man.
His hands were numb with cold. Oh, how much one kind hug from a gentle man might warm his soul! If he could only meet a friendly gay comrade to offer a match, and be swept up in his arms and taken home to a hot meal and a warm bed! He grew feverish and began to hallucinate. A ghostly male of kind and sweet demeanor approached him and asked for a light. The stranded boy’s heart leapt for joy, and he withdrew a matchbook and lit the Winston.
The match sputtered like a Roman candle, to imbue his sudden companion’s face like an angel. Had he finally found His One True Love, who would heal his every wound, and keep him safe and happy forevermore? The man’s gray eyes sparkled, and his smile warmed the wanderer’s grieving soul like a gas-flame hearth!
(I must mention here, that the young straggler’s name was Seth, and he was just seventeen. Quite the gorgeous dude, though barely 5-foot-4. He was a very good man, though a refugee from a broken family out of Montana. He never messed with hard drugs or alcohol, though nonetheless could never find another homeless friend here in San Francisco, who could fulfill his desperate need for camaraderie and trust. He often wished he were straight, to increase those odds.)
The kind man’s face glowed with compassion, as Seth held the match to his cigarette. But it gave off a weird flame! It really appeared to the lost boy as if he were sitting before God’s Judgment, and was deemed innocent. How wonderful Seth felt in the warmth of This Man’s Smile! His heart beat with fulfillment! The young man gazed up at his companion with reverence, as a warm rush of happiness brushed away the last vestige of cold from every cell in his body. But then the match snuffed out, the man vanished, and Seth found himself once more shivering in the icy wet as he sat alone, on a doorstep with no destiny.
He struck another match, hoping to restore that vision. It shimmered intensely, and when the light fell upon the wall behind him, it became transparent like glass, and he could look beyond and into the dining room. On the table a holiday linen was spread, and on it rested a bountiful array of roasted vegetables, turkey, ham, loin pork and lasagna. The dishes seemed to glow with a supernatural luminosity, as they tempted Seth to reach through the windows to enjoy a feast beyond any he has ever known.
But the match blew out, and only the thick, cold wall loomed before him. He ignited a second match. Whence he found himself seated beneath a glimmering Christmas tree radiant with gold and silver ornaments. It was much more grand and lovely than the one he had viewed last Christmas through the doorway of Grace Cathedral. Myriad LEDs lit the pine branches, and miniature gilt icons like those in Ukrainian art museums danced like sprites before his wondering eyes. Seth extended both arms in their direction. Then the second match went out. But the Christmas lights grew more intense. He now viewed them as bright stars in the heavenly vault. One of them descended like a shooting star, and left behind a trail of sparks.
“Now someone has died,” thought the forgotten boy, for his kindly grandmother, the only person who ever loved him (and accepted him unconditionally the moment he confessed his gay desires), but who passed away two years ago, had taught him that whenever a star descends to earth, a soul goes up to God.
He struck yet a third match against the Edwardian structure. And in the flaming light his grandmother appeared in a pale cerulean gown, and with wings that touched the sky.
“Grandma!” cried the child. “Bring me home! I fear you will vanish when the match burns out. You will disappear like the sweet man who asked me for a light, and the ginormous New Year’s dinner, and that amazing Christmas tree!”
He desperately extracted the two other matchbooks and struck the whole bundle, for he yearned to keep his grandmother in his sight. The matches flamed with such intensity, they surpassed daylight. His beloved grandmother had never before appeared so gracious. She embraced Seth warmly in her arms, and they flew as one beyond this troubled world, to where there was neither hatred, loneliness, starvation, nor a God without compassion.
But on that Collingwood doorstep, rested the young man Seth with a peaceful visage and calm repose, dead from pneumonia…and the heartless reception of gay homeowners who’ve never known the blight of alienation, nor its consequent outcome. The New Year’s sun shone upon a good man who never knew love, homeless and rejected. He sat there, numb and frozen, holding the matchbooks, of which not a single match remained unlit.
“He wanted to warm himself,” Castro residents declared, to appease their own guilt. Not a one gave any thought to this man’s compassionate dreams of love and friendship, and how gladly his soul departed, at last, to find peace in the shade of his grandmother’s wings.