by Fred Dickey
Originally published October 28, 2012
When April McGinley of National City was told her brother had been located, the words she sang out were, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Michael McGinley, her brother, had first come to the attention of U-T readers in a June profile as a homeless alcoholic in Balboa Park. He said at the time that only his sister, April, would seek him out from time to time to give him money and food.
Then, he disappeared from the streets. Gone.
For four months, April looked everywhere that she might find a homeless man. That doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you halfway expect the worst, time becomes a tease. “We looked in dark places and at lots of scary people,” April said of her quest.
In late October, she asked for help in finding him.
Ensuing publicity quickly turned up Michael at the downtown San Diego Rescue Mission, where he had gone in an attempt to get sober — to “dry out,” as the saying goes. He had not contacted April because he had lost her unlisted phone number.
But finally, on Saturday morning, she waited outside the rescue mission’s front door for her newly sober brother to appear.
She watched the door until it opened and Michael walked out and into the hug of a sister who wouldn’t give up hoping for this moment.
Michael had entered the rescue mission’s alcohol rehab program three and a half months ago, determined to make another attempt. At one point he had been sober for 10 years until he made a wrong turn, spending a year and a half on the streets seeking sustenance from handouts and temporary oblivion from cheap booze.
It had been just a few months since I saw Michael, but I wouldn’t have recognized him passing by. His beard is neatly trimmed, his clothes are clean and fit his filled-out frame. His eyes are clear and his voice firm. He is prone to moments of teary voice-cracking, indicative of the emotion of being with his sister and perhaps of psychological fragility.
He is matter-of-fact in relating his decision to turn his life around. “I was tired of scratching around in garbage cans for food. Life on the streets is boring, uncomfortable and full of weirdos.”
He is certainly aware that just a few months ago, he could have been describing himself. “I got tired of being what I was, and I do believe God was there for me.”
Michael plans on spending at least a year living at the rescue mission, and hopes to find a job in about six more months. He is comfortable with the rules of no drugs or alcohol, of getting day passes on coming and going, of following other requirements intended to keep him out of temptation’s way while he is in the opening stages of recovery.
If he doesn’t stay sober long term, well, then, he’ll just have to try again. There are no limits on chances, so long as there is breath.
This story at its core is important only to the McGinleys. However, Michael’s plight is a multiplier that spreads across our society. So if he can make it, well, others might be watching.
Fred Dickey of Cardiff is a novelist and award-winning magazine writer who believes every life is an adventure. He welcomes column ideas and other suggestions; contact him at freddickey@ roadrunner.com
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