It was Saturday night on Richmond Row. The clubs, the streets and the sidewalk were bustling. Between party slurs and taxi hails, you would hear an occasional clink as a toonie dropped into Paul Szuch’s Harley Davidson baseball cap.
As cars whirred past and people staggered through, Paul, 57, sat on cold cement in front of a hair salon undergoing renovations. Every so often someone would stop to pet Sawyer and Foxy, his aging dogs who basked in the momentary attention with perky ears.
“Everybody loves the dogs,” Paul croaked out in a thick, raspy voice. Throughout the night, countless students would coo with yearning delight, rubbing Sawyer's belly and talking to Paul about their own dogs. “They’re good therapy for people who are away from home. I’m also here for that,” Paul said while motioning over to Sawyer.
Sawyer was a gift from Paul's brother for donating bone marrow to his sibling who had leukemia.
“I got tested and I was a positive match,” he recounted, his sun-creased skin reflecting the neon of the storefront signs. Paul was 45 years old at the time.
The transfusion left him in the hospital for eight months, severely deteriorating his body and ultimately weakening his immune system. Paul’s health continued to worsen until he pinched a nerve on his C5-C6 vertebrae. With the surgery being too risky, he was eventually forced to quit his job. “I can’t do much,” he went on, reaching out to pet 11-year-old Foxy with thick calloused hands.
With an air of someone who has accepted their fate, Paul said, “You can’t afford the extras like other people do. No income, no life, you know?”
Paul’s injury took him from making $4,000 a month to not being able to hold things in his hands.
And so it goes; he comes out every night to what he’s dubbed as “his spot.” Depending on the weather, he’ll usually stay for about four hours; collecting what change he can, letting Foxy and Sawyer elicit smiles on passing faces and sharing his story with those who don’t avoid eye contact.
Saying goodbye, a peck on the cheek carried the essence of a man who wants nothing more in life than to hug and be hugged back. To be reminded that he’s not in this world alone, and to remind us all that even in the most unfavourable of conditions, our capacities for love remain constant.
- Soranne Floarea is a third-year student in the Media and the Public Interest (MPI) program at Western.
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