SHAWN SALO DOESN’T much believe in the joy of the holiday season.
He lives alone, he’s not religious, and he’s been chronically depressed since he was fifteen.
But wait! There’s more to this story than you might think. This isn’t just another one of those “Christmastime leads to depression” stories.
Shawn’s forty years old now. Born at Marquette General Hospital, raised in a trailer with his two brothers on a plot of land between Ishpeming and Champion. Dad was a welder, Mom was a homemaker.
Shawn remembers the good times of his youth. “We always celebrated Christmas. We had a tree. There was always presents and cookies. We used to drive around and check out all the Christmas lights on the homes. Our family was together. It was exciting, it was fun.”
But then came adolescence. Shawn had problems with his parents and other kids. He suffered from loneliness, frustration, angry outbursts.
“My parents said, ‘Why can’t you be like other kids? Why don’t you get involved in extra-curricular activities?'” he tells you. “Well, I didn’t want to be like other kids. I didn’t fit into the mold of society.”
He managed to graduate Westwood High School and joined the Army. Didn’t know why, it was just something to do. He didn’t like it and left with a general discharge.
Then came years of aimlessness–working odd jobs, getting drunk almost every day, moving in and out of his parents’ home, gambling at the casino.
But even during this lost period of his life, he managed to fit in two years of schooling at Bay College, and eventual graduation from NMU with a degree in accounting.
Which he hated. He had no intention of becoming an accountant. He had no desire of becoming anything.
“So the years keep ticking by,” he says, “and I’m thirty years old, then thirty-five, and I’m just sitting there in my dad’s basement (his mom had since died), and drinking. And I wondered, ‘Is this all there’s going to be?’ You know, life just seemed meaningless.”
Finally, four years ago, his father had had enough. “He said, ‘Maybe it’s time you fly the nest. There’s nothing here for you and you don’t respect me.’ So I said, ‘Fine. F— you,’ packed my bags, and he dropped me off at a church in Marquette.”
One of the churches that provides lodging for the homeless. Room at the Inn.
That didn’t last long. Shawn was still drinking heavily–sometimes as much as a twelve pack in a morning–and he had a run-in with management at Room at the Inn. He was booted out. He deserved it, he admits.
So now he was truly homeless, camping out at Lake Angeline and Gitche Gumee campground, wandering the streets, finding odd jobs, sometimes picking up cans to cash in for their deposits.
Finally, the folks at Room at the Inn, who saw the potential in Shawn, steered him toward Great Lakes Recovery Center. He got in, spent a month there, got off the bottle.
He got a room at the Jantzen House and was admitted back into Room at the Inn’s Warming Center for meals. He started hanging around there, helping out, cleaning up, volunteering to do any work that needed to be done.
And then he was offered part-time work at the Warming Center. Six hours a week, then ten, then twenty. His work ethic and organizational skills proved invaluable.
He also found an apartment he could afford.
“Whether I want to admit it or not, things are progressing slowly,” he says. “I’m staying away from alcohol and doing meaningful things in my life on a day-to-day basis.” A subtle smile briefly lights up his eyes, then disappears. Shawn doesn’t smile much.
He still fights depression, especially around the holidays. He can’t avoid the bright lights and cheery decorations on the streets of Marquette, the trees lit up in the front windows of homes.
“I think about it a lot,” he says. ” I miss my mother. I miss how things used to be that will never be again. I miss old friendships that I flushed down the toilet because of my behavior, my drinking, and my using people.”
Regrets? He’s got plenty of them. Anger? It still crops up from time to time. A feeling of meaninglessness and loneliness? Yep.
Would he like to be part of a family, especially at Christmastime? Absolutely not, he tells you.
And yet he also tells you this: “I come down here to the Warming Center to be with the volunteers. Seven days a week. I respect them. This is my family. There’s a sense of community here no matter how much I want to fight it. Even though I say I want to walk the world alone and I don’t need anybody, and I can handle the loneliness, it’s like…Really? Then why do you keep coming back to the Warming Center every day?”
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