Aric’s descent into homelessness and addiction was a slow burn.
It started in high school and came to a head in his late forties, when the tragic deaths of his wife and father rocked him into freefall.
“That’s what really set me into being homeless,” Aric said. “They say time heals all wounds, but it was a hurtful thing real deep down — it was heavy.”
Aric, now 54, has lived in an apartment at Greenway Flats since June. And despite these traumas, he savors the same enthusiasm for life he’s maintained since his childhood in southern California.
“I’ve just always had a positive attitude,” he said. “I have that enthusiasm that keeps me moving forward.”
Aric was born in San Diego in 1965, the only child of a loving mother and a hardworking father. He was especially close with his dad, who worked decades for the Bell Telephone Company.
“I remember one time my dad just took me to Disney World on a whim,” he said with a smile. “They were very good parents.”
“It was a time warp,” he said of the transition from suburban California to rural Georgia.
No more beaches and surfing, but Aric still had his skateboard and his precious guitar. His friend even helped him get a job working for a country music station at age 14.
In 1981, when Aric was 16, the family relocated again — this time to Colorado Springs.
“After we got here, I remember asking myself if I like the beach or the mountains more,” he said. “And I definitely gravitate toward the mountains.”
Aric transferred to Wasson High School as a sophomore, quickly associating himself with a rough group of kids who liked breaking laws and causing trouble. It was during this period that Aric’s long battle with addiction began.
“I got into a bad crowd and started smoking dope and drinking,” he said. “That has been the demise of my character and my life — nothing else comes close. It was the downfall.”
At 19, Aric joined the Air Force and served as a detection dog handler at Hickam Air Force Base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He still has a Kodachrome print (remember those?) of himself, fresh-faced, wearing BDUs, crouched next to a kind-eyed Belgian Malinois.
“That was Sheeba,” he said with a grin, “the best dog ever.”
While the military kept Aric out of trouble, it wasn’t a good fit. He was an insubordinate recruit with difficulty conforming.
“I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “Sometimes I wish I would have just made it work. I would be retired and sitting pretty right now.”
After his first commitment was up, Aric called it quits and returned home to the Springs. He tried his hand at playing guitar professionally, mostly for heavy metal bands. Although a music career never materialized, Aric remembers those times fondly.
“That’s a tough life,” Aric said. “But there were a lot of great parties.”
In the mid-’80s, when Aric was in his twenties, he met a German girl named Lei through mutual friends. They soon started a relationship that lasted 15 years and had a daughter together named Rio. (Although Aric and Lei never legally married, he still calls her his wife.)
Aric spent years working day jobs in customer service at gas stations and grocery stores — he was once held at gunpoint while working the evening shift — but later worked as a graphic artist for a few local sign shops.
Despite a dependence on marijuana and alcohol, Aric’s life was relatively stable: he had a family, owned a home and made steady income. But at age 40, tragedy plunged him into chaos.
“I woke up one morning at 4 a.m. and my wife was dead,” he said with an expressionless face. “I found her dead. The coroner said it was from an enlarged heart.”
“Since she died, it’s just been a downward spiral.”
His devastation led him deeper and deeper into depression, and he was smoking and drinking more than ever. Mentally and emotionally, Aric was withering. And within a year of his wife’s death, Aric’s parents were granted guardianship of Rio — the last vestige of his family and the life he once knew.
“They could provide for her better than I could,” he said. “Being an alcoholic isn’t conducive to a good life for her.”
“That’s when I really folded up,” he said. “It was hard for me to deal with. Because in my mind, I’d just replay things over and over. … I had regrets — things I wish I would have done differently.”
After his father’s death, Aric found it impossible to cope. He stopped going to work. He couldn’t make rent. His depression and addiction had become completely unmanageable. Within months, he was homeless.
“Nothing good has ever come from drinking booze,” he said. “I never thought I’d be flying a sign around on a piece of cardboard. … It’s humiliating.”
For more than two years, he camped under a bridge at Sand Creek (near the intersection of Palmer Park and Powers). Surrounded by happy families living the American dream in their nice homes, Aric was sad and all alone.
After two brutal winters, three flash floods (twice while he was sleeping in his tent), attacks and run-ins with law enforcement, the city’s Homeless Outreach Team brought Aric to Springs Rescue Mission. It wasn’t voluntary, but Aric was grateful.
“I’m thankful for [the Mission],” he said. “God provides. … You just have to walk the walk and believe. That’s what it’s all about.”
For two more years, Aric lived in the men’s shelter and participated in the Work Engagement program. He began restoring the confidence he had lost on the long and winding road to 5 W. Las Vegas St.
He caught a big break earlier this year, when he moved into a fourth-floor studio apartment (with a beautiful mountain view) at Greenway Flats. After more than two years of homelessness and another two living in the shelter, Aric finally had a home of his own.
“My [case manager] worked above and beyond the call and got me into this place — I was the seventh person on the list,” he said. “[Having been homeless] makes me appreciate things more. As much as a roll of tape or a screwdriver. It’s the small things. I don’t have to carry my stuff with me everywhere.”
Moving into an apartment was a major step forward for Aric, but things weren’t perfect. It was a month before he got a good night’s sleep. The room was too quiet; the bed too comfortable; his possessions too secure.
“It took about a month to get over the culture shock,” he said. “It took a while to get used to it.”
Although he’s currently unemployed, Aric keeps himself occupied. He has worked more than 600 shifts cleaning the men’s shelter, helps with chores around Greenway Flats and occasionally cares for a friend suffering from dementia.
“I really try to stay busy and stay out of trouble,” he said. “It’s easy to get complacent real quick if you don’t stay busy … so I’m doing that until I can find employment.”
He also enjoys riding his bike and is teaching himself computer-aided graphic design with programs like Photoshop and Corel — keeping his artistic skills fresh for potential employment opportunities.
“I try to do little fun things here and there,” he said.
These days, Aric is hopeful. He dreams of once again owning a guitar and having a relationship with his daughter Rio, who he hasn’t seen in 17 years.
Aric has always been one to look forward; focusing on the future, not dwelling on the past. No matter how bad things got, he always knew he’d make it through. When asked what kept him going through all the heartaches and pains of his life, he gave a simple answer: enthusiasm.
“It’s Greek,” he said. “Look it up — it’s pretty cool.”
In the original Greek, the word “enthusiasm” translates to “divine inspiration.”
It’s Aric’s favorite word — and his biggest asset.
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