McCrabb: From homeless to helping others

Ironically, now, Short, nearly 18 years sober, can’t forget what happened on Dec. 27, 1997. He was hiding from the winter weather under the West Middletown bridge — a hideout for the homeless — with all his possessions: a trash bag full of clothes and a 19-inch cable ready TV in case he could watch ESPN where he spent the night.

He closed his eyes for a second, then a large TV appeared on an I-beam under the bridge. His life flashed before him.

It was the G version of his R-rated life.

“Every wonderful thing that ever happened to me,” Short explained. “Not the trauma, nor the abuse, none of that.”

He called that night nearly 18 years ago “a moment of clarity.”

So Short, then 33, threw his bag over his shoulder, picked up his TV and made the slow, cold walk up Central Avenue, then to his mother’s house on Charles Street. He was an expert at burning bridges.

It was time to rebuild one.

He nervously knocked on the door and his stepfather answer. He could see his mother standing in the kitchen.

“I want help,” Short pleaded. But he was told: “We have heard this song and dance before.”

The door shut in his face. This is when Short typically would have walked to the nearest bar, and ordered two draft beers, one for each hand. He would have made a few fast friends, and possible been given, or stolen, drugs.

Instead, Short remained outside the house, and banged on the siding. His stepfather threatened to call Middletown police.

“Call the law,” Short screamed. “I’m serious, I’m done.”

Done with the drugs, done with running from the child support, done with the lifetime of lies. It was time to start living.

He was allowed back in the house with stipulations. When his mother and stepfather left for work, they gave him a sandwich, and locked him in the basement to keep him from stealing.

Two days later, Short was driven to the SOS Hall, a men’s residence on Erie Avenue in Hamilton. He was treated there for his drug and alcohol addictions, and when he was released, he returned to his mom’s new home on Poinciana Road. She built him an apartment in the basement. Three weeks later, he took and passed the GED test at Middletown High School. He had dropped out of Edgewood High School as a senior, enlisted in the Marine Corps, then was dishonorably discharged because of his drug addiction, something he still regrets today.

Short, who has an extensive arrest record in Middletown and has twice been convicted of driving under the influence, worked as a carpenter and telemarketer and started to pay off the $77,000 in child support he owed in Butler, Warren and Preble counties. He had seven children, one has died and five he has a relationship with. His wife of 11 years, Tammy, has three children. He has 11 grandchildren.

When he appeared in court on the child support charges, the judges told him: “If you miss one payment, we will hit you with a felony.”

He expects to make his final $500 child support payment this month.

About five years ago, Short was contacted by one of his children, Matthew Mobley, who lived in Trenton.

When they talked on the phone, Short said: “This is your dad.”

Then he caught himself: “This is Darryle. I fathered you. It’s up to you if I’m your dad.”

Short said he and his son have “a wonderful relationship” and he was in his son’s wedding. Mobley, 23, lives in Gratis, has a full-time job with a concrete company and owns two cars.

“He’s what I should have been,” Short said of his son. “He’s just a good man.”

Short now works as director of staff development at Sojourner, 515 Dayton St., the same place where he became sober, met and married his wife, and started as a resident assistant. He hopes to die there one day. Right at his desk.

Then, he joked, once he’s cremated, they can put out cigarette butts in his ashes.

Christine Birnhanzl, development director at Sojourner, said like the other employees, Short believes in the agency’s mission: Life, Hope, Community.

“They walk the walk,” she said.

She said Short is empathetic to the clients because of his background.

“We talk about walking in someone else’s shoes,” she said. “He has been there.”

And to think his transformation from town drunk and a deadbeat parent to a sober father, husband and grandfather started one night under a bridge.

“I’m not the same person,” he said. “I’m amazed every day that I get paid to do what I do. As a joke, I say my biggest fear is they’re going to find out I don’t know what I’m doing.”

He can’t stop working now.

For 20 years, from the time he was 13 to 33, his addictions ruined lives.

He’s only repaired lives for 18 years.

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