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At 43, Mario has no money, no family, and is on welfare. But what truly caused him turmoil had been bottled up since he was 15, when the man who sexually abused Mario held a gun to his head and told him never to squeal.

Mario was only 4 when his father left his mother to raise five children on her own. She eventually started mumbling about how she had never wanted to have children.

"I never had a father figure," Mario says. "My parents were never there for me. I needed someone I could trust."

So when a neighbour started offering him cigarettes at age 14, he thought he had found a real mate.

The odd cigarette became packs of smokes. The gifts evolved into money. Soon, Mario found himself in the man's debt.

"I had to give something back. And what he took was my dignity, my self-esteem."

When Mario's abuser felt he'd had enough, he pressed a handgun to the boy's temple, warning him to never tell a soul. He didn't.

Many years later, Mario would learn his tormentor was a Duplessis Orphan, one of thousands of illegitimate children sent by the provincial government to institutions that abused them in every way.

Mario managed to get a job while renting a room from a kindly lady. He remembers his first paycheque, and how half went to room and board, leaving him with scraps.

Mario's time as the only man at the Centre de prevention et d'intervention pour victimes d'agression sexuelle in Laval taught him there's no shame for men to seek and receive help. He wishes his brother understood that before he took his own life six years ago. Mario's brother, who was gay, suffered from depression.

With the centre's help, Mario crawled out of his own dark and turbulent depression, which kept him from working or forming meaningful relationships. He's just now getting over the paralyzing fear of interacting with others.

Mario hopes to get off welfare soon and resume the job he once had as a travelling salesman. It'll be nice, he says, not to seek handouts from local food banks.

"I began my life paying. Only now am I ready to receive."

Old habits do die hard, though. When told he would receive a $125 cheque from The Gazette Christmas Fund this year, Mario originally declined, asking what he did to deserve it.

But after accepting the help, Mario said he plans to use the Gazette's gift to buy food, and maybe a little radio to keep him company.

He wants to volunteer as a driver for Nez Rouge on Christmas Eve. And he'll talk about his life to anyone who asks.

"If what you do helps just one person," he says, "consider it a success."


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