“I was in my 20s when I received a phone call from my cousin,” starts Lionel Adriano.
His tale is tough to hear. It’s tougher to tell, I’m sure. He’s summoned the courage to share his story on a dreary afternoon from a seat in the salon he and his business partner will open in only a few days. Starting a business may not have been a stretch of the imagination for the Lionel who majored in business and finance at the University of Hawaii, but it was a world away in the mind of the Lionel who was homeless on the strange streets of Lancaster only a few years ago.
“My cousin brought up some things in the past that had happened to the both of us by a relative. Some inappropriate things happened to her and I when we were little,” says Lionel, as his eyes begin to well up at the memory. The wounds are still fresh. His pain is real.
The cousin recalled a time when the two were young, no older than age eight. On multiple occasions a relative showed the cousins pornography and asked questions, which led to inappropriate physical activity. The acts were something Lionel repressed. When he answered his cousin’s call he was living in California, struggling with a bad relationship.
“I came here because we were planning to approach our relative. That’s how I got here,” he says. “I got here with a duffle bag and that is it. I wasn’t going to go back to Hawaii. California didn’t work out, so I didn’t want to go back there either.”
When I ask him if he ended up working out the issue with the family member, the now 35-yearold Lionel answers resoundingly, “Yeah,” in a positive and solid voice. “I said what I needed to say. I knew that the potential for that relationship to end was there and unfortunately, that’s how it went. For me, I knew I needed to say something.”
By his own admission, he had a hard time coping with the realization of his abuse. He started running with a dangerous crowd. He was taking any pills he could find.
“I was doing whatever drug I could do to suppress the issue. I found myself contemplating suicide,” says Lionel, who eventually entered into a residential treatment program. His drug-filled days left him with little support once he was released. He was homeless in Lancaster, a city he knew little about. “This wasn’t the life I expected to live. And the only person who was going to be able to change that was me.”
One morning something just clicked. He left the shelter and headed to McDonald’s to get a cup of coffee and a newspaper. He was going to find a job, start to turn things around. By chance, one of the few people in Lancaster Lionel knew and could call a friend was driving by and saw him. She picked him up, took him into LUXE Salon & Spa where she worked and cut his hair for free.
“As I was in the chair getting ready to leave, the owner, Ana Kitova, came over and offered me a job,” says Lionel, who had completed an esthetician apprenticeship while in college. He stayed at LUXE for six years and will always be grateful of the kindness he was shown there. Now, he has moved on and opened a combination barbershop and beauty bar called Revolve Atelier.
“This is kind of emotional… for good reasons,” says Lionel, looking around the studio. Revolve Atelier is a venture between Lionel and barber Matthew Schreck.
He really had no interest in working with skin and beauty in the beginning. His apprenticeship and work while in college was a way to pay some bills, but one of his clients kept offering him a job in cosmetics.
“Finally she gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” says Lionel, who now finds the work therapeutic. “More and more, I fell in love with it. The ability to make people feel better is the most rewarding part.”
He doesn’t want to look ahead, because seven years was not that long ago, but he knows he is in a place to face new—positive—challenges.
“Being homeless and being able to make it through, I see this as just another opportunity to push myself.” Looking back at the hard times, he says, “I wish I had the voice to ask for help. With things like drug abuse or molestation, it becomes such a part of your identity and when you are hiding that, it becomes embarrassing, you become ashamed. Slowly, you back yourself into a corner and you don’t know how to reach out. Shed your ego. It’s okay to ask for help.”
Sage advice from someone who has lifted himself up.