Aidan Cahill is not unlike many of his peers, having reached adulthood with no clear direction of where his life will lead - he's thinking of an electrical apprenticeship, of travelling to Berlin and eventually a job.

But in his relatively few years the 20-year-old has already had to navigate many twists and turns that led him to spending his teenage years on the streets, heavy drug-use and sex work.

When he was 4 his father died, his mother spent most of his life in and out of prison, then as a young teen he was abused and, struggling with the emotional trauma, he brushed with the law, dabbled in drugs and alcohol before he fled his hometown of Christchurch at 16 for the capital.

Cahill said he had no regrets - his life had made him who he was and had made him stronger. But it is clear what he has experienced has left wounds that he continues to grapple with as he finds his way to a life off the streets and free from drugs.


As part of his recovery he has written a book titled Aidan 19, so far. It's a gritty R18-marked tale that leaves little to the imagination.

Cahill's storytelling jumps back and forth in time and place as he retells the good and bad of his life so far.

His story doesn't end with the book's final page, it continues to evolve. But as he and his mentor, former lawyer Peter Macky, contest it remains a work in progress, with the occasional step backward, even as he finds himself clambering on to more stable ground.

Macky, who supported the book's publication said when he first met Cahill two years ago he saw a young man full of potential.

He encouraged him to write as a way to boost his confidence, but found his story compelling.

"What separates his childhood from ours is luck and circumstance, that's very sobering."

Macky said "the obvious risks involved in terms of its content and language [was] worth the potential outcome".

The book was not an easy read and could be overtly graphic at times, but in its 106 pages has captured the precarity of a young life falling through the cracks of society.


It detailed Cahill's trauma at the loss of his father, his mother's absence, sexual abuse and the resulting emotional trauma of something that took him years to realise it wasn't his fault.

"When I was 14 it was a lot for me. I was extremely embarrassed and when this crime was revealed, I withdrew and I started getting into trouble at school. I got into marijuana and alcohol."

Then the Christchurch earthquakes began, these disrupted his high-school years and Cahill said shook apart the already fragile foundation holding his life together.

"All I can say about my school years is that the earthquakes had a major impact on my education," he said. "I ended up leaving school at the age of 16 because I was troubled by the upheaval and disruption that the earthquakes and sexual abuse had caused."

Aidan Cahill says writing Aidan 19, So Far was stressful as it dredged up difficult memories. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Aidan Cahill says writing Aidan 19, So Far was stressful as it dredged up difficult memories. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Cahill ran away from his aunty, who he said had done her best to get him the help he needed, but he wasn't ready.

He went to live with his older sister, but after awhile they had a falling out and so at 16 he ran away to Wellington, and shortly after to Auckland, in the hope of finding something better than what he was facing in Christchurch.

During this turbulent time he fell further into the drug scene, began to make ends meet as an independent sex worker, finding work through various online sites and apps and was living on and off the streets.

Cahill knew his aunty and his grandmother cared for him deeply, he could have turned to them for help, but felt unable to tell them.

"My life was full of anger and fear...I know it must have been difficult for Angela and grandad to see my life spiralling out of control, especially when they were powerless to do anything about it.

"I knew they still loved me, cared for me and were probably worried about me, I still couldn't call them."

Eventually, when at 19 Cahill was diagnosed with HIV he reached out for help - to an organisation called Body Positive which offers support to people living with HIV/AIDS in New Zealand.

"I was 19 when I was diagnosed with HIV, it didn't really hit for about two days, but when it sunk in I really felt like it was the end of my life.

"That day I finally went into Body Positive was the biggest weight lifted off my shoulders. I had a place to go."

It was here he met Macky, who he described to the Herald, as a father figure.

Cahill said writing his story had not been an easy process, but he was proud of what he achieved.

"In the process of writing it was really stressful, as I had to try and remember things I didn't want to.

"The reason I really wrote it was because I guess there was a bit of my own pain, but also to get a message out that rough times don't last."

Cahill hoped this was the beginning of the end of his tough times, though he was realistic there was no overnight fix.

"Being homeless was one of the hardest experiences I've had and a horrible feeling. When I was 18 and living on the street I had nowhere to go.

However, Cahill has made a start. He reunited with his aunt and with his grandfather - before he passed away this year.

Cahill has also vowed to never return to live on the streets. Home for now is a central Auckland backpackers and he is looking towards more permanent accommodation, he has also recently secured a job, and is working on staying off drugs for longer periods of time, if not forever.

"Drugs are no longer my top priority. They don't control my life anymore. I no longer think I could be dead before I turn 25.

I honestly believe I have a future that doesn't involve Winz and living like a crook.

"I don't know what I'm going to do, but whatever it is, it's gonna work out.

"I'm Aidan and this is my story, so far."