It’s like watching a drowning scene in a movie. Someone falls off (or is pushed off, or jumps off) a ship, and with beautiful and savage blue-ocean surrounding them they bob in and out of sight, sinking below the water, almost in slow motion. Then down for longer periods of time. Time in which you as a viewer get captivated by the waves and the sea, lulled by the sound of the lapping water. The terror and horror of the drowning with the backdrop of the ocean’s grandeur is conflicting. But there’s nothing you can do, so you just watch. And just when you think it’s over, just when you expect the camera angle to change abruptly to an underwater scene, the drowned man pops back up, breaking the serene surface wave for one last gasp, an aggressive grasping at life. It’s like that. Except minus the beauty part.
Like the drowning man, Peter has resurfaced. Worse for the wear and grimier than usual, but alive. After disappearing with Mary, where they went on quite an adventure apparently, before he was able to re-emerge. He called me to tell me he needed help. He stumbled and stammered through a *Sid and Nancy*-like story of drugs and sex and parties and fights and blackouts that lasted days and weeks and into months. He told me in a shaky voice that he was *using* again and that he couldn’t even believe he was still alive given what he’s been doing. Mary had been awarded 50,000 dollars in a settlement for some imagined injury sustained in some big box store and her check came in. I’m not sure what one carries 50,000 dollars in cash in, given Peter’s history with bags and backpacks I’m sure he found something (though I am surprised he didn’t lose it). Anyway, armed with the money, they stumbled off into the sunset. According to him, his conscience got the better of him as the money slipped through their fingers like water and good-time-Mary was sinking fast and not coming up for air.
I listened without apparent judgment and suggested he check himself in somewhere. The next call I got (a day or so later) was from a detox in the city. He sounded pained but clearer. He stayed there 4 (out of the 5 required) days and then signed himself out a day early because he couldn’t tolerate the food. I wish I made this shit up. But I don’t. Anyway, I offered to meet him after he went to Boston Healthcare for the Homeless to talk with a case manager. He showed up at the designated time and place looking cleaner, more coherent and less cloudy than I’ve been accustomed to seeing him. He had a huge camping type backpack that was bulging to beyond its capacity, festooned with childish drawings and “I love Peter” written all over it in sharpie marker. Mary’s handiwork no doubt. Seeing my gaze linger there, he sheepishly explained that they didn’t spend ALL her money on drugs, she bought him some actual stuff too and at least she spelled everything right. He sat down opposite me looking timorous, head hanging low. His eyes were actually brown and not the distant dull, empty, grey I’ve gotten used to. He seemed relatively focused and awake. He tremulously removed a crumpled packet of papers he’d gotten from BHCH. As he handed them toward me he looked up and his eyes were filled with tears, “I don’t even know where to start” he said, “I don’t know what to do with the mess of this life I’ve made.”
The papers were lists of drug rehabs/halfway houses, rooming houses and shelters. As I read through the list and descriptions Peter talked about his most recent escapades and his tenuous grip on sanity. He stopped the daily methadone he’d been on for a decade, simply not showing up for his dose one day. He also had stopped taking his anti-depressant/anti-anxiety. Which was clear from watching him well up with tears repeatedly and observing his skittish agitated demeanor, rapid eye movements and inability to maintain eye contact. I suggested he work with his doctors to get back on those medications as I methodically circled and numbered my top 6 choices of places for him to call to try and find housing of some sort.
From Peter’s descriptions as well as articles I’ve read I know that the shelters are hard places. A veritable sea of bunk-type beds crammed into a single room housing so many filthy bodies, mentally ill minds, broken hearts and what little belongings they possess. “You sleep with one eye opened, “ Peter once told me, “With one arm tied to and wrapped around your stuff. There’s so much noise… there’s a word for it I think… cacophony or something like that… with snoring and farting and people talking to themselves or talking in their sleep. It’s like you have to share their nightmares. Everyone’s nerves are on edge and you’re hungry and they’re hungry and you’re all irritable and fights break out. And you just huddle in a ball on your disgusting mattress, trying not to focus on the grossness of it, and you don’t make eye contact with anyone hoping no one notices you.” It sounds nothing short of terrifying. I’ve never been in a shelter myself, but I have had nightmares about them.
I was really hoping one of the rooming house numbers would pan out. I checked off an equal number of those requiring sobriety and those not. Peter called after a day to tell me he had great news. He met a guy. A great guy. A guy who would let Peter stay at his place for a while until Peter got back on his feet. And this great guy was a little *slow*, so Peter was going to help him out. “I’m going to be such a big help to him” Peter happily chirped into the phone, “All I need to do is clean up his place a bit and it will be fantastic.” I believe we’ve had this (exact) conversation before. About the last great guy with no name. It didn’t work then. I tried to warn him. But unfazed by my cautions, he assured me everything was going to be alright.
Until it wasn’t. I got the call far sooner than I’d anticipated. “The guy didn’t work out so well” was all he said. It took every ounce of self control I possessed to not say, “You don’t say?!” So he was sleeping outside in Boston Common again. Under a nice bench beneath a tree. He promised to visit BHCH the next morning and call some of the places on the list. But a day later he called to tell me that 5 out of the 6 numbers he called were no longer working numbers. And the 6th one had a 3 year wait list.
And then he disappeared again.