Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cast aside.

This morning I took an hour long train into the city, then rushed to my desk to draft up triplicate copies of a medical release. A brisk walk in the cold (it was lower than 20 degrees) to another train, then a longer walk through the snow on the north side to meet with a new client.

I typically represent large publicly traded multi-national companies, and design the compensation and benefit structures on behalf of these companies that affect literally millions of people. And I'm paid quite handsomely for the work. Far more, in fact, than I'm likely worth.

This morning was different though.

My client used to have a normal life, married - with two young sons. He developed late onset schizophrenia and his life slowly started unravelling. He's been homeless now for the better part of fifteen years. His ex-wife had him declared dead after he'd disappeared for over ten years and she was told he'd been beaten to death in a mugging.

He's alive. Though even that seems a bit of a stretch of things to say. His face bears the scars of multiple physical attacks. Part of his forehead is caved in from blunt force trauma. He shrugs, giving the explanation "a fight over a place to sleep."

A local agency is now paying for him to stay at a "hotel." The overwhelming majority of the hotel's guests rent rooms by the hour. Only a floor or two is for overnighters.

I met with a member of the agency in the lobby and we went up to his room. The hallway floors were bloodstained, the acrid stench of stale urine infiltrated the air - suffocating. I could feel Julian moving strongly within me, I guess picking up on the elevated stress hormones flooding my body.

Inside his room, the mattress was bare and heavily stained. No pillows, no towels. A thick black sludge covered the bottom of the shower. Roaches crawled all over the walls and across the bed. A chili can with a tarnished spoon sat precariously on the ledge of the stripped bed. He had to eat it cold as there wasn't a way for him to heat it.

I'd laid my purse on the floor, and watched silently as a roach crawled inside it.

We talked briefly about what I was going to do in order to try to establish his identity. He honestly is so far gone that I'm not sure he'll remember who I am when I have to meet with him again next week.

His family has been contacted. His parents and siblings want nothing to do with him. They've effectively disowned him. Cast him aside. His oldest son visited with his ex-wife. It's definitely him - though a shell of a man that they used to know and love. They can't relate to him now. They don't know what to say. He doesn't remember them. He doesn't remember who he was "before" his given name and birthdate are figments of someone else's imagination.

He has brief moments of clarity - then it's all muddled again.

Everyone's forgotten him, it seems. It's easier to - it doesn't pain the soul as much as if they were faced with standing here with him instead of half a country away.

His name is George. And I know that for the rest of my life, I will never forget him. And I know that they haven't either. How could you? He was someone's son. Someone's husband, someone's father. He was a neighbor, a co-worker. He was a stranger passing on the street, and now he's invisible.

I am so lucky to have the life that I have. I need to do more to help other people, to somehow assuage this overwhelming guilt.

My life could've easily ended up like his did. My mother was on the streets for awhile, when dealing with her substance abuse issues. We lived in run-down apartments that weren't much better than the hotel I visited today. I'm not a stranger to roaches, and have had them crawl over my skinny 10 year old legs in the shower.

It embarasses me even now to talk about it. My sixth grade math teacher, Ms. Brundage bought me clothes. A church in town delivered food to us because we were too poor to even buy gasoline to get to the store to use our food stamps. But through others generosity I've always had a roof over my head. I've always believed I could get out of poverty.

I cried on the train ride back to the office. I'm not the type that cries often, it's not my nature. Since I've been pregnant, things resonate so much stronger with me. I cried for George, for his neighbors in the hotel. But I also cried for my son, who I've not met yet. I cried - hoping that he would never have to know that want - that desperation.

I know we all struggle with daily inconveniences, but tonight - as you lay your head down to sleep. Please, be thankful.

It could be so much worse.

3 comments:

Ms. Pants said...

All I can think is, "What did she do about the roach in her purse?" Cos.... *shiver*

orodemniades said...

I can't imagine wanting nothing to do with my child - even with mental illness and homelessness. I just can't imagine it.

And, ditto on the roach.

Scoutj said...

Wow.....just wow