Time slows down,
and the past grows
ever more restless
It’s easy to forget
in the business
of a day full
but I can’t even
in an afternoon
still my morning
Time has shifted
I used to paint at night
creating vividly in the silence of a sleeping city,
hearing foreign news
happening to people
who felt like old friends,
I would never really know
I even cried
the night he OD’d.
in the club
on a speedball
of my generation
Now I’m not even sure what generation I am
or if I even wanna be a part of it anymore.
Now I get up and eat a lunch
that should have been eaten twelve hours before
I light a half cigarette
in the afternoon
because the desire to survive
has left with the sunlight
I write poetry
because my paint was tossed out with all the rest
And I cried
I heard the news
I was probably
one of the only people
awake to see it
on their news that night in my city
halfway across the world
just, almost morning
That death of a too young
with hungry cameras
and flashing lights
making it worth
all our grief
I’m maybe the only one who
asked about Chris
and who can let the world know
that he was found
wet, stripped naked
on the street
I bet the needle
was still in his arm.
He gave me
when I couldn’t afford one
or shiny lights.
Just a good man
who cared too much
and was too gentle
for a world
I step outside
where the earth smells
like home and life –
is the only light
and i hope
I think of the man
who derailed my progress
to save his reputation;
I think of the life coach
who dropped the pro bono ball
taken because I no longer had
time for free lunches and too fucking real stories;
I think of the system that is too busy
to remember –
and I hate them all
a little bit
as I imagine them
living without consequence or care.
But reason tells me
it’s nobody’s fault.
and you can’t
We all know
Yet, I did
a part of me
What if I had
still been around?
I was hungry
just like him
in the end
but I had a place to sleep
and just enough people who cared.
have bitten me
while I was
I didn’t feel
I met Chris one day when, after driving past him begging at a traffic light on my daily school runs to fetch my son for some months, I decided to stop and ask him for his story.
We got to chatting after that. I would stop to talk, when I could. I would stand with him for a while, and watch him collect his morning offerings from well-meaning people on their way to work. One plate, every morning, from a driver by with a sandwich on it. A daily dose of R100 from another. Spare change from more. He would use this to go and get his morning hit of Heroine.
On a bad morning, specifically weekends he once shared, when regulars weren’t around and his takings were slim, things were much harder for him.
He would get agitated if we were too deep in conversation and he missed an offer.
I tried to get him into government rehab for some time. It is not easy to do this, as it turns out. We met with a person. We filled out some forms. He tried to get an ID. I met him at Home Affairs and gave him the money to do this, but I couldn’t stay for the inevitable hours-long wait. I made him promise he wouldn’t blow it on smack. He was robbed and it was stolen, he told me. The ID. I don’t think that is true, but still, we spent time and talked more. I understand addiction.
He went to a Twelve Step meeting. He was welcomed by old-timers who knew him from before. But nobody got further involved from that group.
For some months we shared pieces of our lives with each other in short conversations. Once or more, we talked for a few hours, and then some, when I had more time.
I bought him some lunches. Packets of cigarettes when I could. But more importantly, it was my time that I know he found most valuable.
That is what I call us now, because, for a while, I was one of them and still am in many ways. Not on the street, but tainted with the stench of failure and disillusionment that ends up right there. I relate to the invisible people. I know how it feels to be unseen and go unheard. It is fucking horrific. It is brutally lonely. It is traumatizing on a level that I’m not sure a person can come home from.
But still… Chris kept on trying. Short bursts of hope. Ongoing attempts to stop his using. To slow it down. To get himself into some kind of treatment. Not easy in a situation like his.
We lost contact eventually.
When a life challenge escalated for me, I began to struggle as well and I no longer had the financial stability or the emotional and physical strength to support Chris. He was never once resentful of this. He was more concerned. Outraged for me. And supportive. He believed me, when nobody else that I had grown up with did any of these things.
I could no longer stop to talk. I was in survival mode myself.
It got to the point where we would just shout updates of where each of us was at, as I drove by.
Lockdown happened and I thought of Chris on the street and wondered what would happen to the homeless.
I began to homeschool, due to the lockdown, and there were no more morning drivebys.
I lost my car and was too tired to walk to that traffic light so early in the morning eventually, to see if Chris was still around. I wasn’t physically well by this stage due to the ongoing stress. I had also detached from life in a way that just made it all seem futile and pointless.
But I continued to think of him, hoping he was okay, and I always wondered…
Recently, while walking on the main road on an errand in our mutual neighborhood, I saw a youngish guy, unkempt and filthy, with the same blue eyes and sandy blonde hair go by. He was wearing a mask and I didn’t have my glasses on, so I couldn’t be sure… but I stopped and stared.
The man made eye contact in return, looking a bit curious at my gawking at him. Then he approached me to ask me for money.
It wasn’t Chris, but I explained my reaction and asked after him. This not-Chris but also on the street and using person, was the one who told me that Chris has passed on.
Another man approached us while we talked. Also homeless. The conversation was shared and, apparently, he didn’t know about Chris’s passing either, but he had known him too. Good guy, we all concluded sadly.
I made a poster while I was busy packing to move, to let people know what had happened to Chris. I was going to put this on the traffic light where Chris stood every day, so that the people who had supported him with food and money every morning would also know of his death. I wonder if they wonder what happened to him too?
Chris had no contact with his family anymore. There was nobody left in the end, for him. This was his own choice, he told me once. His family had hurt him too much.
I never got to put the poster up in the chaos of the move, and I have spent the last some weeks in a great deal of silence again. We were taught that cowgirls don’t cry in my family. Crying doesn’t come easy for me. I did cry for Chris the night that I had heard about him. Perhaps not enough for it to have left my throat, it seems. I’ve been avoiding thinking about his death, and I’ve been avoiding writing about it too (which was my alternative tribute to the never-had-time for poster…maybe).
Until I realized, last night, that I needed to remember him. Properly.
And that it was this fact that was keeping me quiet. Why are some feelings so fucking hard to feel?
So, last night, I spent some time remembering Chris.
Here is, just a little bit of what I remember of our time together. In dedication to an invisible man, who was beautifully human and decent to his core.
– The delighted surprise on your face when I offered you a free hug the first time we talked, and how you began to cry with relief
– Your comment that you were filthy, when I told you to get into my car as you hesitated, on our way to that meeting to try and get you into rehab
– Your spontaneous delight when some trance kicked in as I started up the engine, because you used to love the parties and dancing; you starting to jig as we drove along and tap your knees, and not reply because you were too engaged with the tunes
– Watching the face of the cash register person at a local garage, as it dawned on him that we were together, while I was buying you cigarettes and food one day, and watching you watch his reaction too. We laughed about it later.
– Sitting in the sunshine and hearing about the inner workings of the thoughts inside your head. Thank you for trusting me
– Waiting outside your dealer’s place while you had your morning shot, my heart pounding at a hundred miles an hour, because you could not function for a meeting to try and get you sober without having that first; you would have been physically sick without it by this stage, you said to convince me
– Walking away from you as you were about to stick the needle into your arm that night, because I just couldn’t watch you do it to yourself. (I had seen him on the side of the road, as I was driving past, and stopped to check on him). You just nodded and carried on.
– Seeing you remember who you once were, after I convinced you to go back to the Twelve Step Program and they remembered you— the delight that maybe someone cared after all (nobody bothered to get hold of you after that -fucking hypocrites)
– You giving me a cigarette and trying to help me in turn, when I ran into you accidentally in the car park next to court that day
There is more, but it is hard to explain.
How do you share the connection between human beings who are honest enough to know each other’s real struggles, and who are able to see, with each moment spent together or even passing by, the truth of who, what and where they are… right at that moment?
I saw Chris. And he saw me. Me as me as well… at my worst, some days. Full of fear and anger. But he never judged me. And he never blamed me. He never espoused some spiritual bypassing, personal growth fucking bullshit to unhear and unsee me. He validated my experience. He believed me. He was fucking angry for me too.
Chris was able to see the truth, when others weren’t. The truth didn’t frighten him either, I guess, after what he had experienced on the street. The grittier side of human nature and people. He knew exactly how ugly we can be, while I was just beginning to learn…
He was never once upset with me for failing him. Not even when I abandoned him because I couldn’t help him anymore. He tried to help me, instead.
These are the mentally ill people in our society.
The ones that give too much and who care too much.
What is wrong with this picture?
Funny thing… Our interactions were always very fucking real, and more honest than most relationships I have ever had.
Thanks, Chris… for your honesty and your courage.
And for your precious time. 🖤
A PART OF
The Accidental Theory: A journey to freedom