Until…

There are moments in life where everything shifts, breaks apart, and falls, jangling, back into an approximation of its former order, leaving you stunned at your change in perspective.

These moments can be huge – a house fire which destroys everything you own; the birth of your child; the death of a loved one – or they can be small and seemingly inconsequential – a friend explaining they’re not who you (and they) always thought they were; a realisation that you’ve been viewing yourself through a borrowed and inherently wrong view; or an hour on a sun-baked pavement after work one day – but whatever scale they reach, the changes they wreak upon your world are vast and long-reaching.

Until those moments, the sun still shines in the sky, but beneath it, everything has changed.

Until those moments the sun still shines

Things changed for me today.

After work I cycled into town to see if I could catch up with Jenny and her friend, the Scaffolder. I found them in their shop doorway. In full, baking sunlight.

I waved a cheery ‘hello’ and walked towards them, but something wasn’t right. He was lying back, and she had her legs on top of him, and her arm around his neck. She smiled at me and welcomed me over.

The closer I got, the easier it was to see that the Scaffolder was in distress. Jenny was mopping his brow with a piece of crumpled tissue, and his eyes were filled with tears. I started an awkward conversation, and established to my satisfaction that they’d gotten the breakfast I left them on Sunday morning. Jenny told me it was as though the Christmas fairy had come, which was very sweet.

The Scaffolder, who had been murmuring in Polish, and crying, suddenly lurched up, and asked me if I could get him “a fucking gun”. I was alarmed and tried to laugh it off, telling him that I couldn’t. Jenny’s face drew in as she told me that he’d been having a bad day, and had been asking to kill himself all afternoon. His eyes were still on my face, then he rolled them and suddenly slammed his head back against the glass of the shop window. Hard.

Jenny slapped him and told him very sternly that he couldn’t do that, because he’d put his head through it, and she couldn’t afford to pay for the window to be fixed. Then she snuggled him in as tears leaked from his eyes again, and she kissed the top of his head, telling him to punch the concrete if he had to, cos they could get his hand fixed for free.

I asked what they needed – an umbrella to keep the sun off – they were burning up. That was easy enough, and later I returned with a white one, hoping that it would reflect the sun’s rays. Success. As soon as it was up, the temperature was noticeably different, and Jenny shuffled around on the nest of bags and bedding, trying to shade herself and her friend.

I hunkered down to chat and hear more of her wisdom.

She told me that whilst the streets aren’t kind to anyone, there are some people who just really aren’t cut out for it. The Scaffolder, with his shattered ribs, smashed skull, PTSD, depression and alcoholism, is one of those not suited. Really not suited. I naively asked why he couldn’t get treatment, and Jenny explained that in order to be treated, there were expectations for him to detox, but the alcohol is the only thing which allows him to cope with the mental and physical agony he’s in. He won’t even take paracetamol, she told me, because he’s paranoid about it – last time he went to hospital, he freaked out and ran away, with his catheter still attached to his arm, and the police were sent after him. She told them to take the catheter out and fuck off.

She told me he wants to die three or four times a week. She told me he’s fine as long as she’s there to stop him shouting abuse at people in the streets and trying to harm himself. She told me he flinches when buses pass by too loudly. She told me that this morning he swore at a nine year-old child, whose mother was incredibly upset, and (fortunately for the Scaffolder) whose father wasn’t present. She told me that love is crazy but she never knew how crazy until she fell for a homeless, fucked up alcoholic, 18 years her junior, who didn’t speak English. She told me she needed him to get drunk later and pass out quickly, so that she could get a few hours respite from him.

I heard about how the council and social workers are supposed to be finding them a roof over their heads, which is what they desperately need. I learned that the police vary in attitude, and that some are cool, and some try to bully them. I was told there is a handbook for policemen on the beat, which Jenny wants to get, so she can call their bullshit when they try to cite non-existent rules to intimidate her. I shook my head in sadness at her recounting their experience when a friend said he could stay with them, and upon meeting them, his wife immediately backed out and said they couldn’t. I flinched when she relayed that a woman had walked past and loudly called them “scum”.

Throughout the conversation, the Scaffolder’s hand inched closer to me, as I sat next to his untidy, pain-wracked sprawl. Eventually he slid his hand into mine and held it. Periodically he held my gaze, with watery, bright-hazelgreen eyes, and begged me to help him die. Every so often he would try to join in the conversation. Once, he laughed as I blew away a fly which crawled along my arm and tickled me. Intermittently he would drag himself upright and bellow in fear at the noise of some machinery being used across the street.

Jenny mopped away the sweat and gave him sips of drink (I didn’t ask what). The Scaffolder alternately wept, bellowed, or murmured intelligibly. I stroked his hand, which still held tight to mine. He locked his gaze onto mine and indicated Jenny, informing me “My mum. My mum”, with such love and pride in his voice that she visibly glowed. Then he slumped back, whimpering.

Eventually I arranged that I would bring tea for Jenny in the morning, and said I needed to go and get a Thermos to keep it warm and transport it in. She didn’t want a flask to keep, because she has so much to carry. But if I bring her tea, that would be wonderful. And I can do that.

As I was preparing to leave, the machinery started again and the Scaffolder dragged himself upright in a temper and lurched off, sans shoes, to yell at them from the roadside. Jenny fetched him as I gathered my bag and cycle helmet, and he came back, apologising to me for his behaviour and asking if he was the reason I was going. He indicated that I should sit back down with him, but when I told him I would come back another time, he gave me a hug and consented to sit with Jenny again.

Until this month, I had vague ideas about being nice to homeless people on principle, and treating them as human beings, and trying to help them when I could, because it’s the right thing to do.

Until this week, I didn’t know how strong my determination and desire was to support this very vulnerable sector of society, even though I’d recently hit upon the someday idea of opening a hostel for homeless trans people (thereby actively engaging with and helping two very marginalised and overlooked sets of people).

Until today, I never understood the sometimes minute-to-minute pain that homelessness can bring, and I suspect I haven’t begun to plumb the depths of understanding.

Until this afternoon, I had no comprehension of the scale of the problem homeless people face – I mean, I had some idea, but no – nothing akin to my new knowledge of this utterly insurmountable, hostile bureaucracy mountain they have to try to climb.

Until approximately 4.30pm on this day, the pieces of my life were…if not comfortable, at least safe and convenient.

Until all those untils, the sun shone differently and I didn’t have these two wonderful, messy, broken people in my heart:

Jenny, and her fallen Scaffolder.

Whose name is Gabriel.

 

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64 thoughts on “Until…

  1. Pingback: Fundraising for Jenny’s Wedding | Considerings

  2. Pingback: Ten Things of Thankful 107 #10Thankful | Considerings

  3. You’re an inspiration, Lizzi, and to share your story will hopefully inspire others to have the same compassion to those less fortunate. In a time when everyone is struggling, it’s our duty to help fellow human beings and together we can find strength, support and security.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my… what a horribly tragic story… it sounds almost hopeless. But you bring these two desperate human beings hope, comfort, encouragement. That is more than they will ever have…

    It’s a God-awful tragedy- the pain and suffering of so many homeless people. My heart weeps for them, and reading all that you are doing inspires me to do the same.

    Perspective can shift immediately and powerfully to another dimension, can’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. And at the moment I am in a fucking FOUL TEMPER because I learned today from Jenny that a new couple on the street (Irish, in their early 20’s) need to have six months of ‘local connections’ before they are eligible for any help from the council.

      SIX MONTHS!

      They’re BABIES for goodness sake!

      They don’t drink much. They don’t smoke. And they’re not druggies. YET.

      I think the government just wants the homeless people to die from disease and neglect and overdose, so they can award themselves a bigger pay-rise, and I am PISSED THE HELL OFF!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You are helping the homeless in more ways that you might think. Not only do you do the tangible stuff – such as bringing them breakfast and tea – but you then share your experiences, insight, and new knowledge with all of us, which helps us to understand, feel less fear and more compassion, and ignites a desire to help. I don’t have a lot, but I know that even a little helps — check your email.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jana, my heart overflowed when I saw my email this morning. THANK YOU. I’m blown away that you care so very much for Jenny and Gabriel, and I do think that you and I are an awful lot alike in ways. I tend not to over-think generosity to people who really need it…they get into my heart and I *must* do something.

      But thank you for saying that *this* (the writing) is important too…that’s a useful thought which hadn’t occurred to me. I’m so glad you said that. Thank you πŸ™‚

      Like

    • No 😦 Someone spiked a cigarette with Spice (one of those so-called ‘legal highs’) and it gave him a really bad time…he doesn’t do drugs, apparently, so it took him out. And the street team from the council reckon they’re supporting Jenny and Gabriel – but Jenny told me they came by and gave them….water. I mean, that’s useful and all on a hot day but it ain’t a roof.

      Like

  6. I used to make quillows – quilts you can fold up into a pillow – for the homeless and I’d load up my little white station wagon and pass them out to as many on the streets as I could. I never had enough.. So many hearts in need. God bless you Lizzi.. And God bless Jenny and Gabriel. ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    • They sound like such a good idea, Karen. I’m sure the people who received them were very grateful – what an awesome initiative. Sleeping bags seem to be the thing over here, definitely. I’m glad those people had you helping to care for them πŸ™‚

      Like

  7. You are simply amazing, Sparkle ❀ The visuals I got when I read this, weren't nice. The hurt I feel, isn't that great either. But you were there and that made it better. I truly hope that Gabriel can get the care that he needs. It's situations like this that make me wish I had the money to just help them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too. But I don’t. And I don’t know how. I really, really don’t know how. But I’m afraid for Gabriel – I really am 😦

      I’m glad I was there, and I’m going to try to keep being there…but I just wish I was more constructive WHILST I was there.

      Like

  8. You have an amazing heart. I try to help. I pass a guy and his dog every day, and try to give them something as it’s the dog that breaks my heart with his loyalty to his friend. Always laying on his feet and never leaving his side.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Goosebumps, simply goosebumps. Bravo to you for offering comfort, really the only thing Gabriel needs other than well everything. But I think comfort and acceptance is pretty high on his list of needs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • THANK YOU! Because I’ve been wondering what the hell I’m really doing, and how I can really help or make a difference, but perhaps in a small way, I am, just by being there…do you think? That would be cool.

      Like

    • Well, for now I’m bringing her tea in the mornings. THAT I can do. The trans hostel would be no good to them – their networks are in my city, but Jenny wants to do something like that, for the homeless people here. I hope she manages it. She just needs somewhere to live first…

      Like

  10. Lizzie, you’re one of the most compassionate people I’ve connected with in the blogging world. May your dream of creating a home for Jenny, Gabriel and others who need a safe place come true. Holding you and them in my heart today. Thank you for all you are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenny wants to make her own one, in my city. I hope she manages it – she’s determined enough to open and run a hostel. I think she could take on the world.

      Thank you so much, Corrine. I really hope things work out for them. I’m gonna do what I can.

      Like

    • I heard back from the street team at the council. Apparently they are “aware” of this couple – whatever that means. This afternoon Jenny told me that the street team had come by, and had given them water.

      Water.

      They need a HOUSE. And Gabriel needs medical treatment.

      Water.

      What were your questions? They matter.

      Like

    • No, Ana, lovely – your challenges are no less valid or painful just because your circumstances are different. For all of us, our challenge is what WE find hard. But you’re right to seek silver linings anyway, and thanks for praying for them. I contacted the homeless team at the council and I just really hope it was the right move. I don’t want to make things worse for them :/

      Liked by 1 person

      • Anywhere is better than where they are right now, Lizzi. You did what you thought was right for them. Don’t worry too much, and just keep sending good intentions their way. Life has a way of working out in the end.
        Also, I wanted to say how much I admire your resolve to treat homeless people like people – I can’t say I do any such thing right now, but I’m going to try. Thank you for that.

        Liked by 1 person

            • Your country has a lot entrenched in how it views people, from what I understand – it seems as though much has been inherited from the caste system (unless I’m completely wrong, in which case forgive my ignorance) and that appears to be mostly a convenient way of hiding people behind labels, regardless of their actual selves.

              That you are willing to make changes and live radically is something which makes me warm to you even more, Ana πŸ™‚ YOU are a wonderful person too, and the feeling of gladness is quite mutual. πŸ™‚

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              • The caste system does impact the way we look at other human beings and it is the most-used excuse for not doing enough. But there are a multitude of other excuses we make.

                I, for one, would never go speak to a man sleeping on the road because I’m afraid it’s not safe. Though I resolve every year to distribute blankets to the homeless in the winter I’ve never actually done it! I never have enough time or money.
                I think that’s what needs to change – people need to realize that there are other people who are suffering WAY more than us privileged ones.
                Then the world will change.

                Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t been upset about them yet, but I’ve gotten in touch with the homeless team, and if that somehow makes things WORSE for them, I shall be veryveryvery upset.

      I really do want to have a shelter. Now I think of it, I can remember having vague ideas about that in times gone by. I definitely think that homeless people are a group I care about immensely.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I just hurt for them and even if other people are helping them (which they are – two other people stopped and chatted to them and gave them food and went to fetch things for them while I was there), I need to know that *I* am doing something.

      Like

        • I’ll let you know…I’m not sure what I can do for them other than bring tea. I’ve now emailed the city’s homeless team, to see if they can do anything, but it seems like it’s not ‘stuff’ they need – it’s a roof, and in Gabriel’s case, some heavy-duty medical/mental health help.

          Like

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