Sunday, February 17, 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

Last night

One of those end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it storms.

An endless barrage of thunder and strobe-lightening, the likes of which I've never experienced before.

Does that mean that summer has finally arrived?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Oh mother, I’m scared to close my eyes

I’m not dead, ma.”  Enildo spoke quietly into the phone that I handed him. “I’m still here.”

It has been over a year since he last spoke to her and she had been anxious to visit - or at least receive news of his situation - for some time. She had not been able to visit him during his nine months in rehab and had wanted to visit the four grandchildren in our care but was worried about getting lost in the city (her other sons too intoxicated to be of any help).

Where? McDonalds. What? Its a...diner.

I was sitting opposite him as he spoke, anxious the whole time that the call would come to an abrupt end and cut off some important expression of remorse or consolation. In the end (by some miracle), the 5p credit remaining on my phone covered the complete call between mother and son and there was even a few minutes to spare for me to arrange a future visit. 

Over the preceding minutes, a connection was awkwardly re-established and, perhaps, courage and a sense of purpose renewed. A promise was made, but for a crack addict who by all appearances was as thin as a promise, I sat there thankful that my hope lies not in mere words alone. 

If I failed to see the irony and occasional humour in my line of work, I would have had my first nervous breakdown in the winter of 2010. Speaking with three generations of the same family in one afternoon - each in their own way attempting to fight battles they cannot possibly win alone - I knew more than ever before that it was never just about the kids. 

I will care for both father and sons in the same way.

Dustin Hoffman on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Rehab + Relapse

Can I ask you a question?
Why do you care for me?
Because I can’t care for your children unless I care for you.

And so, rewind. There’s a parallel story going on, of which I have not spoken much. A companion tune (or perhaps, more accurately, white noise) that has always been there in the background - like tinnitus.
After completing his time in rehab, Enildo – the father of our four brothers – held out for a few weeks before succumbing again to the temptations of (first) thinner and then the harder stuff. Or, as Amy Winehouse might have put it, back to crack.

I returned again and again to that derelict plot of land until finally I found him. Having in my mind a mental image of what he might look like after sleeping rough on the streets for a few weeks, upon seeing Enildo emerge from underneath the soggy cardboard boxes where other users were crouched and then walk slowly - cautiously - towards me, I felt distraught.  Looking at the face, I somehow recognised the person, but at the same time it wasn’t really him. A bit like someone in a dream. Like looking at those before-and-after shots, except that instead of the after, I was looking at the before, again. They say that if you watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory backwards it’s about a crazy man who spends all his money on an elaborate factory until he has to kick everyone out, including his favorite kid who is forced into poverty.

After triage and recuperation, the visits and the friendship, I desperately wanted this all not to be such a crushing disappointment - not a starting-from-square-one.  So for the last four months I have been visiting him there, and the stink of the soiled clothes in which he now lives has seeped permanently into the fabric of my passenger seat.

He often falls asleep while I am talking to him (he wouldn’t be the first!), and when he speaks, chunks of partially chewed food are ejected periodically from the gaping hole in his rotten front teeth. He apologises, and for the umpteenth time picks the morsel off my clothes or face where it landed.  I look at him and cannot help thinking that caring for him is going to be a bit like the famously ‘never-ending’ job of painting the Forth Rail Bridge.

Friday, February 1, 2013