You know, the dead still terrify me. They live within, reminders of how close I came. Kenny, the schizophrenic, lit a fire in the hearth of a derelict house. I like to think he never woke as it burned down round him. Greg, the heroin and alcohol addict, choked to death on his own vomit. Perhaps. We’ll never know. He was too badly decomposed when they found him. Maybe it was his hepatitis. Robert hanged himself. So did Tam. This surprised me. He seemed more robust, tough minded. He was the only one of them I didn’t like, too brutal.
Sammy’s the one I feel the most. There were two members of staff who looked out for him, gave me money to get him a bottle of Mundies wine for when his withdrawal kicked in. I would share it with him. It was nasty stuff, but it didn’t take much to make me feel a little less awful. Sammy was a gentleman when he was sober; so meek and polite. And then the shakes came and relief from them released his private torment. So much anger and vitriol and savage words for women. I would calm him the best I could, listen to his demons; liberating Belsen, being driven from his home because he’d married a Catholic. So much for his service in the War. That clearly counted for nothing when the Troubles started.
I’d been moved to another hostel within the ***** *********. It bought me time, held eviction at bay. Some of the staff invited me to drink with them in the town. Outside the bar I found Sammy, drunk, incoherent, soaked by the rain. He’d been dumped in the streets yet again. I had to get him to a night shelter. He would not be persuaded. He wanted to go back to the Village, atop Sandy Row. It was where he came from. He would not be told it was not safe. I needed help and went inside.
“Never mind Sammy. Do you want to throw some money in the pot?”
I walked away from them.
I could not talk sense to Sammy.
A passing couple, veterans of the gutter, took him off my hands.
The moral pressure of those who cared always embarrassed the hostel manager to let him back in. She even tried “resettling” him in a mildewed flat owned by some Rachman. That didn’t last and back he came to be ejected time and again.
In the end, he made it back to his roots. They found him hacked to death in an empty slum in the Village.
Hostels are their own moral universe, magnets for predators. You get to play God, decide who stays and who goes. I survived in them for four years. How? It was out of my hands. I owe it to the kindness of others who saw someone worth saving. The residents in one house elected me to speak for them. I was informed after the fact and did my best,
“You have to let her stay.”
“Those two are kids. What are they gonna do?”
“It’s up to them. We’ve done all we can.”
Among the monsters, those turds who float to the top of the Human Sewer, are some who care. They tolerated my anger, and my outbursts were ferocious; all the more so, I think, when arguing on behalf of others. Don’t get me wrong, I was not promiscuous with my concern. Some people had to go, especially the violent ones. The truth is that you can’t protect everyone. There are only so many beds available. You have to do triage and I, it was clear, could not survive a return to the streets. Few can and therein lies the problem; who do you save? This is the Tyranny of Terrible Choices. People kept me alive because they thought I was worth it.
I’ve always felt I owe it to them to make something of my life. Every time I’ve been kicked into the abyss I’ve clawed my way back onto the ledge. I haven’t got very far. My hopes and dreams are ashes. So it goes. And the dead haunt me. But I’m still here, forever terrified.