I saw someone’s guts today.
By that I mean the gaping hole in his belly was so large that, when he pulled the brownish-yellow iodine and blood soaked gauze away from it, I could see the pink, lumpy tubing of his lower digestive tract, slick with hot, red blood.
He and my kid brother share a name – a name once made famous by Alan Ladd in the 1950’s. Both of them are tall and whip thin; only one of them has a Southern accent – the other has all of his teeth.
He had run away from the hospital after two months of doctors cutting away his flesh. Finally he decided that going back to the streets was the better option.
“They said I got cancer. Maybe I should go back south. My grand baby was born yesterday, and I’d sure like to see him before I die.”
In his father’s tongue his name means “the heart,” a name so apt that I wondered if his parents had some notion of the kind of man he’d become. He looked like a child to me; wide dark almond eyes, and wild curly hair that sprung from his scalp like a lion’s mane, as soft as sheep’s wool. Even his hands looked like a child; tiny and chubby, decorated with delicate fingernails.
I learned he was gay, HIV+ and suffered from a rapidly deteriorating mental illness that closely resembled schizophrenia. When I first came to the shelter I would find him outside, lounging in the sun. He gave huge smiles, tight hugs, told excellent jokes, and held my hand. But as the summer began to die, I watched my friend start to fade.
The days became shorter and his catatonic episodes increased. He’d isolated himself entirely – that is until crashing and screaming was heard from his room. He emerged, drenched in in blood and disappeared into the underbelly of the local hospital.
“Why would I talk to someone who doesn’t give a fuck about me?”
His right index finger was jabbed against the corner of his mouth giving him a deeply pensive look as he described the conditions at another shelter in a soft, deep voice. The very same side held a deep indentation at the temple, as if someone had gently pinched his head like a ball of dough. In the middle of his forehead was a deep, jagged scar.
The bullet was still in there, he told me while pointing to his temple, and another in his chest. He’d been cornered by a man with a gun, trying to roll him for what little money he had. It was fight or flight situation – he fought.
“The last thing I remember thinking was that I had to make it home to my kids.”
He was the first friend I made at the shelter. A sort, stocky white guy with sleeve tattoos, a graying beard, icy blue eyes and no teeth. We played cards while he told me about he’d been arrested for selling crack in the early 2000’s, and the abandoned garage and lumber yard he slept in at night.
He told me about his current struggles with crack; how he’d crawl out of that filthy abandoned garage, smoke crack and cry about how he’d lost his way so terribly. He’d ask me to hold his money so he couldn’t score, but he’d come back and retrieve it from me the next day.
Then one day he disappeared. Eventually I found him in jail for violation of probation. Now, months later, he’s been released and I cannot find him. Earlier this week a man matching his description was killed by a freight train….the identity still hasn’t been released.
“I hate this. I fucking hate myself! I don’t want to do this shit… but i just can’t stop.”
***Italicized quotes are actual words from the guests’ mouths.***